Women should run the world, claims historian

Women of the world: A new documentary series explores the history of gender inequality © BBC

Despite women’s liberation and the global rise of feminism, there is still a clear gender imbalance in politics. What should we make of claims that women would be better leaders than men?

If women were in charge, the refugee crisis in Europe might have played out differently, argued the historian Dr Amanda Foreman this weekend.

“It’s not in the female make-up to stand there idly by while women and children die like flies on the beach.” This, she said, is why Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has been most compassionate towards the desperate families.

Some believe Foreman’s vision is closer than ever. There is a growing number of women at the top of politics: other than Merkel, Hillary Clinton is running for US president, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been president of Liberia since 2006.

But these well-known women mask a gender imbalance in politics. Women still make up just 22% of governments. Out of almost 200 countries, only 22 have female leaders.

Women have not always been unequal, as Foreman points out in her new BBC documentary series, The Ascent of Woman. In ancient Sumer — now Iraq — women were treated as equals. There, they could hold positions of power, study writing and apply for divorce.

The last century has seen huge advancements for women in much of the developed world. In Britain during that time, they have gained equal legal rights to men, and anti-discrimination laws help to protect them from sexism in the workplace.

But feminists counter that issues such as childcare, equal pay and domestic abuse do not get enough attention, and ordinary women continue to suffer.

Girl power

Women should lead us, say some. They are often more compassionate and collaborative, so they make better decisions. They would make for a world dominated by peace, not war.

Others object to such generalisations. There are good male leaders and bad female leaders. In a truly equal world, politicians would be elected for their ideas and experience, not their gender.

You Decide

  1. Should women be “in charge” more often?

Activities

  1. Choose a woman who inspires you, and explain your reasons to the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

“The only thing holding women back is themselves.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Not all men are bad at communicating!
Of course not. When researchers talk about gender differences, they are not saying everyone must act in the same way. Instead, they are looking at overall trends and trying to find a cause.
Which is what?
That’s up for debate — some might say differences are biological, based on hormones like testosterone. Others believe behaviour is conditioned by society.

Word Watch

Refugee crisis
Over 19.5 million people, mostly from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, have fled their countries due to war and oppression.
Hillary Clinton
The former secretary of state is still the bookies’ frontrunner.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
The Liberian president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work on women’s rights. Many believe that her strong leadership helped to eradicate Ebola from her country.
Sumer
The ancient civilisation invented forms of writing, governance and technology which would shape the world for millennia.

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