Student Projects

Independent-learning super-curriculum projects: reading, research and ideas shared by Perse students

Why do some countries have female leaders, while in others, women have no rights at all?

Imogen W – Y8

Throughout 2016, there were a lot of news stories about the increase of women in positions of political power. Reuters wrote “May, Merkel, Clinton – the year of female leaders.” And the BBC’s headline says, “Are women taking over British Politics?” At the same time, I was reading Malala Yousafzai’s biography which includes information about how girls in Pakistan were being encouraged not to go to school. I wanted to know more about the rights and opportunities of women across the world, so I decided to investigate.

In Britain, we are fortunate that women have the same rights and opportunities as men, and that all girls get to attend school until the age of 17. More and more women are becoming MP’s in Britain and we now have our second female Prime Minister. At the same time, Nicola Sturgeon is leader of the Scottish Parliament, Leanne Wood is the leader of Wales and Natalie Bennet is in charge of the green party. In addition, the BBC quoted in July that “The impressive performance of female politicians, such as Andrea Leadsom and Ruth Davidson in the EU referendum TV debates, felt like a moment when things were changing for women in British Politics.”

Of course, Margaret Thatcher was our first female Prime Minister back in 1979, in a world dominated at the time by men. David Cameron said of her “As our first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the odds.” Barack Obama also praised her on her death, saying: “She stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered.”

However, despite this past and current success, there are still only 191 female MP’s, which makes up 29% of Parliament. This is a huge improvement from when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. Back then, there were only 19 female MP’s, which translated to 3% of MP’s! There was a big change in 1997, when the number of female MP’s doubled from 60 to 120! There is a charity called the

Women’s Equality Party, who are focused on getting more women into parliament. Sophie Walker (the leader of the Women’s Equality party) quotes “It really matters to have the people who represent you look like you, and so for women it’s important to see other women in positions of power and leadership.”

The majority of European countries have a similar percentage of female MP’s to Britain, with an average of 24.3%. However, the Nordic countries have 41.1% of their MP’s as females. Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany, which is widely considered to be the most powerful country in Europe.

What about the rest of the world? Hilary Clinton was expected to be the first female President of the US, on the 9th November, 2016. It was a huge shock that she didn’t win and some people believe that the main reason Hilary Clinton didn’t win was because the US weren’t yet prepared to have a female leader. Reuters point out that “America is hardly alone in never having had a female head of state – neither has France, China or Russia.”

Currently, around the world, there are 10 women serving as head of state and 9 serving as head of government. These include: the UK, Germany, Liberia, Bangladesh, Lithuania, Taiwan, Myanmar, South Korea, the Marshall Islands, Norway, Chile, Brazil, Malta, Poland, Scotland, Croatia and Nepal. This is a good spread from places around the world, and some of them are from surprising countries! Although, positively, the percentage of women in parliament around the world has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, this is still only 22% of women in total in parliament today. Rwanda and Bolivia are the only two countries with more females than males in parliament. Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians worldwide. 63.8% of the MP’s are female!

The UN has shown that 46 countries’ governments are now made up of at least 30% women. Of these 46, 40 had applied some kind of quota to help women get into parliament. They also point out that they are “opening space for women’s political participation. Gender balance in political participation and decision making is the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” However, there are still 38 states in which women account for less than 10% of parliamentarians. That includes four chambers where they

have no women at all. There are wide variations across the different continents. As of June 2016, these are the percentages of women in different countries’ parliaments:

– Nordic countries, 41.1%

– Americas, 27.7%

– Europe (excluding Nordic countries), 24.3%

– Sub-Saharan Africa, 23.1%

– Asia, 19.2%

– Arab States, 18.4%

– Pacific, 13.5 per cent

One of the most interesting Heads of State that I read about was Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently the leader of Myanmar (Burma). She went to an English-speaking school and then to Oxford University. In 1988, she finished studying and decided to go back to visit Burma. However, when she arrived, the country was in turmoil. She led a revolt and then won the election in 1990. But this was not recognised and she got put under house arrest for almost 20 years. She finally got released in 2010 and eventually stood for parliament in 2012, and was formally elected leader.

