“I want to create culture shock. Yes, a woman is running for president,” says Kamel, a television presenter and ex-wife of a former cultural minister. “Some people have come up to me and asked, ‘Is it even legal for a woman to run?’ I hope to set a trend, to open a door. A girl sent me aTwitter: ