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Yet another crack in the glass ceiling!


Whatever one thinks of the politics of US presidential contender Hillary Clinton, the significance of her selection as the first female presidential candidate of a major party, with a strong probability of success in November’s presidential elections cannot be ignored. It is indeed a major advance for the cause of women in politics, not only in the United States (US), but globally.

Her challenge for the top job in the world’s most powerful nation comes at a time when women all over the world are intensifying their campaign, backed by major multinational and regional organizations, such as the United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS), for a greater presence in the decision-making process.{{more}} Increasing the level of female participation in political leadership is a banner being proudly flown all around the globe.

It has been a long struggle, one not yet won, extending over two centuries in the citadels of Western democracy. That “democracy”, while proclaiming that “all men are equal”, excluded both people of colour and women. They had to fight hard to even achieve the right to vote. In the US, that right was not won until after a century of women’s struggle, 1920 being the year that women could exercise their franchise. Women of colour had, like all people of colour, to struggle much longer.

Significantly, the earliest female challengers for the presidency came out of the equal rights movement, representing the Equal Rights Party. In the 20th century, courageous black women like Charlene Mitchell (1968) and Angela Davis (vice-president candidate in 1984) contested on the ticket of the small US Communist Party, a brave move indeed, while Shirley Chisholm, the first black Congresswoman, unsuccessfully contested the nomination for the Democratic Party’s presidential candidacy in 1972.

It is against this background that the choice of Hillary Clinton must be viewed as an historic occasion. It demonstrates that in spite of all kinds of barriers put in their way, formal and informal, legal and technical, sexist and racist, women have perseveringly pursued their goal, making steady advances. Yet, they are still far from the ultimate goal of equality.

This has given rise to international programmes aimed at increasing female representation in the Parliaments of countries all around the world. A modest benchmark of at least 30 per cent representation in national parliaments has been established by the UN, but as at August 1 last year, even this 30 per cent representation had not been achieved. On the average, the global figure was 22 per cent.

Another particular target has been women at the leadership level, that is Head of State or Government. There have been, since the start of the 20th century, some individual successes, such as Indira Gandhi in India, Margaret Thatcher of Britain, Mary Robin­son of Ireland, Angela Merkel, the current German Chan­cellor, and several leaders in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Nordic countries. In the Caribbean, we have had Dame Eugenia Charles, Janet Jagan in Guyana, Portia Simpson-Miller and Kamla Persad-Bissessar, both recently defeated at the polls.

These indicate signs of a breakthrough, cracks in the proverbial glass ceiling, but we still have a long way to go. That Hillary Clin­ton has won the Democratic Party’s nomination and could well follow Barack Obama, who ended white male domination of the US presidency, is a major advance, given both the importance of that nation and the lingering sexism and gender bias.

It can only serve as an inspiration to women everywhere to intensify the struggle for equal representation in political leadership.