Sisters in Power
Men hog the thrones around the world, but a measure of equality is being felt in a region not known for it's sexual fair play. Nonetheless, more women are coming to power in Asia than anywhere else in the world
By Ron Gluckman/in Jakarta, Colombo, Manila and Hong Kong
WOMEN CAN'T GET A GRIP ON POWER. That's the story around the world. But in Asia, of all places, there's a funny twist to the tale. Here, in this bastion of male dominance, sisters are sure doing it for themselves.
Sri Lanka produced the worldís first democratically-elected leader
in 1960, when the post was filled by Sirimavo Bandaranaike, mother of current
Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Bandaranaike assumed power after the
assassination of her husband. She has served as prime minister three separate
The balance of power shifted greatly in the 1980s, when women took power in Iceland, Norway and Yugoslavia, and, in the 1990s, in Turkey, Ireland, Nicaragua, Panama and Poland.
Yet, three quarters of a century after winning the right to vote, women in
America still havenít had the choice of a single female candidate for
president from any of the major parties.
But Asia isnít alone in selecting survivors to replace leaders whose term
has been cut short. In Israel, Golda Meir was prime minister in the 1950s when
few women held high offices anywhere. The first female head of state in the
Americas was Juan Peronís widow, Isabel, in Argentina. A half century before
any major American city could claim a female mayor, several states had women
governors; all succeeded husbands who died in office.
- Corazon Aquino, Former President of the Philippines: Two and one half years
after her husbandís assassination on August 21, 1983, the widow of exiled
Senator Aquino spearheaded the Peopleís Power movement that toppled Marcos
from power. She was burdened with the unflattering tag of "First
Housewife" throughout her term.
- Sirimavo Bandaranaike, former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka: She succeeded her
husband as Premier in 1960 after he was assassinated by a Buddhist monk. But she
rose to the role. Ruthless and determined, she dominated the islandís politics
for nearly three decades.
- Indira Gandhi, former Prime Minister of India: Chosen by Congress party bosses in 1966 as a prime minister they thought they could control, the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru built a mass following, split the party and established herself as supreme leader. She was assassinated in 1984 by bodyguards.
- Sonia Gandhi, Congress party leader: Italian-born wife of Rajiv Gandhi, who succeeded his mother as Prime Minister and was himself assassinated in 1991, she stayed out of politics until recently, when party leaders turned to yet another Gandi to try and produce a miracle at the polls.
- Chandrika Kumaratunga, President of Sri Lanka: She shrugged off the political assassinations of both her father and husband, then battled her brother for control of the family party, which she took to victory in 1994.
- Indonesiaís Megawati Sukarnoputri, presidential candidate: Daughter of Sukarno, Indonesiaís first President, she saw her party outpoll all others in the June election, the countryís first free elections since her father was ousted in a 1965 coup. She is likely to head a new government as president by the end of the year.
- Sheik Hasina Wazed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh: Her father President Sheik Mujibur Rahman, her mother and three brothers were murdered during a 1975 military coup. Abroad at the time, Sheik Hasina Wazed returned home in 1981 to take over her fatherís party and won a 1996 election.
- Khaleda Zia, former Prime Minister of Bangladesh: Widow of assassinated President Ziaur Rahman, she took over her husbandís party in 1982 and won office in 1991. She has been in political battles with arch-rival Hasina Wazed ever since.
Ron Gluckman is an American reporter who is based in Hong Kong, but who roams around Asia for a number of publications, such as MSNBC, which ran this story as a sidebar to his profile of Megawati Sukarnoputri during the Indonesian elections in late 1999. He has also written about women in power in Asia for the Wall Street Journal, Asia Magazine and the San Francisco Examiner
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