Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Woman Factor

Category: News Winners, Issue 2

The past 12 months really made the world sit up when these women came to the front. Who will have the hardest task?

Will it be the woman of “slave-country”, Liberia?  Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: Mother and grandmother.  First Woman President of Liberia and the first in Africa, the daughter of descendants of the original Afro-American colonists who on their part enslaved the indigenous population.  After many dictatorial leaders, and a stint in jail for supposed treason and having to live in exile several times in her life, she has a tremendous task and will really have to start from scratch, addressing social inequalities and building infra-structure for the poverty-stricken population – schools, hospitals, roads, etc. Her Harvard degree in Public Administration and her experience as a high profile economist in the World Bank will stand her in good stead.

Then there is Andrea Merkel, first Woman Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, brilliant scientist, working in quantum chemistry before becoming a politician. Her upbringing in the “Stasi” ruled GDR (East Germany) trained her in playing her cards close to her chest. Being the protégée of Chancellor Kohl and one of the youngest Ministers, heading the Ministry for Women and Youth and then becoming Minister for Environment and Reactor Safety prepared “the Mädchen”, as Chancellor Kohl named her, for her political career. She speaks English and Russian fluently. Though whether that will help her to bring about the much debated social reform is questionable. She will have a difficult task implementing her ideas, as her party does not have a real majority.

Will Michele Bachelet(mother of three) of Chile win in the run-off election on January 15, 2006?  Should she win, she will be the first Female President of Chile. Bachelet speaks six languages – Spanish, English, Portuguese, German, French and Russian Her youth was marred by political unrest; her father being detained and tortured until he died of a heart attack. She herself and her mother were tortured at the notorious detention centre “Villa Grimaldi”. They were exiled to Australia and then moved on to East Germany, where she continued her medical studies. She furthered her studies in Chile and became a surgeon and later specialized in pediatrics and public health. During this time she returned to politics, fighting for democracy and working in many NGO’s who work in aid of children. Bachelet’s interest in civil-military relations led her to further her studies in the USA. Bachelet became the first Minister of Defence of Chile and of the entire South America. Should she win, she has promised to make half her cabinet consist of women, saying: “We are going to set a standard for Latin America”. This is a difficult nut to crack.

Each of these women has a tremendous task, but my wager goes to Johnson-Sirleaf, having to make something out of nothing.