There is plenty to lament when it comes to women's role in politics. In the U.S. Congress only 20 percent of representatives are women, and as of 2015 only five states were ruled by female governors. Internationally, just 17 percent of all government ministers are women. Worse still, women account for just 7.3 percent of current heads of government. In terms of political leadership; we have a long way to go before achieving gender equality.
Initially I planned to spend this International Women's Week article deploring statistics likes these and exploring the factors that prevent women from achieving their leadership potential. Instead, I want to take the opportunity to celebrate some of the women who have made political achievements in recent years, in spite of existing obstacles. All around the world women build peace, promote education, guide economic development, and fight for gender equality. Here are four of their stories.
1. Bidhya Devi Bhandari�
Last fall, for the second time in the country's history, 549 Nepalese parliamentarians cast their ballotsfor president. In spite of the strong patriarchal tendencies in Nepal, the representatives voted 327 to 214 to elect Bidhya Devi Bhandari, the female vice-chair of the country's communist party, as their president. A former defense minister and long-time advocate of women's rights in Nepal, Bhandari was a key player in the drafting of the Nepalese Constitution in 2008, which guarantees women 33 percent of the seats in parliament. As president, Bhandari will serve mainly a ceremonial role, but women are hopeful that her leadership will inspire continued progress towards gender equality.
2. Alicia B�rcena�
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has helped shape the economic development of the Americas since its founding in 1948. ECLAC, one of five regional commissions of the United Nations (UN), is tasked with coordinating regional actors, providing policy analysis, supporting social development, and encouraging the sustainable use of the region's natural resources. For the first 60 years of its existence, ECLAC was controlled by men. However, Alicia B�rcena�broke this trend in 2008 when she assumed the position of executive secretary. Since then B�rcena has led the commission's efforts to promote economic equality, stop climate change, advocate for macroeconomic stability, and ensure the equal status of women.
3. Samantha Power�
When she was first confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the UN in 2013, Samantha Power was the youngest person to hold the position. Her age has not stopped her from making an impact, however. As a journalist and author, Power had been an outspoken advocate of human rights. In�"A Problem from Hell," for which she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize��Power criticized the U.S. government's failure to intervene on the behalf of victims of genocide. Since becoming ambassador, Power has been no less vocal about the United State's responsibility to prevent human rights abuses. Among other topics, Power has encouraged the government to increase their efforts to assist migrants from Iraq and Syria, fight against ISIS, and support the UN's peacekeeping mission to the Central African Republic.
4. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf�
The Second Liberian Civil War (1999-2003) was marked by intense physical and sexual violence against women. It was following two long years of unstable peace that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first female president of Liberia and the first female executive in an African country. In fact, Sirleaf also helped facilitate the peace process by campaigning against former dictator Charles Taylor and supporting women's efforts to promote peace. In the wake of the civil war, Sirleaf has advocated justice and civil liberties and worked tirelessly to promote equal opportunity for women in politics and the private sector. Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her efforts and has since exhibited grace and humility during the recent Ebola crisis.
These four leaders - hailing from all corners of the globe -speak to the rich potential of female politicians. Not only have these women worked to promote equal treatment of women, but they have also tackled the most pressing human rights, economic, and security issues of our day. Hopefully their example will usher in more female leaders into the political realm. Until then, may we appreciate their examples by continuing in the fight for true gender equality.