As nations of the world battle a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, the geopolitical stage is front and center. For the first time in generations, nations in virtually every corner of the globe face one common threat: Covid-19. As it happens, a global pandemic has a way of leveling the playing field in a manner that wars, economic crashes and even natural disasters have not. Be that as it may, a common task does not beget a common approach, and, as leaders tackle a shapeshifting viral threat in different ways, an unofficial pecking order has begun to shake out. It’s hard to miss the shared trait amongst this who’s who list: many of them are women.
Zoom out to see the larger cast, though—one that encompasses both these unsanctioned title-holders as well as the presumed nonstarters—and the picture tells an entirely different story. If all the world’s a stage, in this case, the geopolitical stage, the players—they’re nearly all men. While the current circumstance has pushed female leaders to the forefront, seeing women gain equal global footing won’t happen for quite some time. Barring any larger disruptions to the rate of change, it’ll take well over a century.
As of February 2021, women serve as elected heads of state or government in just 21 countries. Furthermore, 119 nations have never once elected a female. Contextualized with the current count of 193 recognized nations of the globe, one could infer that the world remains uncomfortable at best with female leadership. At this current rate, gender parity won’t be reached for another 130 years.
The Executive Director of UN Women, the United Nation’s entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment efforts, says this sluggish growth is troubling, particularly in this moment of global crisis. In a statement at the General Assembly of the United Nations last fall, Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka opened with a crash course review of the group’s history related to women in global leadership. «In 1945, the founding of the UN was a decisive and courageous moment. At that time, there were no women heads of state or government. In 1995, in Beijing, there were 12 women heads of state or government,» Mlambo-Ngcuka said. «Today, we have 22 such women leaders among 193 countries. All in all, progress, but not yet enough, and too slow, she continued.» In the same address, Mlambo-Ngcuka would go on to say that women’s leadership, at these highest political echelons would be critical «in the face of urgent need to rebuild better after Covid-19.»
Over the last decade, the total number of elected women serving as either head of state or head of government has shown only minor gains. That said, there have been a few noteworthy milestones in recent years. Just last month, Estonia saw its first female head of government as Kaja Kallas was sworn in as prime minister following two highly turbulent years in the Baltic nation. Already, her election espouses the trickle-down change in gender representation that many believe female leadership at the highest level brings; living up to earlier gender parity promises, Kallas has named quite a few women to key cabinet positions. Estonia is also the only nation to claim two female elected leaders at this time as the President of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, shares leadership over the country with Kallas. Other recent additions to the list of female “firsts” include Greece, Moldova, Togo and Gabon in 2020 and Austria, Belgium and Slovakia in 2019.
Mlambo-Ngcuka hopes that the seriousness of the current crisis stemming from Covid-19 will add momentum to electing more female leaders in the months and years to come. It remains to be seen if her hopes will be realized, but some stateside research may forewarn a continuation of the status quo—or even a regression on progress. A July report from McKinsey & Company found that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s. This is borne out in recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Analyzed by the National Women’s Law Center, the counts of net gain separated by gender show that women accounted for 100% of the labor market’s losses in December. This came just one year after women barely edged out men, holding 50.04% of U.S. jobs. Beyond workforce representation, it would appear that women’s voices aren’t being heard by the general public via news media in equal measure either. A September study commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation reviewed almost 12,000 publications and 1.9 million stories from the early months of the pandemic across six nations. It found that women were largely absent from the conversation.
Some might reasonably interpret these reports of women leaving the workforce, of not having their voices heard, as not boding well for the future of women. It’s additionally arguable that advocating for women currently bearing the brunt of Covid-19 impacts requires real representation of women across the global body politic. This notion could very well inspire more women to run in future elections and even solidify a more uniform female voting block. In the end, only time will tell. One hundred and thirty years is quite a long time to wait for gender parity to reach the geopolitical arena, and the jolt of this moment may speed that up—or just might rewind the clock.
Contenido publicado en Forbes