This week, South Koreans elected Park Geun-hye to be their first female president. Throughout her campaign, Ms. Park noted her sex as an asset for the position of leader the fourth largest economy in Asia. Yet, as the country’s economic growth slows and the intentions of the young, new North Korean dictator begin to unfold, Ms. Park faces significant challenges as she begins her term in office. She is, however, in good company among other rising women leaders in Asia:
In 2011, Thailand also elected their first female Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Interestingly, Ms. Yingluck earned her Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Kentucky State University.
India’s first female president, Pratibha Patil, just completed her term in July 2012. More women have begun serving as government leaders in India following a Constitutional amendment in 1993 reserving one-third of the seats in India’s village governing bodies for women.
The Philippines has had two female presidents, including politically-charged Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo serving most recently from 2001-2010.
One cannot leave out mention of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan’s only female Prime Minister, who served two terms in the late 80s / early 90s, and may have served another if not for her assassination in 2007 just before the 2008 election. (Aside: Pakistan is in South Asia, though often referenced as part of the Middle East).
China—Asia’s largest economy and one of the world’s largest economies—has long been uncomfortable with the idea of female leadership. One of the most well-known women leaders in China was Jiang Qing (“Madame Mao”), who took her own life in 1991, during her imprisonment for atrocities of the Cultural Revolution. Recently, worries have surfaced about the dynamism of the wife of the new Communist Party Leader, Peng Liyuan. The new First Lady is a singer-model-TV personality, and is well-known to the Chinese people, which is worrisome to the conventionalist party leaders. Nonetheless, women are engaged in Chinese politics and hold government positions, but do not often ascend to the highest ranks.
As the largest economy in the world, the United States is woefully behind in appointing women to the highest office in the nation, though there has already been speculation that 2016 will deliver a female candidate for office. According to Reuters, “Catalyst research showed that sponsorship is critical to advancing women, as is the commitment of current leadership.” Though this research focuses on women in corporate leadership roles, there is clear applicability to government and political roles as well. “Sponsorship” involves influential professionals propelling the success of female achievers. Many of these aforementioned women leaders in Asia received “sponsorship” from their politically-prominent families and husbands – a trend that could grow in the U.S. as political royalty franchises, such as the Kennedys, Clintons, and Bushes, continue to weigh heavily on voters. Whether or not this is the most appropriate means for women to gain positioning for influential offices, for the time being, it seems to remain a prerequisite for having the opportunity in many parts of the world.