When Hillary Clinton went head-to-head with Barrack Obama for the right to represent the Democrats in the previous presidential elections, she did something that no other American woman was able to do before. She wanted to be the next president of the United States. It was unprecedented in this country but not in the world. However, in the modern age when it was expected that women should rise up and be treated the same as men, few dared to do so. There were some who succeeded and yet many failed.
And yet women can do so much. There are things that they alone can accomplish with great results. With issues like reconciliation and social justice they can contribute greatly.
Nevertheless, there are challenges up ahead and the report on PBS, as narrated by Maria Hinojosa, speaks about the reality and the difficulties faced by women leaders who believe that they can indeed make a difference if only the citizens of their nation will give them that chance.
Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojosa begins by talking about women in politics and the failed bid of Hillary Rodham Clinton to earn the right to be the most powerful leader in the United States and the most influential leader in the free world. She then went on to say that the United States ranks 69th in the world when it comes to women holding national political office (PBS, 2010, p.
1). This prompted her to investigate even further and in the course of her investigation she realized that while it is extremely difficult for a woman to get elected she also found out that women leaders may be the solution to many of the problems that plague society that for many decades was never resolved by men in power. There is a certain talent, skill and insight that women bring to politics. In many countries around the world, its citizens are aware of the importance of women in politics. Citizens of Chile and Rwanda knew why there must be women in politics but it seems that in the United States not everyone is convinced that women, politics, and power can be placed in the same sentence. Hinojosa tried to explain this by taking a closer look at the lives of world leaders and why they succeeded and what were the challenges that they had to deal with in order to reach the top. Aside from that she also studied the behavior and aspirations of up and coming leaders of American society, the next generation of women leaders, and for that she went to where young women leaders tend to meet – in a debate contest. At the end Hinojosa had to admit that much work needs to be done in order for women to be at par with men in terms of nationally elected offices but she had to admit that women, power, and politics is a rising tide.
Women and Leadership
Hinojosa chose to follow Jeanne Shaheen to start her report. The reason for doing so is that Shaheen had the right combination of achievements and attributes that would make her a suitable example to show what Hinojosa had in mind. Shaheen was a former school teacher who at first glance was suited to work as a housewife and not a politician. However, Shaheen was the first woman to be elected as governor of New Hampshire and afterwards decided to run for the U.S.
Senate (PBS, 2010, p.1). Hinojosa considers her as a prime example of the possibilities that women bring to U.S. politics. Nevertheless, the correspondent had to concede that compared to the rest of the world America is a few steps behind when it comes to electing women to national office. As a matter of fact, this was not the first time that Shaheen decided to run for the Senate, in 2002 she ran against John Edward Sununu and she lost.
Shaheen explains that it is because the events of September 11 were fresh from the minds of the people. They believe that security is the priority issue and as a result they voted for a man rather than a woman because they also believe that a man would be able to handle those issues much better than a woman (PBS, 2010). What exactly can women do in order to prove that they can do a better job than men? It is possible for n can do a better job but there are issues and they are problems that can be considered a perfect fit for them and arguably there are others where they are perceive as lacking in capability. While Clinton made history in the presidential race, another woman took center stage when McCain chose Sarah Palin to run as his vice-president. Immediately the impact of her candidacy was felt and according to Hinojosa her gender was a major factor to consider and that come election time her being a woman affected the way people decided to vote for McCain or not (PBS, 2010). It is clear that in America the people are not yet ready to entrust the highest position in the land to woman no matter how qualified she may be.
Shaheen argued that when people decided to choose their leaders it must not be about gender. She added that it must not be about their soft side that she can be treated like a mother to her constituents but because of her abilities and how she speaks regarding the issues that confront the nation (PBS, 2010). But when Hinojosa went to Chile and Rwanda she discovered the opposite. Women leaders outside the United States where chosen not simply because they have the same qualifications as men but they were chosen because the people believe that they can resolve the problems that for many years men in their country were unable to solve.
