Global leadership: Voters launch a power surge of women
Brazil's President-elect Dilma Rousseff is the latest in a power surge of women in global leadership positions.
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"Women bring a different set of life experiences to the making of public policy," Walsh says. "They see the world differently. It's why you want all sorts of diversity."Skip to next paragraph
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But other studies suggest that this sort of outcome is less than a given. Many countries with high female representation still fall low on charts measuring gender equity in education, economics, and health, scholars point out.
"As to whether the numbers [of women in legislatures] are turning into real power – that's an ongoing issue," Krook says. "Is there a potential wave of political transformation because of these quota policies? It's an ongoing question."
The same goes for the elite group of women who make it to the top levels of political power. As in legislatures, the number of women winning heads of state positions has increased significantly over the past decade, with many countries – Slovakia, for instance, and Liberia – electing their first female president or prime minister in the past few years.
But Faria Jalalzai, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says there is no "standard" policy stance for these women heads of state, and that it is also important to understand the power distinctions among leaders before making any sweeping statement about the rise of women in the global executive club.
Glass ceiling broken, or just cracked?
"There are such divergences in power," she says. "It's not the same to say that a woman is the president of Ireland as [it is to say] that a woman is the president of the United States."
(Ireland has a largely ceremonial head of state, a position now filled by Mary McAleese. The president of the United States is a powerful executive.)
Ms. Jalalzai says her research shows that female politicians are more likely to move into the less powerful slots – one reason that Pakistan, for instance, has had a female head of state (Benazir Bhutto), while the US, although fielding high-profile female candidates (Hillary Clinton for president in 2008, Geraldine Ferraro for vice president in 1984, and Sarah Palin for vice president in 2008) has not.
"There is such a diversity of cases," she says. "In some countries, the glass ceiling really is shattered. In others, it's just kind of cracked."
But at the same time, she and others say, women leaders are often given less credit than they are due. An oft-heard refrain about women leaders, particularly in developing countries, is that they are in power because of familial ties.
This has certainly been true, political scientists say, but it can also be overstated. News articles about the recent death of former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, for instance, repeatedly mention how he was the husband of current Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and describe him as the "power behind the throne" and the "strongman" in her government.
Few note that the political duo met in law school, and that Cristina was elected to national political office first.
IN PICTURES: Women global leaders