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Gender Does Not Confer Leadership, By Owei Lakemfa

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – The world was agog this week with the certainty that the next British Prime Minister would be a woman. The attainment of that office this  Wednesday by  Theresa May  who replaced a politically-crushed David Cameron at 10, Downing Street, was  a mere formality as her only rival,  Andrea Leadsom, was also a woman. As it stands, the two most powerful people in that country today;  Prime Minister  May, and Queen Elizabeth, are women. Going further afield, perhaps, the two most powerful countries in Western Europe;  Germany with Angela Merkel as Chancellor, and Britain, are now led by women. Many people in the world are also expectant that the next President of the world’s most powerful country, the United States, will be a woman; Hillary Clinton.

I had expected a stiff contest between    May, favoured by what is left of the Cameron group -which lost the Brexit referendum- and Leadsom from the victorious arm of  Conservative Party which won the referendum. It reminded me of the stiff rivalry between the two powerful women politicians who have led Bangladesh for about a quarter of a century; Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League.

However, Leadstom read the mood of her Conservative colleagues in the Parliament correctly and not wanting to drag the party through a potentially divisive campaign, conceded. She said “Theresa May carries over 60 percent  of support from the parliamentary party, she is ideally placed to implement Brexit on the best possible terms for the British people and she has promised she will do so.”

The emergence of May, reminded many of the Margaret Hilda Thatcher leadership of Britain from May 1979 to November, 1990. But not so many might remember that Thatcher, alias  Iron Lady, though a woman, did not exhibit the sort of motherly tenderness and understanding some  expected  of a woman. As her ideological soul mate, President Ronald Reagan described her, “She is the best man from England”

Dubbed by some as ‘Thatcher the milk snatcher’ for stopping  free milk for school children before she became Prime Minister, she was pro-rich and anti-social spending; pro-privatization and anti-communist, pro-monarchism and anti-trade unionism; pro-war and anti-pacifism; pro-nationalist and anti-Europe. Intolerant of other views, she once said “I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end”

In espousing her anti-poor ideals, she said “No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had money as well.”  Backing Apartheid in South Africa, providing the Reagan administration use of British bases to  bomb Libya without having declared war on that country, the warmongering Thatcher famously argued that “A world without nuclear weapons would be less stable and more dangerous for all of us.”

Finally, her policies such as the imposition of poll tax,  sack of some elected officers for disagreeing with her, stopping student tuition assistance and evidently, losing public support, made her Conservative Party to  force her humiliating resignation. So a person’s gender does not necessarily provide good or healthy leadership.

Despite   their leaning towards the conservative, a shared position of discouraging migration and ranking  state rights  over fundamental human rights, Theresa May is likely to pursue a markedly different agenda from Thatcher. For instance, where the latter had a policy of  cutting social  spending, May wants spending on more housing. Where Thatcher was anti-trade unions,  the former, supports corporate governance with workers participation. Where Thatcher accepted market forces as a religion, May does not. For instance, she feels that Britain still needs to take steps  to protect  the British people interests in Cadbury that was bought by the United States Kraft company six years ago.

I am a believer in women rights, especially those on equality, but I am not taken in by tokenism. For instance, my support for Hilary Clinton to become the next American President, is not because she is a woman, but based on the fact that she is far better than Donald Trump on virtually all matters including the intellect, political experience, and   tolerance. She also belongs to the Democrats, which  in comparison to  the Republicans,  have a more liberal approach to world politics and issues like race relations, gun control, undocumented immigrants, and general tolerance of  opposing beliefs. Additionally,  her policies may be influenced by her cerebral  husband, Bill Clinton  who has compassion for the weak and understands world politics.

While not under estimating the importance of more women occupying  political  offices in the world, I think what is more important is how policies, beliefs, practices, and laws that hold women down are reversed. These can be located in religious practices, social, cultural and traditional discrimination against women. Inheritance  laws, lack of equal access of the girl-child to education, discrimination at work, unequal pay with male counterparts and discriminatory  prize money in sports, are other challenges. In many parts of the world, women have no right over their bodies or even who they marry, while challenges of teenage pregnancy cuts across  the universe.

As Thatcher showed, human beings are human beings irrespective of gender; what matters is the ideas in their heads, their political or ideological beliefs and the  interests they serve. Interestingly, my Woman of the Season is not Theresa May, but the virtually unknown African American lady, Lesha Evans. The 35-year old mother of a five-year old boy  turned up for a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, against the continuous insane murder of Blackmen by American police. Cladded in a flowing gown elegant   enough for an Oscar Award, she stood alone, firmly and resolutely on the highway while all others fled with the approach  a well-equipped formation of anti-riot policemen. When the police got to her, she held out her arms for the mandatory handcuff; she preferred to be profiled and fined or  jailed, than to back down. At that point, she held the moral ground against the American establishment. For her, there was no retreat. Later she was quoted as saying she stood her ground because she  wanted to look her son in the eye, and  say, she fought for his freedom and rights.


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