Women’s must answer in the affirmative; but the facts

            Women’s issues are extremely
important to me for many reasons, the least of which is the fact that I am a
woman. I have written many papers on gender justice, the most recent of which
was during this semester – a group assignment that dealt with women’s rights in
Russia. I find myself constantly thinking about different ways in which we can
improve the lives of women and look to the strong female figures in my life
that inspire me for answers. Additionally, I think about how leaders can change
the world that we live in and the way women’s lives are affected by our
leaders. Inherently, through the scope of three books: The Buddha and the Terrorist (Kumar, 2006); Cultural Anthropology (Miller, 2012); and The Virtues of Leadership (Rego, Pina e Cunha, & Clegg, 2012) I
attempt to respond to the question, “Does having more women in leadership
positions promote policies in support of “women’s issues” such as peace,
reproductive rights, and support for human capital investments (schools,
children’s programs)?” that Miller poses (2012, p.242).  As a self-proclaimed feminist, I feel as
though I must answer in the affirmative; but the facts presented in this paper
stand on their own. Therefore, I assert that “having more women in leadership
positions” does “promote policies in
support of “women’s issues”” (Miller, 2012, p.242) and, where there is a lack
of female leadership, women’s issues are not given as much attention.  

Facts and Figures

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            For International Women’s Day 2017,
the Pew Research Center compiled statistics on the “number of women leaders
around the world” (Geiger & Kent, 2017, title). Through this research, some
disappointing statistics about women’s role in leadership are found (Geiger
& Kent, 2017). First and foremost, a map displays that 77 countries in the world
have not had a female leader; this includes the United States (Geiger &
Kent, 2017, Graph: “Most of the world’s…”). Furthermore, that same graph shows
that only five countries worldide have had female leaders for more than 15
years (Geiger & Kent, 2017, Graph: “Most of the world’s…”). Geiger &
Kent explain that “While the number of current female leaders – excluding monarchs
and figurehead leaders – has more than doubled since 2000, these women still
represent fewer than 10% of 193 UN member states” (2017, para. 4). Additionally,
as Miller points out, “Countries with over 25 percent of women
parliamentarians are either African states, such as Rwanda and South Africa,
that have recently experienced violence, or Nordic states which are politically
progressive” (2013, p. 242).  However, “on average, 19 percent of the
world’s parliamentary members” are female (Miller, 2013, p.242). While these
statistics are sobering, as Deane et al. explain, women are ready for a change
in leadership and think much like I do: “Four-in-ten of them (38%) say having
more women in top leadership positions in business and government would do a
lot to improve the quality of life for all women” (2015, Sec. 4, para. 1). Therefore,
I have hope.

Successful Female Leaders
Internationally

            The strength and leadership of women
is shown in numerous ways both nationally, internationally, in the real world,
and in fiction. In this section, I discuss the strength and leadership of women
in multiple situations, and determine the importance of women in each situation.  Firstly, this section looks at a fictional example of women’s strength (Kumar,
2006, p.109-116). Then the section looks towards domestic violence in
Kazakhstan and how women have learned to resolve such an issue (Miller, 2013,
p. 378). Finally, the section looks to workplace issues of the past in Mexico
and how women dealt with such an issue (Miller, p.377-378).  

The Strength of Women in Fiction

            In the book The Buddha and the Terrorist, the strength of women is both
literally and figuratively shown through a woman giving birth (Kumar, 2006, p.

109-116). In that particular section of the book, although a male character,
Ahimsaka, is coaching the nameless mother through childbirth, the strength of
the nameless character is present as she struggles through the birth (Kumar,
2006, p.110-112). Additionally, the value of the strength of the woman giving
birth is shown as Ahimsaka witnesses and assists the birth because, through
this experience, Ahimsaka “became enlightened” (Kumar, 2006, p.112). While this
fictional lesson about women’s strength is important, I feel as though looking
to the real world is needed in order to get a better understanding of
leadership.

Domestic Violence in Kazakhstan

            Through an example in Kazakhstan,
Miller (2013) shows, in the real world, that leadership occurs when there are
issues that are not being solved for (p.378). Miller writes, “In response to
the widespread domestic violence of husbands against wives, an NGO called the
Society of Muslim Women (SMW) defines domestic violence as a problem that the
Islamic faith should address at the grassroots level (Shajdr 2005)” (2013, p.378). As Miller explains,
these women saw an issue of “domestic violence” and decided to handle it through
religion instead of through “secular” means (2013, p. 378). Part of the SMW’s
work involves “counseling and shelter for abused women and couples’ mediation”
as ways to stop “domestic violence” (Miller, 2013, p.378).

