Across the world, we’re seeing more women leaders
Estonia, Singapore, Ethiopia and Finland – these are some of the 21 countries currently governed by a female president or prime minister. Yet a woman president of the United States still remains only a hypothetical.
The 2020 Democratic nomination contest originally featured six women candidates, a record number. But the most prominent female candidates for the Democratic nomination – Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar – have all dropped out, and the focus of the race has narrowed to two males, Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
My research examines what countries where women run the government have in common – and why the US still lags behind.
Where women lead Since 2000, 89 women have newly come to power. That’s more than double the total number of women who entered office between 1960 and 1999. Women’s greater presence in positions like senatorships creates opportunities for women to rise up the ranks and become presidents and prime ministers.
Women have led in countries that have relative gender equality like Norway as well as more patriarchal spaces such as Pakistan. However, women have more often held the position of prime minister, typically a weaker position than the presidency. In many countries, the path to prime minister depends on appointment rather than a direct popular vote and the term length is unpredictable.
In countries where prime ministers govern, they usually rely heavily on parliamentary collaboration. Cabinet ministers are also given more autonomy to control their respective departments, compared to their counterparts in presidential systems.
Only about one-third of all female presidents to date were elected to the position. Others were appointed through various procedures. These include female vice presidents who succeeded presidents, as well as women who were appointed to the presidency to serve on a temporary basis when sudden openings occurred. Some were indirectly elected by officeholders in other political institutions such as the parliament.
Political opportunities for women’s leadership often arise in times of crisis or change. For example, democratic transition in Asia, Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe enabled women to gain a political foothold. A common pathway to more powerful positions for women in Asia and Latin America is through being the wife or daughter of a politically prominent man.
When women lead Having women in the highest positions can bring in more diverse viewpoints and new policy priorities. For example, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s coalition, comprised of female-led parties, has passed a generous work leave measure that expands conceptions of gender roles and families. Prime Ministers Katrin Jakobsdottir of Iceland and Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand prioritise family and green policies over growing the economy in budget planning.