Women on Top?

What will G-8 summit meetings be like when American President Hillary Clinton and French President Ségolène Royal join German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a formidable triangle of women’s power? The scenario is not altogether unlikely. Indeed, in the United States and France, there are even alternative female candidates for the presidency (Condoleezza Rice in America, Michelle Alliot-Marie in France). Will this mean a new style of both domestic politics and international relations?

The answer is not obvious. After all, some women have long had the strength and the will to make it to the top. Think of Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, or Margaret Thatcher. All three were powerful prime ministers of their countries, though perhaps not the epitome of what might be regarded as feminine values. They all outdid men at their own game and had little time for what came to be called feminism.

Indeed, another trend may be more significant as far as political leadership is concerned. When it comes to the formation of governments, women have managed to break out of the prison of their traditional domains, such as education and social affairs. Foreign policy in particular has become a female aspiration. Both the US and the European Union have women leading their foreign offices; so do half a dozen EU countries, including Britain. Has this changed the style, indeed, the substance of foreign policy?

Undoubtedly, a shift in policy styles is occurring in many parts of the world. In a word, it appears that the Reagan-Thatcher period is over. While opponents of globalization still fight “neo-liberal” policies, political discourse has taken a new turn. Words like “justice” are back in fashion; there is concern about globalization’s losers and the “underclass.”