Women who make their way to the top

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 November, 2007, 12:00am

Men still dominate politics but, recently, a number of formidable women have been taking them on

Political establishments around the world have long been dominated by men. With national policies and the rules of political games dictated by men, women are consistently under-represented in the corridors of power.

Countering the patriarchal values prevalent in societies, a series of recent high-profile bids by female politicians have heralded an increasingly strident female voice in the political world.

Last month, the glamorous Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner won the Argentinian presidency to become the Latin American country's first elected female president. Like Eva Peron, Argentina's legendary former first lady, Cristina dazzles the world with her impeccable image and fashion sense.

Also basking in the international limelight of late is US presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Enjoying a sizeable lead over the other leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the 60-year-old US senator is tipped by many to represent her party in the 2008 US presidential election.

While these two female political heavyweights have surprised many by upstaging their male counterparts, many barriers still exist in social and political systems barring women from having a more active role in politics.

According to figures released by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, the rate of female representation in politics at the national level stands at a mere 18 per cent globally. Although progress has been made in attaining parity between the representations of males and females in national legislatures, double standards still remain.

High amongst the glaring inequalities is the dual roles expected of women.

Many female politicians struggle to balance family life with the demands of a working schedule that often involves late hours and frequent overseas travel.

In spite of the many difficulties female legislators have yet to overcome in their political ascendancy, the campaign for more female participation in politics is certain to grow in the coming years.

The politicians on this page are examples of the eminent women whose endeavours have blazed a trail around the world in the fight for gender equality in the political sphere.

Leading US democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton

The first First Lady to contest the presidential election in the US, Hillary Rodham Clinton entered the Senate in 2000.

A skilful fundraiser with an extremely savvy campaign organisation, the New York senator is the leading Democratic presidential candidate. An ardent campaigner for healthcare, women's rights and job creation, she enjoys a high profile both at home and internationally. Her steely personality was revealed at the height of the sex scandal in 1998 involving her husband, then president Bill Clinton and a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, when she chose to support her husband in public.

President-elect of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Dubbed 'Argentina's Hillary', Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is a strong-willed woman who actively supported her husband's policies after he won the presidency in 2003. While her partner took the helm of the government, she was a senator in her own right with considerable political weight in Congress.

A lawyer by profession before her foray into politics, she won the election with 45 per cent of the vote last month to become Argentina's first elected female president.

Sporting flashy designer clothes and a glamorous face, Cristina is hugely popular with Argentines, who look up to her as a model mother and wife. She is also recognised for her intellectual strength and determined campaigning for human rights and women's issues. In a speech after the announcement of her victory, the mother of two said she felt not only a duty to lead her country, but also 'an immense responsibility for my gender'.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel was sworn in as Germany's first female chancellor in the country's parliament in 2005. The first woman and the first east German to hold the office, she is also the youngest person to be German chancellor since the Second World War. Merkel, considered by Forbes magazine to be the most powerful female in the world at present, became the second woman to chair a G8 summit, after Margaret Thatcher, this year.

Dubbed the 'Iron Lady', Merkel grew up in a rural area outside Berlin in the then-communist east and showed a great talent for science, maths and languages.

She earned a doctorate in physics and later worked as a chemist at a scientific academy in East Berlin. She is married to a chemistry professor from the city but has no children.

Merkel supports substantial reforms targeting Germany's economic and social security systems.

Advocating changes to German labour law and removing barriers to laying-off employees, she is credited by some with modernising and enhancing the nation's competitiveness in the international economy.

Web Links

Official sites of the female political heavyweights

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner


Hillary Rodham Clinton


Angela Merkel


Word Power

Match the following words with their meanings on the right.

1 heralded

2 patriarchal

3 strident

4 dazzles

5 impeccable

6 limelight

a) ruled or controlled by men

b) publicity or attention

c) impresses greatly

d) faultless or excellent

e) announced the approach of something or somebody

f) loud and harsh

Fill in the blanks with the words you have learned.

7 The animal activists have lodged _______________________ protests against the inhumane treatment of animals.

8 The beautiful actress _______________________ the audience with her superb performance.

9 The popular politician's _______________________ record in office was tainted by the bribery scandal.

10 The invention of the Internet has _______________________ the age of online entertainment.

11 Before her public fall from grace, the glamorous politician was always in the _______________________.

12 India is a _______________________ society where women are generally viewed as subservient to men.

Language Focus


Reversing the usual order of subject and verb is called 'inversion'. Below is an example from the passage.

E.g Also basking in the international limelight lately is US presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Invert the following sentences as shown in the example.

E.g The chemist's is located between the bakery and stationery shop.

Answer: Located between the bakery and stationery shop is the chemist's.

13 The precious ring is lost among the heaps of discarded papers.


14 Inactivity is compounding the problem of teenage obesity.


Think About

1. Do you think gender disparity exists in the political world? Why?

2. Besides politics, can you think of other fields where women are denied the same treatment as men?

3. Do some research with your classmates to find out whether Hong Kong has enough safeguards against sexual discrimination.


1. e, 2. a, 3. f, 4. c, 5. d, 6. b, 7. strident, 8. dazzles, 9. impeccable, 10. heralded, 11. limelight, 12. patriarchal, 13. Lost among the heaps of discarded papers is the precious ring, 14. Compounding the problem of teenage obesity is inactivity