Saturday, May 24, 2008

North America's Elephant in the Room: Women Political Leaders in Scarce Supply

Anyone who can withstand the grueling nature of the United States Presidential nominations’ race deserves a gold Olympic medal. It has to be adrenalin and a steady diet of optimism that keeps the candidates upright and awake! In a world in which top and middle management leaders are on overload most of the time, we can identify somewhat with the brutal challenges of leading.

Now, with the dial increasingly pointing toward Barack Obama as the Presidential nominee of choice for the Democrats, the real impact of Hillary’s pending loss is beginning to sink in. In North America, we have an elephant in the room: a rotten track record of voting women to the top political post of a nation. Kim Campbell’s tenure as Canada’s Prime Minister barely counts as she was not in office long enough to accomplish anything.

Currently, there are 6 female Presidents and 7 woman Prime Ministers in the world. The Presidents are located in Argentina, Chile, Finland, India, Ireland, Liberia and The Philippines. The countries with Prime Ministers include Germany, New Zealand, Moldavia (Designated), Mozambique, The Netherlands Antilles, Ukraine and The Aland Islands. The numbers are small. But, telling in that South America is doing better than North America.

Another way to view the situation is the number of female members in the 195 countries and governments in the world. It ranges from a high of 60 % (Finland) to zero (Monaco and Saudi Arabia).

We would expect due to the length of time we have had electoral democracies in North America, that we’d at least be skirting the high end. No! At 21 %, Canada is outdone by most other established democracies except Ireland (20 %), Luxembourg (20 %), Belgium (19 %), Liechtenstein (20 %) and the United States (15 %). Even Rwanda at 25 % beats North America and, by recent reports, it is largely women who are through micro-credit initiatives rebuilding the economic foundation of that country.

Social scientists and others academics likely have many explanations for North America’s elephant in the room. We’ll hear more from them once the Democrats make up their minds. Certainly the pundits have no fear of speculating: blatant sexism! The timing is now for healing the race issue! There is no simple answer.

Although there is reason to celebrate---a fresh new face on the political scene in the United States---it feels somewhat bittersweet for women. Nevertheless, Hillary’s grit and depth and Barack’s focus on change and bringing people together have together made a positive contribution to the political emotional climate in North America. For that, we are fortunate. The times ahead will be exciting and interesting!

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