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Challenges to Women’s Leadership in Ex-Colonial Societies

Bissessar, Ann Marie

Ann Marie Bissessar

International Journal of Gender and Women's Studies




Women have held key leadership positions since the year 3000 BCE. Indeed, one of the earliest Egyptian queens, Ku-baba, ruled in the Mesopotamian City-State of UR around 2500 BCE. However, this trend to place females in key leadership roles did not emerge in the Western World until during World War I when women took on the role as members of the revolutionary governments in countries such Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, and Ireland. By the 1960s there were to be further gains as Sirivamo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka became the world's first female President and in 1974 Isabel Perón of Argentina also assumed a leadership position. Today, there are approximately twenty nine female leaders in twenty nine different countries. Eleven of these female Presidents are in the countries of Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Finland, India, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Liberia, Lithuania, San Marino and Switzerland. In addition there are three reigning queens in the countries of Denmark, The Netherlands and The United Kingdom. Twelve females also serve as Prime Ministers in the countries of Australia, Bangladesh, Croatia, Germany, Iceland, Mali, Slovakia, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago and in the self-governing territories of Bermuda, Saint Maartin and the Åland Islands. However, according to a UNDP report (1995), women still lagged behind in the areas of political and economic participation. That report noted, that while there may have been an overall increase in the number of women actually involved in the electoral process, the increase in the number of females particularly as Members of Parliament or at the top ranks of political parties has not been very encouraging. An account by Barrow-Giles (2011), further suggests that in the case of the Commonwealth Caribbean a total of 2,736 persons contested General Elections between 1992 and 2005 (excluding Guyana). Of that total, 2,374 were males and 362 were females. 2 This chapter will focus on the role of women as political leaders in the countries of the Anglophone Caribbean. It will present a broad view of women and their participation in politics in the Caribbean region as a whole. It will trace the struggle of females and their entry into the political arena and identify some of the tools and mechanisms employed to allow for such entry. The chapter will, inevitably, examine the historical environment and try to map the triggers that allowed or did not allow for participation of females in the political process during the pre-independence period and afterwards. Another dimension offered in this article is to look specifically at two countries, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, and the way that females were incorporated into the political processes of these countries. It should be recalled that many of the countries of the Commonwealth Caribbean have a fairly homogenous population, although that society may be stratified according to class lines as well as gender lines. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago as well as Guyana, however, what may be considered unique is the plurality of these countries in which two major racial groups vie for political as well as economic power. It will be useful, therefore, to examine the way this kind of power-brokerage between the two major racial groups may prohibit or perhaps act as major obstacles in preventing women from attaining top leadership positions. The article will conclude with an evaluation of the mechanisms employed by female Caribbean leaders in their attempts to manage a mainly male-dominated environment.


American Research Institute for Policy Development


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