            The creation of the SMW shows
leadership in a few ways. First, the women who created the SMW saw that others
needed help. Rego, Pina e Cunha & Clegg write, that leadership includes
“facing global and local problems honestly and energetically” (2012, p.6).

Second, the women who run SMW decided that the best way to deal with the issue
of “domestic violence” was to create a program or solution that worked best in
the context of that society (Miller, 2013, p.378). This decision to pick a
religious route (Miller, 2013, p.378) shows leadership because, as Rego, Pina e
Cunha & Clegg explain, leadership involves “Respecting and adjusting to
different people and cultures” (2012, p.6). By choosing to solve for the
problem of domestic violence through religious means, the SMW exemplify the
process of “adjusting to… cultures” (Rego, Pina e Cunha & Clegg, 2012,
p.6). In fact, at the end of the discussion about the SMW, Miller states,
“Thus, the SMW works within the bounds of Kazakh culture and uses that culture
for positive outcomes within those bounds” (2013, p.378).

            Additionally, with very little
means, the SMW persists and continues with their work (Miller, 2013, p.378).

Again, as Rego, Pena e Cunha & Clegg put it, the SMW is “Taking challenging
and wise decisions” (2012, p.6). The SMW is “taking” on an immense “challenge”
(Rego, Pina e Cunha & Clegg, 2012, p.6) by trying to deal with “domestic
violence” and “rebuild the family… without funding or professional training”
(Miller, 2013, p.378).

            Even though the situation in
Kazakhstan seemed to need immediate attention, without female leadership, I
believe it would have not gotten the kind of attention it needed. According to
the Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, “Women represent 27% of the lower
house of Kazakhstan’s Parliament” (Infograph: “Gender Equality…”). I argue
here, that if women did
not make up almost a third of the parliament (Infograph: “Gender
Equality…”), then the “number
of positive steps to address the
problem of gender-based violence more effectively, mostly focusing on domestic
violence” (Asian Development Bank, 2013, p.28) would not have happened. The
Asian Development Bank (2013, p. 28) explains that these “positive steps” began
in 2008. It just so happens that in the year 2007, the “Number of women was almost doubled” for the parliament in Kazakhstan (Mazhilis
of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan, n.d., Sec. 5, para. 9). I do
not think that the greater focus on women’s issues was simply a correlation to
the increased number of women serving on Kazakhstan’s parliament; I believe
this greater focus was a direct effect of more women serving.  

            Workplace
Issues in Mexico. According to the United Nations Women, “Investing in
women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality,
poverty eradication and inclusive growth” (n.d., para. 1). In Mexico, we see an
example of empowering women and helping them keep their economic freedom during
the late 1980s (Miller, 2013, p. 377-378) through the creation of “an informal
system of social networks that emerged to help support poor Maya women
vendors” (Miller, 2013, p.377). Miller explains that these female Mayan “vendors”
make “an important portion of household income” (2013, p.377). These women
began to feel threatened by figures of authority who violated them through
“rapes and robberies” (Miller, 2013, p.377). The “network” (Miller, 2013, p.

377) uses a unique system to prevent, and stop violence and violations against
women, and “comforts” women when they are violated (Miller, 2013, p.378). This
system also involves holding on to weaponry in case of an attack and staying “in
groups” (Miller, p. 378).

            This “network” of women (Miller,
2013, p.377) shows leadership in a few different ways. In the book, Virtues of Leadership, Rego, Pina e
Cunha, & Clegg state that “Mitigating the consequences of crises (e.g.

plants closing) for employees” is part of leaders’ work (2012, p.114). Although
Rego, Pina e Cunha, & Clegg are using this skill in reference to business (2012,
p.1), it is still applicable to the Mayan women’s situation because these women
are attempting to minimize any harm that is done to them individually and to
their fellow “vendors” (Miller, 2013, p. 377-378). Additionally, Rego, Pina e
Cunha, & Clegg state that “Fostering a sense of community within the
company” is a part of leadership (2012, p.114). Again, even though the
“network” of Mayan women is not a business, they have still “fostered a sense
of community” (Rego, Pina e Cunha, & Clegg, 2012, p.114) by supporting each
other emotionally and economically when needed (Miller, 2013, p. 378). Not only
do the Mayan women show leadership by creating their “network”, they were able
to hold on to their economic freedom by doing so (Miller, 2013, p.377-378).  One might wonder why the Mexican government
did not step in and help the Mayan women, therefore, I looked to who was
serving during the late 1980s.      

