The 2016 political thriller ‘The Committee’, written by the popular American author Terry E. Hill, is a fantastic mixture of political conspiracies, manipulation and mysticism. ‘The Committee’, a secret one, is headed by a mysterious New Orleans family of Creole women with ancestors from Europe. ‘The Committee’ has chosen every US president for the last two centuries – starting from James Monroe, the fifth President – and also the economy of the country is roughly controlled by them.
That almighty ‘Committee’ now decides that the US is ready for a black woman president. And it chooses Camille Ernestine Hardaway, the first African-American female mayor of Los Angeles, for the President’s post. Camille is extremely beautiful and ambitious, ideal for the central character of the story. She has a devoted husband and influential friends surrounding her. And there must be a journalist in the story who would reach very close to the hidden truth. This story of Terry Hill certainly has all the spice to be a successful Hollywood movie.
A few months after the publication of this thriller, Hillary Clinton became the first woman in the history of the US to become the candidate of a major political party in the race for White House. So, in the context of the 2016 presidential election, it could create some illusion about the existence of such a ‘Committee’ in the minds of some people.
American society and its politics are always dominated by patriarchy in a vivid way. About ninety per cent of the country’s governors and 100 per cent of the former presidents are male. There is a vast America where millions of people living beyond the glamour of Hollywood, glitter of Vegas, and aristocracy of Chicago or New York. Take an example. Both the vice-presidential candidates of the 2016 election had to speak against abortion during their campaign – religion and prejudices are so integral to that society.
The United States will certainly have a long way to go. The social revolution could not even be completed even if the country had elected Hillary, a white woman, and former first lady. The country might take another few decades at least to send a black woman without political inheritance – much like Camille of Terry Hill’s thriller – to the White House. Even a white woman without any political succession might not be able to reach the peak of politics of that country in the next few years – it’s really miles to go for the country.
We read about Hatshepsut, Nefertiti and Cleopatra of Egypt, Isabella of Spain, Catherine of France, Mary of Scotland, Elizabeth and Victoria of England, China’s Empress Wu, and India’s Razia Sultana. Most of them enjoyed great power during their reigns, but all of them acquired power through political inheritance. In that era, it was almost impossible for any woman to establish an empire through warfare, indeed. However, the scenario is different in the modern era where the head of the states are mostly elected by their people. About 10 per cent of the head of states of the world are women at this moment – certainly women do not become head of the states too frequently in the male-dominated world.
In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen created history to become the president of Taiwan without any political inheritance. (However, Taiwan is considered to be a country by only 19 UN members.) Almost all the female prime ministers and presidents of Asia – in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Korea – have a long shadow of political inheritance of father or husband behind them. Apparently, none of these societies seems sufficiently smooth for a woman to climb to the top of the country’s politics through the ladder of success without the baggage of political heritage.
The situation in the Middle- East is even worse – there has been no female head of the state from Baghdad to Beirut, although Golda Meir, daughter of a grocer, could rule Israel nearly half a century ago.
Europe is certainly much more modern in social outlook. However, despite having the experience of the reign of Queen Victoria, Britain took a long time to bring one ‘Iron Lady’ to 10 Downing Street. Both Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May hailed from non-political families. The same is true of Angela Merkel in Germany, a commoner, who also had a PhD in quantum chemistry.
In Eastern Europe, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Balkan countries, even in tiny Malta, the women heads of the states during the last five-and-a-half decades are mostly from common families – they are children of a professor, a mechanic, an electrician or a tailor. The same for Kosovo, a Sunni Muslim country. Kemal Atatürk’s Turkey got a woman leader in the form of Tansu Çiller, daughter of a journalist, about two and a half decades ago. On the other hand, in the north of Europe, Russia did not get any elected woman head of the state, although the country experienced the reign of Empress Catherine.
And, yes, there is light in the darkness of Africa as well. None of the women heads of Liberia, Senegal, Mali, Mauritius, Central African Republic hailed from a very powerful political family. The picture is almost similar in Latin America, and in the Caribbean as well.
There is no doubt that when a woman reaches the highest political position by virtue of inheritance from a man, patriarchy of the society gets highlighted. It is society’s responsibility to get out of the shell and prove that it is not. Admittedly it is very difficult for a woman to reach the top without inheritance. But, if the magic happens by some way, it is bound to induce a renaissance in the attitude of the society. As Alice Schwarzer, Germany’s best-known feminist, said: “Since 2005, little girls can decide: Do I become a hairdresser – or chancellor?”
I truly believe that Angela Merkel is the most powerful elected woman head of the state in the history of the world. She certainly rules the largest economy of the European Union and is the most important player in the act of balance to resist Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in the global scenario.
But, beyond that, Merkel’s liberal attitude towards the Syrian refugees during the unprecedented global crisis was instrumental for the infiltration of millions of Syrians in Germany and Europe, which is now threatening to change the demography of Europe within the next few decades. It’s a matter of long-standing historical debate between humanity and ethnicity to understand whether she did right or wrong.
But there is no doubt that in the history of the planet, no other elected woman leader from any corner of the globe could influence the course of the world more than what Merkel already has done. This will be emphasised if in the future she wins the Nobel Peace Prize for her refugee policy, but will be evident to posterity even otherwise.
The writer is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.