So that summarises what I found out about female politicians and leaders. Next, I looked at countries in which women do not have many rights or opportunities. In particular, I focused on countries in which girls were not encouraged or allowed to go to school.

I found different lists of the names of the worst countries for women’s rights, but they all agree on the fact that all of these countries:

– Have low levels of girls in education

– Low levels of literacy in girls

– Much higher percentages of men than women in work

– Much higher pay for men than women

– Violence towards women

– Women unable to sign legal documents without men

– Early marriage for girls – as young as 11 or 12

– Poor healthcare for women, especially during pregnancy and childbirth

– Much lower political representation amongst women

The countries with the worst gender inequality consistently failed to give girls the same access to educational opportunities that they gave to boys. In many of these countries, differences were clear as early on as primary school. For example, in Chad, just 55% of school-aged girls were enrolled in primary school, among the worst rates in the world, and far worse still than the 71% for boys. Côte d’Ivoire, Pakistan, and Yemen also had large differences in enrolment.

From the age of 4, girls may not be allowed to go to school. If they are enrolled in a small school somewhere, it is more than likely that they will have pulled out before year 7. There are many reasons girls do not continue their schooling including poverty or traditions that do not value girls learning. Girls may drop out to marry, because of violence in or around school, or due to cost. Often there are simply no schools for girls to go to, even if they want to continue to learn. There is also the fact that school might be a 4 or 5 hour walk away. However, typically, girls are asked to take care of younger siblings and help their mothers cook and clean. A BBC report from 2003 stated that when they asked Muslim parents why they did not send their daughters to school, they said, “because it’s wrong, it’s irreligious, it’s improper – they should stay at home to prepare for their real life, their married life.”

The Malala Fund says “We challenge the view that a few years of “basic” education is enough. We believe every girl should be able to receive 12 years of free, safe, quality education.” They say that more than 130 million girls don’t go to school. “‘Let us pick up our books and our pens’ I said. ‘They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.’” That is what Malala Yousafzai says in her book ‘I am Malala’. She believes that every child in the world has a right to go to school.

Beyond school attendance, poor literacy skills, perhaps the most important part of education, can differ widely by gender in many of these nations. In Mali, for instance, just 25% of women were considered literate, versus 43% of men. Similarly, Chad had female and male literacy rates of 28% and 47%. The low rates of female literacy in these countries mean that women don’t have the skills later on to be able to work. In fact, in many of these nations, men are at least three times as likely to go to work as women. Syria is the most extreme example of this, with 76% of men in the labour force versus just 14% of all women.

Following on from this, women in countries with extreme gender inequality do not have any positions of power. In each of the 10 worst countries for women, men accounted for at least 80% of ministerial positions, and in some, there were no female politicians at all.

As well as this, working women in these countries frequently earned far less than their male counterparts. In the case of Iran, women earned an average of less than $5,000 annually. Men with jobs, on the other hand, earned more than $26,000 per year.

Some of the worst countries for women and girls include:

– Chad

– Iran

– Pakistan

– Afghanistan

– Yemen

– Cote d’lvoire

According to Save The Children, the top ten countries for girls and women are:

1) Sweden

2) Finland

3) Norway


4) Netherlands

5) Belgium

6) Denmark

7) Slovenia

8) Portugal

9) Switzerland

10) Italy

They are all in Europe!

I believe that I am very lucky to be living in a country which has so many opportunities for women. One day, I hope that all countries will have equal rights for men and women. At the moment, my research has shown that women have to overcome lack of education, poor literacy skills, some religious barriers and sexist traditions to have the same chance of success as men. I think that, as do the Malala Fund, if we can get more girls to go to school from an early age, and help them stay there until aged 18, then we will gradually get more female leaders around the world and that in turn will improve female rights even more.


Image: Globe.Photo by FrameAngel. Published on 20 March 2014



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