            While I could not find demographics
on the makeup of the Mexican government as far back as the late 1980s, I did
find the percentage of women in the Mexican parliament in 1990 – a mere 12%
(Chart: World Bank, 2017a). Since the percentage of women representatives has
been increasing overall in Mexico (Chart: World Bank, 2017a), it is safe to
assume that in 1987 there were probably either less, or slightly more, women
serving than in 1990. Therefore, the “network” of Mayan women that was created
during the late 1980s, then could possibly be a result of a lack of government
intervention (Miller, 2013, p. 377-378). Remember that the people violating the
Mayan women “were persons of power and influence” (Miller, 2013, p. 378). Here,
I presume that if there were more female leaders in Mexico at the time of the
violations, then the government would have stepped in and stopped the
violations.

Successful Female Leaders Locally

            While it is important to learn about
female leadership around the world, sometimes seeing leadership or leadership
characteristics, first-hand is most important. Therefore, this section is
dedicated to a woman that our class had the privilege of hearing speak this
semester: Dr. Sarah Willie-LeBreton, who gave a speech at the CUNY Graduate
Center. 

            Before getting to the contents of
her speech, I would look at how Dr. Willie-LeBreton presented herself. To
begin, her speaking was clear, concise, and conversation-like. The way she
presented herself was inspirational, which, as explained later in this paper,
shows leadership.

            The content of Dr. Willie-LeBreton’s
speech proved her leadership even more. In her speech, she touched upon a lot
of important issues in reference to higher education and the CUNY system. Dr.

Willie-LeBreton had numerous inspiring aspects of her speech, however, some of
the greatest ideas that came from her speech that showed leadership was when
Dr. Willie-LeBreton began talking about the greater governmental system that we
have today that can, many times, be the cause of injustices. She looked to the
audience and told us the “power to fight back is scary” and that “with progress
there is always pushback.” However, what was most inspiring was when she talked
about the fact that protests are “equally as serious as they were in the past.”
It is not that I did not know this, it is just that I see historical figures
who “protest” as so above-me that it is hard to think that if I participate in
a protest that I am even close to being as important as historical figures.

            In this sense, Dr. Willie-LeBreton
shows leadership, because according to Rego, Pina e Cunha, & Clegg (2012),
“wisdom and knowledge” (p.8), as well as “justice” (p.9) are all a part of “character
strengths” of leadership. Under the category of “wisdom and knowledge,” Dr.

Willie-LeBreton’s speech can be categorized as “Perspective/Wisdom: being able
to provide wise counsel to others; looking at the world in a way that makes
sense to oneself and other people” (Rego, Pina e Cunha, & Clegg, 2012, p.

8) because her speech both inspired me and helped me understand the magnitude
of my actions. Worded differently, although arguably not on purpose, Dr.

Willie-LeBreton “counseled” me to understand how I can change “the world” and
forced me to process “the world in a way that makes sense to me” (Rego, Pina e
Cunha, & Clegg, 2012, p.8).

            When looking to the “justice”
category, Dr. Willie-LeBreton best fits the ideal of “Fairness: treating all
people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting
personal feelings bias decisions about others” (Rego, Pina e Cunha, &
Clegg, 2012, p.9). As Dr. Willie-LeBreton spoke about “progress” and
“pushback,” it was clear that she wanted “fairness” (Rego, Pina e Cunha, &
Clegg, 2012, p.9) for all individuals. Furthermore, while talking about the
system of higher education, Dr. Willie-LeBreton said that we need to “stop
abusing privileges … of higher education.” At the of her speech, Dr. Willie-LeBreton
explained that “We must practice democracy” This statement shows a sense of
fairness because privilege is synonymous with “advantage, right,
benefit, prerogative, entitlement, birthright, due,” (Oxford Living Dictionary,
n.d.) implies unfairness, and Dr. Willie-LeBreton calls to end “privileges.”

Failed Leadership
& Women                                                 

            Although I have mentioned multiple ways
in which female leadership has had a positive impact on me and around the
world, this essay would not be complete if I did not mention how leadership has
failed women. If I attempted to list all of the ways leadership has hurt women,
this paper would be never-ending. From restricting educational rights, to
unequal pay for equal work (American Civil Liberties Union, n.d., para. 1), I could write about
women’s issues for pages. Therefore, in this section of the paper, I work to
hone in on one of the more severe forms of how leadership has and continues to fail
women throughout the world and how, if there were more female leaders, this
failed leadership could be alleviated.

