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EDITORIAL: Women PMs welcome


EDITORIAL: Women PMs welcome

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THE APPOINTMENT of Theresa May as prime minister of Britain is a remarkable development and a filip to those who promote greater gender diversity in the political arena.

That she has become Britain’s second woman prime minister is an event which should cause rejoicing among the spirits of the suffragettes, who waged valiant campaigns for the right of women to vote and to participate in the political process at all levels, which seems to modern society such an indelible right that it is difficult to understand why it was ever denied.

Not so long before she became prime minister, Margaret Thatcher had declared that a woman would not assume that post in her lifetime. This statement reflected the reality that a woman would have to overcome the entrenched inherent prejudices against females being good enough to lead a major political party of a major Western democracy.

That she succeeded in giving the lie to her own prophecy was due equally to the vagaries of politics as well as to changing global views on the role of women in society generally and in the political class in particular.

That said, the Commonwealth fairly led the way with the appointment of a female prime minister in Sri Lanka way back in 1960. India produced Indira Ghandi and Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. In the Caribbean, we have elected female prime ministers in Dominica, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. Australia, that bastion of rugged masculinity, has had a woman, Julia Gillard, as prime minister. But the way is between a rock and a hard place.

Politically aspiring women who are mothers also have to care for their young children during the formative years of their children’s lives, which often coincide with the foundation years of many serious political careers, especially now that many more females are attending university.

But if the political path for men is formidably difficult, the path for women is even more treacherous, for women who choose not to have children and pursue their political careers are often viciously criticised for so doing. That May has no children was raised in the recent Conservative Party leadership race and Gillard’s speech on her fight against the inbred contempt for women politicians touched a nerve in political circles beyond Australia. She was viciously criticised for being unmarried and childless.

And yet it is highly desirable that we should have more women in the top political positions. Here at home, we have had two female deputy prime ministers in Billie Miller and Mia Mottley and two female ministers of foreign affairs in Miller and Senator Maxine McClean.

We suggest that qualified women in politics should always merit consideration for any of the higher political posts. We note that Britain’s new prime minister was the first woman to hold the great office of secretary of state for home affairs, and that she has appointed a woman to succeed her in that office. The signals are clear. Old habits die hard but attitudes are changing.

In the Caribbean we have produced a number of competent female cabinet ministers but May’s action in appointing seven female ministers will go a long way in securing enhanced treatment of women by future prime ministers in Britain and in the Commonwealth.

Competence in leadership may have been the exclusive province of men in the past. It isn’t so any longer.

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