The people of Rwanda and Chile believe that it is the mother instinct present in women candidates that made them effective against issues like health reform, social injustice, and the need to heal the land from strife such as what the Rwandans experienced in the 1994 genocide that killed close to a million people. The success of foreign leaders like Bachelet and Inyumba is not only attributed to their skills. This is what can be understood from the PBS report. Their success is linked to their womanhood. Their being a woman played a crucial role in their candidacy because they came at the right time and the right place.
In Chile, Bachelet rose to power after her country suffered from a brutal dictatorship and a failed government and the reason why Chile is considered a poor country. The leaders that came before her were all men and they succeeded in bringing the country even lower while the people suffered. When Bachelet came in she was considered as the best alternative and the citizens were willing to gamble on her. Her being a woman did not come as a liability but it was an asset.
Aside from that one can understand from watching the video that the people of Chile felt that they were neglected by past leaders who were preoccupied only with politics and the need to increase their power so when Bachelet took to the campaign trail and showed her soft side then the people responded positively to her and one person even commented that she was seen as a mother to the nation (PBS, 2010). The same thing can be said about the women politicians of Rwanda who were elected to Parliament. The Rwandans had to deal with a terrible experience that they went through as a nation.
Fifteen years ago genocide left almost a million people dead in racial attack that occurred in one hundred days (PBS, 2010). One can just imagine the pain and the suffering of the people. This is linked to the fact that they elected women to Parliament, almost half of the lawmakers are women (PBS, 2010) Many believe that women are better at reconciliation, better at maintaining peace and less prone to corruption (PBS, 2010). These are the factors and the circumstances that made women leaders in Chile and Rwanda succeed where their U.S.
Reactions and Observations
It is easy to understand why Hinojosa had to go to Chile and to Rwanda and why she had to spend a few days studying and following an all-women high school debate team. She went abroad to show America that if it is possible to elect a woman as president in an economically challenge country then it is possible to elect one in the United States. She went there to show Americans that if it is possible to elect a great number of women lawmakers in a war-torn country then it is possible to also do the same in the United States. She also went to the High School debate team to know the struggles that women face.
But Hinojosa’s travel and other activities failed to produce a solution to the problem why American women failed to secure elected positions especially the highest office in the land (Zeinert, 2002). She also failed to show that there is a reason why Bachelet and Rwandan women were elected to the Parliament and it has something to do with their history and circumstances (Worth, 2008). If this can be used as a comparison then it can explain why Americans are reluctant to vote for a woman as Senator or as President.
First of all American politics is fairly stable compared to that of Chile. Secondly, although there is a need for unity and healing the problem in America never reached a point where 1 million citizens were massacred because of their ethnicity. In other words Americans are happy with the way things are so why would they change it? Aside from that there are other challenges like finances and how to lead an effective campaign (Carroll, 2003). There is also a problem on how American women can explain what difference will they be able to make if they get elected and can they really do a better job than men (Gelb & Palley, 2009). Many are protesting inequality but there can be another reason (Rhode, 2003). But the first thing that has to be looked into is the way voters perceive women and the fact that for more than a century the men are the leaders of this country and not the women.
Hinojosa tried to show that there is something wrong with America because women are not elected into sensitive posts such as the Presidency and the U.S. Senate. She contrasted this with the presidency of Bachelet, a single mother who made history by being the first elected woman president of her country. She also pointed to Rwanda and the number of women in Parliament. However, she did not devote time to explain that there is a big difference between Chile and the United States, the history and political factors are different and what made it possible for Bachelet to succeed may not be present in America and the reason why Clinton and Palin failed not because they are women.
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Retrieved 01 November 2010 from http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/437/video.html Rhode, D. (2003). The Difference ‘Difference’ Makes: Women and Leadership. MA: Haravard University Press.
Worth, R. (2008). Michelle Bachelet. New York: Chelsea House.