Women and politics – are there any truly greats

When you ask people who are the great political leaders? People might talk about Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Karl Marx perhaps. The immediate list that everyone rolls off the tongue will often be notable for the fact of its masculinity.

History has a lot to answer for, women’s second-class position has a lot to do with the lack of female political heroes. But with a little searching and a bit more thinking, it becomes clear there are plenty of women who do inspire us in the political arena and do wield power in the way we are used to seeing a man do.

Famous because they are first

Many women make the list not necessarily because of what they have done, but because they are first. Margaret Thatcher is an obvious example. Her politics were widely hated, she was widely hated, and when it came to her own personal night of the long knives she was sacrificed without a moment’s hesitation.

Nonetheless, she makes the list for being the first female prime minister in Britain and she had an international reputation which went with it. Condoleezza Rice makes the list for the same reasons, and although her politics are not to everyone’s taste, she broke a glass ceiling and paved the way for the women who follow.

Famous for making a difference

Susan B. Anthony and Emmeline Pankhurst stand out for making a difference for all women in the US and the UK respectively, but also for the cause of women’s suffrage generally.

Having the vote meant women could also become politicians and now ministers, and even the first Prime Ministers. Many women fought for suffrage and many were suffered. But these two are outstanding in their commitment and the leadership in accepting nothing less than women’s suffrage on the same grounds as men’s.

Famous for lasting the difference

Angela Merkel has been at the forefront of politics for eighteen years and there is no sign of her losing her position. She has steered Germany to a dominant economic position in the world and created a country renowned as well off and middle class. Her legacy in Germany will last a long a time, but whether it will be enough to create a position on the world stage.

Grace and poise until it all came tumbling down

To talk about women in politics and not mention Aung San Suu Kyi is impossible. Held under house arrest for much of her life she was referred to in Myanmar as ‘the lady’. Her influence was sufficiently widespread that when finally the military junta ended her house arrest she was feted around the world with peace prizes and awards.  Her position is irrevocably tarnished mostly because of her silence with regards to the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar.

As the world moves to become a society I look to seeing women becoming political leaders for their politics and not their gender. This cannot happen soon enough.