The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Keepin’ It In The Family

Posted by Leah on September 7, 2008

The tradition of women becoming popular politicians partly because of their relationship to a male politician has long rankled me. The women who spring to mind of course were talented and deserving in varied ways, but my point is that it appears that to achieve in politics it helps a woman to be preceded by a popular male relative, whereas male politicians regularly ‘come out of nowhere’. There are notable exceptions in both camps – Margaret Thatcher and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark were not preceded by male relatives, and of course George Bush’s son succeeded him. But my point remains that in many cases society unfortunately appears to approve of female leaders not solely on their own merits but partly because of their association with popular male political leaders.

Indira Ghandi, Prime Minister of India from 1966-1977 and 1980-1984, was the daughter of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The Burmese leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Su Kyi, is the daughter of Burma’s ‘father of independence’, General Aung San. And of course there is Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But the woman who brought all this to my mind today is the late Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan between 1988-1990 and 1993-1996. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had also been Prime Minster. Today her widower, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected President of Pakistan. I found this noteworthy as it is the first occasion, that I am aware of, where a male politician has been elected presumably partly because of his association with a female politician.

I am not exactly a fan of nepotism in any form, but this did make me pause to reflect about the gradual rise of women in politics internationally. As Clem wrote, Australia has just appointed its first female Governor General, Quentin Bryce, who was not preceded in Australian politics by any male relatives. Let us hope the 21st century sees more of this kind of progress by female politicians, and that societies increasingly consider it irrelevant whether one is related to male politicians or not.

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2 Responses to “Keepin’ It In The Family”

  1. lilacsigil said

    Japan is another example – many seats are “inherited” by the sons of the (male) politicians who have held the seat since the first post-war elections. In recent years, many seats have instead been “inherited” by daughters, bringing a large number of women into the power structure, including the Cabinet. I don’t see this is a gendered problem (though the nepotism angle is still there!) because the inheritance is increasingly generational rather than gendered – and yes, there are women with brothers who have still been chosen to inherit their father’s seat. Actually, the more I think about it, the more Australian politicians (male and female) are related to older politicians – maybe the issue is an increasing political class, rather than gender as such?

  2. Funny, because in the political party I’m active in it’s seen as a disadvantage that my male partner is heavily involved in the party, too. I’ve been asked if I’m attending the national conference to “keep him company”. Direct quote. Question asked by a woman. In a party which prides itself on supporting women.

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