Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either. ~ Golda Meir, Israeli Prime Minister from 1969 – 19741 What impressed me about Golda Meir’s quote was how she dismissed criticism about her emotionally-driven rule of Israel. Women are genetically known to be the more sensitive gender. 2 Instead of challenging this and going against that nature, like what many bloodthirsty monarchical queens had done – Bloody Mary, Queen of England, for one, waged war on France until her death3, Meir did not try to hide her true nature and maintained her set of beliefs in living her life honourably.
Women have come a long way from being tasked with discriminative chores in the household to having influential power to develop the nation. The feminism tidal wave took up developed countries by storm as women such as Kate Sheppard fought for women’s right to vote in New Zealand and, as the president of NCW4, the higher status of women there. 5 As third wave feminism6 hits the shores of less developed countries, more girls are stepping up as political leaders when men could not. In the early 1990s, Rwanda had less than 18% of women standing in parliament.
Presently, 56% of Rwanda’s house of Parliament consists of females, the highest proportion of females in parliament worldwide. 7 These women took charge of the country after the genocide almost wiped out the males in Rwanda. Many women have proved to the world that they are capable of running a country. Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of Britain, emphasised on free markets to boost thriving businesses8, making Britain one of the strongest economies today. Most female leaders tend to focus on solving social issues that are crucial in bringing peace to the country.
Julia Gillard was recently appointed as the first female Prime Minister of Australia. Indeed, she believes that education, healthcare and labour welfare are of utmost concern. 9 With more female leaders elected, demographic indicators like crime rate, level of health and infant mortality rates would significantly improve. Women in Rwanda received inheritance rights, property rights and more gender equality after more females entered Parliament. 10 With the many examples of successful female leadership, why is there still a prevailing trend in the dominance of males elected as leaders today?
Out of 192 UN countries, there are 16% (30 countries) of female leaders11 in both developed countries and less developed countries, although only 8% have an elected female leader. Personal disinterest aside, there are still barriers raised against women in their attempts to join politics. The culture of female inferiority in Asian and African parts of the world has been so deeply inculcated that most women merely accept their social roles and subdue to their male counterparts.
Then there are issues such as disapproval from family members to join politics as they believe that the primary role of women should be taking care of her family at home. An absence of an appropriate environment for women to join politics, including the lack of funds for elections and campaigns and the inaccessibility to education that makes them unaware of the opportunities available are also challenges for women when they want to take up leadership roles.
The truth is that women have to work much harder than men in climbing the political ladder and staying there. Furthermore, social norms and traditionally mindsets are hard to break as society deems women as unable to handle the huge load of stress and responsibility. Hence, there are few elected female leaders in the world, as the very people voting for their leaders are those who have been brought up to think of women as the weaker gender.
The thing about disinterest is that women, being more emotional creatures than the logical males, want to pursue a career that suits their meticulous and expressive character. 20% of females are in administrative and secretarial jobs in which attention to details is strongly needed as compared to less than 5% of males in the same sector. 12 In the political arena, however, one is expected not to let their emotive feelings affect their judgement in deciding what is best for the country and its people.
Women are more aware of their own feelings. Hence, if we know that we are unable to bear such heavy responsibility, we would not force ourselves to undertake such a career that is so unlike our character either. This is another reason why there are so few elected females – they do not wish to participate in the dirty game of politics. My country has seen its fair share of gender disparity as well. In this year’s General Elections, a spotlight is cast on 2 new young aspiring female politicians. One of them, Ms.
Nicole Seah, 24, recently joined the NSP13 in hopes of getting youngsters to become more active and vocal regarding Singapore’s issues. 14 Some adults see her as an inexperienced fresh graduate who is gaining popularity based on her good looks15 and there were no less criticism against her along with the overwhelming praises about her courage to contest against the government that has been in-charge since Singapore gained independence. 16 It is unfair of critics of judge her as having beauty over brains.
I think we should give Seah a chance to prove what she is worth and then judge. After all, she may be Singapore’s next Golda Meir. I may not be heading for a political career in the future, but I can learn from inspiring female figures, their leadership skills and their strong character needed to stay on the political platform. I want to be as successful as those elected female leaders who have convinced others of their capabilities during their time in office. However, I want to be someone who is able to follow her heart, someone who can weep hard and laugh even harder.