Welcome to the new 162 Report, a monthly tip sheet from SKDKnickerbocker’s Women’s Leadership & Advocacy Practice exploring news and issues showcasing women making a difference. This month’s focus: women in politics from around the world.
Female political leaders exert influence far beyond their policies. Studies have shown that public exposure to high-powered women reduces social bias, decreases unreported crimes against women and pushes parents to state higher aspirations for their daughters.
In societies that often tend to value sons over daughters, female leadership can even increase the chance of survival for vulnerable girls. In rural India, there’s a phenomenon known as “missing women.” Female fetuses are either aborted or female infants die young due to neglect or infanticide because families often can’t afford to have many children, but want to ensure that they have at least one boy.
Priti Kalsi, Assistant Professor of Economics at the Rochester Institute of Technology, has linked a departure from this practice in India to a 1993 law that dramatically increased female leadership. The 73rd Amendment to the Indian constitution required states to develop rural political bodies and dedicate one-third of all political seats to women. In a study published by the Journal of Development Economics, Kalsi estimates that the drastic increase in female leadership helped save the lives of approximately 900,000 to 1,800,000 girls born between 1992 and 2004.
Read more here.
Electoral Victories Down Under
Watch out Perth: there’s a new wave of female Labor Party politicians coming to town. This month, Labor swept to victory with the largest contingent of female MLAs—Members of Legislative Assembly—to ever win seats in the chamber.
Seven new female MLAs were elected on the Labor ticket alone. That lifts the total tally of women in both halls of the state’s legislature to 30—topping the previous record of 29. Following Labor’s landslide win, one of the new MLAs, Lisa O’Malley, put the results in context: “The boys club image has been smashed. There’s no room for some of the behavior we’ve seen from male politicians in the past. We’ll put them in line.”
Over the years, Western Australia’s Parliament House has gained a notorious reputation as a hotbed for machismo and vulgar rhetoric. The newly elected MLAs believe their election is the first step in correcting this habit. However, there is a long way to go until West Australia achieves equal representation in the legislature. Of the three major parties in the Assembly, only Labor’s female caucus surpasses the 30 percent threshold. Just 22 percent of the National Party caucus is female, while the Liberal Party lags even further behind with a meager 17 percent.
Read more here.
All Eyes on May
In 2006, Theresa May was photographed wearing a T-shirt reading, “This is what a feminist looks like.” As someone who is viewed as notoriously difficult to read, this silent statement seems to be one of May’s most revealing moments. Now as the Prime Minister of England and one of the world’s most powerful women, she demurs when directly asked if she identifies as a feminist. But despite her equivocations, May is undoubtedly a trailblazer for the women’s rights movement, as she leads England through the tumult of Brexit, which was officially initiated this week.
As the second female Prime Minister of Great Britain, she constantly finds herself compared to the first. May, however, is determined to carve out her own path saying, “There can only ever be one Margaret Thatcher. I’m Theresa May. I do things my way.”
Reserved, understated, and firm, May does indeed do things “her way.” She seems disinterested in the showmanship that comes with political life – a stark contrast with some other world leaders. It is this determination to deliver on her promises and propensity for understatement that sets her apart.
And, in face of sexist attacks on her clothes – see “Trousergate”, the brouhaha over her boots, and this week’s Daily Mail cover – May continues to blaze her own path and believes that wearing what she wants sends an important message to women. “Look, throughout my political career,” she explains, “people have commented on what I wear…But it doesn’t stop me from going out and enjoying fashion. And I also think it’s important to be able to show that a woman can do a job like this and still be interested in clothes.”
Whether she calls herself a feminist or not, May owns her image as a woman and as a leader. She may be reserved, but she’s not afraid to make a statement.
Read more here.
What Else We’re Reading
- Reporter Jonathan Capehart talks to Estonian president Kersti Kaljulaid, the first woman and youngest person to be elected president of Estonia, for the latest edition of the Washington Post’s “Cape Up” podcast.
- Teen Vogue shares six female leaders’ best advice on how young women can lead the fight against climate change.
- The Atlantic interviews Helene Cooper, author of a new biography on President Ellen Johnson Sirlea of Liberia, who made history a decade ago when she became the first female President in Africa’s history.
- Elle’s 2017 “Women in Washington” profiles 10 women leaving their mark on the Capitol.
- Representative Maxine Waters fired back at Bill O’Reilly after he mocked her hair this week, in CNN.