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What it takes
Commitment and passion
Listening and consensus
Juggling and balancing
Seize the moment
Getting more women in
power: what it will take
Advice from women
in world politics
Many of the women have demonstrated similar skills and personal qualities which have helped them in their careers.
Laura Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World leaders and Haleh Afshar, Professor of Politics and Women's Studies at York University summarise the most important qualities needed to succeed on the world stage.
Afshar: "For me the most important thing is the sense of passion, commitment and ability. I think that all women have it in them and they should really move forward"
Many women get involved in politics because they feel passionately about a particular issue - especially one which affects women such as abortion or contraception. Many of the women featured were involved in student campaigns - for example student demonstrations in Paris or the Vietnam protests in the USA in the 1960s.
Liswood: "They often got into the political process because they were inflamed by a particular issue, angered and feeling like they had to come in to try to change the system. And so it's a different route than men often will take, because men often will say I really want to be prime minister of this country and I'm going to work my way towards that. I'm going to do what it takes to get to that position of power so it's a somewhat different approach."
Liswood seems to suggest that many women are motivated by principles whereas men are motivated by power itself.
Liswood: "First and foremost it takes great courage to want to and to agree to lead a country. It's just not something that every person is willing and capable of doing, (It) doesn't necessarily mean that you turn out to be a great leader, it just means that you have the courage to stand up in front of a crowd and have your ideas attacked and your person attacked."
Many of the women have displayed immense courage of different types - ranging from suffering house arrest and assassination attempts, to dealing with major illness and travelling to some of the most dangerous places in the world to highlight human rights issues.
Liswood: "I do think the women develop a fairly tough skin.. they'll do it in their own ways and they may do it gently and kindly but you can't possibly withstand the kinds of personal exposure that these women have and not have a sense of toughness about you, it can range from looking tough a la Lady Thatcher or looking tough like Mary Robinson."
Afshar: "For a very long time women have hidden the hardness in them under a soft exterior, so women have been given the attribute of gentleness and softness when what they are really doing is bargaining and negotiation. And when some women come into a position where they no longer need to pretend to be soft, then people complain that they're tough, that they're hard they're like men. But when men are hard, tough, and stand on their principles they are admired."
Confidence is critical for women to succeed - but as Glenys Kinnock pointed out, it's something that you can work to develop. Mo Mowlam suggests that if you act as if you are confident, that is half the battle:."Toughness, determination and courage are always important in politics. But for women the main thing I think is about confidence, if you are confident and act confidently you can do it, whatever it is you want to do, confidence is the key."
Women can be at a disadvantage in male-dominated politics because of the way they use language. Many of the women agreed that women use language differently, but Liswood points out that discussion is important to help with the development of ideas and policies:
Liswood: "the best ideas actually only come through vigorous discussion and debate. I think sometimes women are not as comfortable with that because women will often want to make sure that the relationship itself doesn't get damaged in the process of the discussion, and I think men are probably less concerned about that."
Liswood: "Many of them articulated a different sense of their leadership style.. feeling that they didn't exhibit so much of that kind of command and control that we've historically seen in leadership…but more of a consensus," hear more: how do we get everyone involved in this thing, how do we go co-operatively go about this, who do we bring to the table, let's bring different people than have historically been at the table often that means grassroots organisations, ... so there was some of that, that notion that women are perhaps more consensus oriented.
Women often develop the skills of listening and achieving consensus through
their management of relationships within families. These abilities are very
useful in government:
"I think because women have always had to negotiate within the household, within families. They have to accommodate the very conflicting needs of their children, and their husband so they actually learn to listen, prioritise and to deal with problems as they emerge."
In politics it is essential for women with children to have strong support from their partners or help with childcare. Brundtland and Ashrawi had partners who were willing to take their turn at childcare, some women have not had children or have waited until their children were older - others have managed to combine a family and politics. All emphasise the need to to keep life in perspective and not to let politics take over as Mo Mowlam explains:
Mo Mowlam: "you make sure you have a hinterland, you make sure you have something else in life that is important. I don't have children but I have stepchildren which I think is probably the best of both worlds. I didn't have to bring them up and worry about dentists or school uniforms but I had the pleasure of them and I have things I enjoy doing. I enjoy going to the cinema with my husband and …you have to make yourself as normal as possible because if not you become addicted to politics and forget what life is about and what other people are thinking."
Afshar: "These women have really had to be exceptional in many ways, not necessarily in themselves but in their ability to negotiate what is the burden of all women - their domestic duties, their familial obligations, but also to step into an arena men see as their own."
The examples of Thatcher, Robinson, Kumaratunga and Mowlam show the importance of recognising the critical moment - even if your chances appear slim. More than one of the women featured has won an important election by a margin of only one vote! Women like Bonino and Robinson have resisted the stereotypes, challenged the status quo and succeeded in moving into new roles for women. Margaret Thatcher saw how critical timing could be:
Although the majority of the women tried to bring on other women and encourage them, Thatcher did not take this approach. The best examples recognise the importance of networking and offering support to other women - rather than operating as "Queen Bees".
Ashrawi: I think for women to gain access to political power they should first of all not work alone, they should work within a network of women and there are support systems and if they don't exist we should help create them.
"The level of participation of women in decision-making and sharing of power between men and women is still unacceptably low and calls in question the basic principles of democracy."
Gertrude Mongella, Secretary General of the Fourth World conference on Women:
Liswood : "Women have not been socialised to see themselves as leaders, you think about the major fairytales and stories and myths and legends that young girls grow up with,in the United States it's Cinderella .. she's waiting for her prince to come and rescue her. He's the hero, he's the leader and she's sitting at home talking to the mice so it's there's not a sense that she can be a leader .. she should be a leader. So the young girl doesn't grow up seeing that."
In Iceland, the President, Vigdis Finnbogadottir found that, after eight years, young girls thought that only women could be President.
Liswood : "she realised there were children under 8 years of old who thought only a woman could be president of Iceland, the boys had to ask if they could be President of Iceland. well that's how you see what can be in the world, what's out there for you."
Liswood : "the most interesting advice that came through from the women is get involved, get the practice, learn to stand up and speak in front of people, learn to take your ideas and articulate them to people, and take the risks to do it because it's worth it"
In June 2000,
the follow-up to the 1995 Beijing Conference will take place in New York reviewing
women's progress during the last five years.
- Beijing declaration and platform for action
- Review of action taken
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