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Power women shining a light on politics

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Britain's recent election has thrown up a contingent of women who certainly look forward to playing significant roles in Parliament. As many as 240 women have been elected to the 650-seat House of Commons, which is a remarkable feat. It is a pointer to the increasing power and influence women have been bringing to bear not just on politics in Britain but elsewhere in the West as well.

Woman power is today epitomised by Angela Rayner taking charge as Britain's Deputy Prime Minister and Rachel Reeves becoming the first woman in the country to be Chancellor of the Exchequer. And there is of course the tried and

tested Yvette Cooper, who heads the Home Office. There is Jacqui Smith in education.

It is for the Conservatives deeply distressing that in the Labour landslide they have lost Penny Mordaunt, once considered a future Tory leader and perhaps future Prime Minister. Liz Truss, too anxious to be Prime Minister --- and she was for a brief period --- has failed to keep her seat at the election. Suella Braverman is there in the Conservative Party and might make a move for its leadership.

And of course there have been Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May in positions of power. Thatcher's remains a mixed legacy while that of May could have been regarded as important had she had more time at 10 Downing Street. And let us not forget Priti Patel, whose work as Home Secretary riled quite a few people not happy with her way of dealing with the issues.

Women have added a new dimension to politics in our times, with a good number of them becoming noted for the decisive manner in which they have handled affairs of state. One may not agree with their mode of functioning, but that they have changed the course of history has never been in doubt. Indira Gandhi remains a pivotal figure in Indian history for the larger-than-life figure she was between her ascension to leadership and her assassination. Sheikh Hasina's long dominance of politics in Bangladesh has been defined by the increasingly popular feeling that she has far outstripped every other politician in the country in terms of charting her country's future.

Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan may not have been a power woman, for the particular reason that she was hamstrung by the Pakistan army looming over her, but that she was decisive in instilling confidence in her country's women is a fact undeniable. And for all her present predicament, Aung San Suu Kyi has already gone down in history as a tireless crusader against Myanmar's avaricious generals. In the 1970s, Jiang Qing, the widow of Mao Zedong, exercised unchallenged authority as the leader of the Gang of Four until she was brought down by Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiao-ping. In India, a formidable politician is Nirmala Sitharaman, the finance minister in the Modi government. No less influential is Mamata Banerji, whose hold on power as Chief Minister of West Bengal remains unshakeable.

Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand was a breath of fresh air and so was Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister of Scotland. And if political wisdom in terms of an exercise of diplomacy is the yardstick to put leaders to the test, Germany's Angela Merkel emerges with flying colours. Her presence in the politics of the West is missed these days. But another woman who has loudly been promoting her politics is Marine Le Pen, who despite her disappointment at her party's performance at the recent parliamentary elections, plans to have another shot at the French presidency in 2027. And yes, the young Giorgia Meloni has been consolidating her power in Italy through reinventing the country's rightwing politics.

Do women make better political leaders than men? The answer depends on a case-by-case basis. Hillary Clinton, having served as Senator and US Secretary of State, was eminently qualified to be President. Her shock defeat at the November 2016 presidential election put paid to her chance to reconfigure American politics. In Bangladesh, Motia Chowdhury's ministerial performance in the region of agriculture was proof of the hands-on approach she brought to politics, a record her successors will find hard to equal. Zohra Tajuddin, in the brief period in which she led the Awami League, demonstrated her prowess in leadership through her efforts to revive the party in the dark days of dictatorial rule.

Michelle Bachelet and Mary Robinson served with distinction as Presidents of Chile and Ireland, in that order. The demands were rather heavy on Bachelet, who was expected to wean her country away from the dark legacy of the Pinochet years. Both Bachelet and Robinson, following the end of their presidencies, would go on to serve as international diplomats and would do the work with credit. Mexico has a new President in the academic-cum-scientist Claudia Sheinbaum, who surely has a tough job to handle as she assumes office. She is a reminder of the hard work Corazon Aquino needed to do in the Philippines when People Power forced the authoritarian Ferdinand Marcos into exile in 1986.

The world's power women in our times, especially in countries where democracy has either been suppressed through extra-constitutional means or has been in a tenuous state, have had a hard time governing. A problem has been that many of them were thrust into politics on the passing of male family members who had long exercised political power. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Indira Gandhi, Sheikh Hasina, Corazon Aquino, Megawati Sukarnoputri, Khaleda Zia, Benazir Bhutto and Isabel Peron are some of the more prominent of examples.

In the West, the trend has largely been one of women clearing a path to politics on their own. They have not had the baggage of family dynasties underpinning their rise in politics, which certainly has had them link up with the historical tradition on their terms. Their rise to prominence as also their departure from power politics has been attributable to their distinctive personalities.

The last word? Women around the world have enriched politics, have given it a refinement that has done away with the gender imbalance which for decades characterised the profession. They have reshaped the world and through their idealism have promoted the rise of other women to the heights of power in diplomacy, journalism, academia, the armed forces and business.

Woman power continues to shine a light on the global political landscape.

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