By the end of the year, the four wealthiest countries in the Western World could all boast women as their leaders. The significance of this cannot be underestimated. We remain in a world where the patriarchal bravado of world leaders continues to flaunt itself. Long-time chauvinistic plutocrats like Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan have, in recent years, strengthened their holds on power. In India, Modi has slashed funds to the Women and Child Development Department despite the continuing ubiquity of violence towards women. And then there’s Trump.
Like Obama, these women enter (or have entered) office at a crucial period for the movements they owe so much to.
Mmes. Clinton, May and Merkel should be viewed, in this context, as positive symbols of the feminist movement’s achievements. However, we should remain critical of what these individuals contribute to the movement in return. As the first President of colour begins his transition towards a life of after-dinner speaking and Florida golf courses, a fitting analogy can be drawn. Obama, steered in to the Oval office with 96 per cent of the black vote, will leave having increased levels of income inequality between blacks and whites (moreso than either Bush or Clinton managed), while, as #BlackLivesMatter shows us, police brutality continues to sow seeds of animosity in fractured communities.
Like Obama, these women enter (or have entered) office at a crucial period for the movements they owe so much to. Austerity, the Western world’s economic gospel for the past decade, has been gender disproportionate. Let’s focus, for now, on matters at home: in the UK, more than 2/3rds of cuts have fallen on women, including to domestic violence services. In Theresa May, we are inheriting a leader who consistently supported these policies. Of greater concern is her actions as Home Secretary. Under her, the Home Office increased the role of migration detention facilities like Yarl’s Wood, where numerous accusations of rape and sexual intimidation have been made by the detained women. The Government refused even to provide details of these allegations.
Internationally, expect to see May following Clinton in meeting enthusiastically with misogynistic despots from the Gulf States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the intensification of bombing campaigns by NATO allies in the Middle East has led hundreds of thousands of the world’s most defenceless women to hunger, poverty and death. As the men risk life and limb on perilous journeys to Europe, women are stuck in inadequately resourced camps amidst perpetual insecurity.
Transnational structures of oppression remain in place, a barrier to progress for millions of women.
The feminist movement faces greater tasks, in today’s world, than making individual breaks in the glass ceiling. Transnational structures of oppression remain in place, a barrier to progress for millions of women. It is important, as these symbolic victories for the feminist movement arise, that those at its helm move beyond egalitarian platitudes and act with the courage of their forebears to improve our society, and the world at large.