April 12, 2013

Thatcher and women in politics

Fri Apr 12, 2013

Tributes continue to pour in for the late Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. With her Conservative “Tory” party currently in power, whose political fortunes she had revitalised, she is to be given a funeral with full honours. This includes the recall of Parliament from its Easter recess, a gun salute at the Tower of London and funeral service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.{{more}}

Yet such is her legacy, that it is not all smooth going, all sorrow and tears. Some Parliamentarians have bluntly refused to attend the joint session of Parliament and there has been negative reaction from some sections of the public to the state expenses being incurred in the process.

These reactions relate to the late Baroness’s contentious period in office. While on the one hand she is credited with reviving the fortunes of a crumbling Britain and modernizing its economy, her domestic policies were largely anti-worker and hit the poorer folk very hard. To date, there is still a lot of working class bitterness which accounts for the mixed reaction to her memory.

There is no doubt however that Margaret Thatcher made an indelible mark on the British political landscape. She was the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, having survived the challenges of a largely male chauvinist Parliament. No other female politician has been able to achieve that, not even two decades after her removal from office.

By contrast, there are some countries in the world with much better records of female Heads of State or Government. On the whole, women have had a hard time in this regard. Even today with all the clamour about equality and equal opportunities, there are only 17 women at the helm of State or Government in the entire world. This does not include female monarchs, relics of the feudal past.

The Caribbean has not done too badly in elevating women to such posts. Governments in five Caribbean countries have been headed by female Prime Ministers, including the legendary Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica, compared by some to the late Baroness Thatcher. Two of these are currently in office, Kamla Persad Bissessar in Trinidad and Tobago, and Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica, whilst both Haiti and Guyana have had female Heads of State as well as of Government. In addition two Caribbean states have female Governors General — Antigua/Barbuda and St. Lucia — soon to be joined by a third from Grenada. And who can forget Barbados’ lone female occupant of that exalted office, the late Dame Nita Barrow?

The one disappointment, globally, is that too few of these women who have surmounted formidable hurdles to reach the top, have made their mark in terms of the upliftment of their own women-folk. Many women in politics often make the mistake of trying to ape the “macho” image of their male counterparts, rather than bringing a more humane, feminine touch to their governance. In the end, they become associated with a brand of uncaring policies earning epithets such as Thatcher’s “Iron Lady” nickname, a bit of which rubbed off on Dame Eugenia.

Women can be firm without being heartless, can be strong without being ruthless and can display that special touch which comes from the unique role of motherhood. They are called upon not only to be as capable administrators and leaders as their menfolk, but to be always conscious of the disadvantageous position of women in the world and use their influence and office not only to guide their people as a whole, but also to advance the cause of their sisters in general.