Female Genital Cutting

            It is important to understand that
while we have positive, impactful, and most of all, exemplary leadership
internationally, we also have examples of failed leadership across the world. I
believe that one of the most horrific ways in which leadership has failed women
is through female genital cutting (FGC). As Miller explains, “Female genital
cutting (FGC) is a necessary step toward full womanhood in cultures that
practice it” (2013, p.147). Miller uses the example of “Sierra Leone” to
explain how FGC is used within a particular culture as a form of women’s
“initiation” (2013, p.147). Miller points to other places, such as “Egypt” and
“Ethiopia” as countries that participate in the act of FGC (2013, p. 146). In
addition to the aforementioned countries, the United Nations Population Fund
lists Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, Egypt, and Mali as practicing FGC within over
90 percent of the female population in each country (2017, Table). Miller also
lists medical issues that come with FGC, such as, “infection” and “problems
during childbirth” (2013, p.147).

            There are many obvious reasons as to
why female genital cutting shows a lack of leadership, however, here I focus on
the lack of “courage” that people have to stand up against it (Rego, Pina e
Cunha, & Clegg, 2012, p. 8). Miller tells the story of a woman who had
undergone female genital cutting stating that “the physical pain was
excruciating (in spite of the use of anesthetics)” (2013, p.147). Rego, Pina e
Cunha, & Clegg tell us that with “courage” comes “bravery,” which they
define as, “not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking
up for what is right even when facing opposition; acting on convictions even if
unpopular” (2012, p.8). The opposite of “courage” and “bravery” would
inherently lack all of those characteristics (Rego, Pina e Cunha, & Clegg, 2012,
p.8). Even if FGC is part of culture where is the “courage” (Rego, Pina e
Cunha, & Clegg, 2012, p.8) to stand against something that we know women
feel pain from and may have medical consequences due to it (Miller, 2013,
p.147)?

            For a reasonable explanation to my
own question, I turn to the government make-up of the countries that practice
FGC. Unsurprisingly, The World Bank shows that in each of the top-five
countries that have the highest rate of female genital cutting, less than 25
percent of the government is made-up of women; three of the top five countries,
Egypt, Djbouti, and Mali, have less than 15 percent female representatives
(Chart, 2017b). Putting this into cultural terms, I assert that if there was a larger number of female
leaders, or even if one of these countries were matriarchically run, then the
incidence of female genital cutting would be reduced greatly. Although she is not
from one of the countries with the highest FGC rates, Dukureh of US News,
provides some evidence for my claim explaining that women from “around the
world,” including herself, have been speaking out about FGC and attempting to “end”
it (2017, para. 1; 4-6; 8). Dukureh explains that “When my daughter was born…I
knew I had to speak out to protect her and the thousands of other girls around the
world who are cut every day” (2017, para. 4).

Conclusion and Limitations

            While, throughout this paper, I have
made some connections about the positivity associated with women’s leadership
and the negativity associated with a lack of women’s leadership – they are only connections and correlations. They
are not necessarily corroborated by in-depth studies. In addition, I understand
that in some of the places that I look for examples of leadership of women,
leadership is still failing women in those countries. For example, in 2013, Fatima
Leonor Gamboa, a Mayan women, stated: “I work for greater gender equality between
the brothers and sisters of our peoples in the Maya communities in Yucatan. I
am a lawyer who represents women suffering gender-based violence” (UN Women,
2014, para. 4). Furthermore, as far as FGC goes, it is even practiced in
places with female leaders,
such as America (Dukureh, 2017, para. 3). More than this, there are
simply some scholars who do not agree with the correlations I have made for
various reasons (Miranda, 2005).

            With that being said, I do think
that I have made a valid argument and that more primary research is needed to
understand whether or not these correlations are causations (Miranda, 2005, p.

10). As Miller points out, we don’t know if “the fact of being a man or a woman
necessarily predict that the person will support policies that favor men or
women respectively” (2013, p. 242), however, from the examples given in this
paper, it is not completely out of the question. Additionally, Denmark
qualifies Miller’s argument when she states “Women can empower other women, but
only feminist leaders can further our feminist agenda and share leadership with
other feminists” (1993, p. 355).