After a tumultuous few weeks in British politics, Theresa May became Britain’s second-ever female prime minister on July 11. By January next year, three of the world’s six largest economic powers—the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States—may be run by women. The United Nations is also tipped to gain its first female secretary-general later this year and women currently chair the US Federal Reserve and head the International Monetary Fund.
In the UK House of Commons, it looked briefly like May might also eventually face a female opposition leader, though Angela Eagle withdrew from the Labour Party leadership contest. Meanwhile, women lead three of the largest parties in the Scottish Parliament, including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. The First Minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, is also female.
Do these milestones signal, as many commentators have proclaimed, that women are now “taking over” the world? While there may be some more cracks in the “highest, hardest glass ceiling,” it hasn’t shattered yet. Globally, the gender gap in political leadership is stark: there are still only 16 women prime ministers and presidents around the world. Leaders like May, Germany’s Angela Merkel, and potentially Hillary Clinton in the US, therefore, remain the exception rather than the rule. In general, the more powerful the political position, the less likely it is to be filled by a woman. Looking at representation more broadly, women hold only 23% of legislative seats worldwide and have currently achieved equal representation in only two countries: Rwanda and Bolivia, both of which impose legal gender quotas for political office. Read more