“Do you think a man could ever be president?” the little boy in Ireland asks his mother. All his life he has only seen women presidents, currently Mary McAleese.”

I have to say that I love any article that starts like that! Not that I want young boys to feel like they are unable to hold political power but because it is so revolutionary to think of a place where female power is so naturalized. It also is quite indicative of how children respond to the modeling of roles and behaviors. Young women have a harder time imagining themselves in positions of power because they have few exterior models of women in those positions. I’ve quoted a couple of parts of the article below but you should really read the whole thing:

Joanne Sandler, deputy executive director for programmes at the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), tells this little anecdote to show that in some places it can be routine for women to be found in leadership roles. “In places like Ireland and Finland it is becoming less extraordinary to see a woman in power,” says Sandler. And it is this kind of female power that could bring more women into leadership, she says. “When you see women in positions of power, in ministries, obviously the self-image of girls changes, and they envision themselves in those places. But that kind of change will take a very long time, though it has started,” she adds. The change does not necessarily correspond to a nation’s level of economic development.

There is not a relationship between more money and less gender discrimination,” says Sandler. “Money and power have an influence in those women achieving power. But money alone doesn’t explain it. “Look at the elections in Liberia. A woman who has education, a former employee of the World Bank and the U.N., with an impressive resume, against a man who had no high school education, a soccer player (George Weah). Imagine the opposite: against a man with Johnson-Sirleaf’s background, would a woman with Weah’s credentials be a serious contender? To be a contender for high level political office, women have to bring a lot of extra qualities in order to get into the race. They need the same things as a man, plus others.” Ayesha Kajee, former researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs and board member of Supposedly developed societies which continue to operate under highly patriarchal and authoritarian family and leadership structures can on the other hand “institute policies that result in institutionalised and societal antipathy towards empowering women,” Kajee says. “Women themselves in these societies are often tacitly complicit in the latter, because they have been socialised to think that access to power is undesirable, unfeminine or irreligious.”

One of the main obstacles is the violence that women candidates face. Not only physical violence, but also how they are addressed, how they are reported on, which emanates from gender discrimination. And it is not confined to Africa.” Women leaders are under a different kind of scrutiny, she says. “They are still a novelty because it is so unusual…But there is great expectation from Johnson-Sirleaf and (Chilean President Michelle) Bachelet, by women and by others. Do they receive a greater level of scrutiny than others? Is it fair?”