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Trinidad and Tobago's New Prime Minister Is a She -- Another Step Forward for Women

5 years ago
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A woman became prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday, a first in that country.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar's party, the People's Partnership, ousted incumbent Patrick Manning in Monday's election in the Caribbean nation.

This first leads us to ponder the numbers and progress of women as political leaders in the world -- and in the United States.

Kamla Persad BissessarHere's a look at some of the numbers:

23 nations or independent states are ruled by women, according to the Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership.

10 countries have women presidents: Argentina, Costa Rica, Finland, India, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania, The Philippines and Switzerland.

7 countries are lead by female prime ministers: Bangladesh, Germany, Iceland, The Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago and the Aland Islands.

3 monarchies are led by queens: Denmark, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

3 women are governors-general, appointed by the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth: in Antigua and Barbuda; Australia; Canada and Saint Lucia.

Some of the famous female world leaders:

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the first woman prime minister, serving in Sri Lanka beginning in 1960 (her party was re-elected in 1970 and in 1994).

Indira Gandhi became prime minister of India in 1966 and again in 1980.

Golda Meir took office as prime minister of Israel in 1969, serving until 1974.

Isabel Peron became the first woman elected president of any country, winning election in Argentina in 1974.

Margaret Thatcher may be one of the best known women leaders, serving as prime minister of Great Britain from 1979 to 1990.

"Women are making progress in many countries globally," Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders and author of "The Loudest Duck," said in an e-mail. "It seems that the most rapid progress comes from countries that engage some form of affirmative mechanism at the local or national level or where a President or Prime Minister commits to 50/50 men and women in cabinet."

Where's the U.S. in all this?

Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, notes that we have never had a female president but that there are "women in some very visible and important positions in this country, like [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, like [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton, and there is much talk about if Elena Kagen is confirmed, one-third of the Supreme Court will be female."

Still, the United States ranks 69th on the World Economic Forum's Political Empowerment Index.

"Eighty-three percent of our Congress is male and 75 percent of all state legislators are men," Walsh said. "When you think of the numbers in that way, we're not doing as well as a lot of other countries are."

Some firsts in the United States, according to the Center for American Women and Politics:

Victoria Woodhull, a stockbroker and publisher, ran for president on the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872. She didn't get that many votes. Neither did Belva Lockwood, the party's nominee in 1884 and 1888.

Susana Salter became the first woman mayor in the U.S. when elected in Argonia, Kan., in 1874.

Colorado elected the first women -- three of them -- to a state House of Representatives in 1894.

Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, took office in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1917. Only once since that 65th Congress (in the 66th) has there been no woman serving in the country's legislative branch.

Rebecca Latimer Felton, a Georgia Democrat, was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1922 -- for two days.

Nellie Tayloe Ross took office as Wyoming's -- and the country's -- first governor in 1925, elected to replace her late husband.

Frances Perkins became the first woman to serve in the president's Cabinet in 1933. Franklin Roosevelt named her labor secretary, a job she held until 1945.

Nancy Landon Kassebaum was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978 -- the first woman senator who wasn't either succeeding her husband or being appointed to fill an unexpired term.

Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to run on a major party ticket for vice president, pairing up with Walter Mondale in 1984.
Filed Under: Woman Up

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You forgot to mention Dame Eugenia Charles who was Prime Minister of Dominica from 1980 - 1995, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of her life's work in politics. She was very influential in limiting tourism to the island to preserve it's natural beauty, and Dominica still is one of the most lush islands today.

June 02 2010 at 2:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Tinidad and Tobago is one dangerous place. I have been there once and will never go back again.

May 29 2010 at 5:55 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Your headline and first sentence should have identified the country as Trinidad and Tobago. That is the name of the twin island republic.

May 29 2010 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Other nations have long, long been electing women for the highest office. Ironically America is shamefully one of those who still does not.

May 29 2010 at 12:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Trinidad and Tobago has ranked quite high in overall numbers for women in Parliament; Top 33 out of more than 186 countries for the last Parliament. In the Senate, the percentage of women was almost 42%. The change due to this week's election is yet to be determined as the first sitting of Parliament is in two weeks.

more info is at The Inter-Parliamentary Union

As a former female Senator in Trinidad, I can tell you that the only obstacles to a woman rising in Trinidad and Tobago are in her mind and attitude. So now we have a female PM to prove.

liz mannette

May 29 2010 at 12:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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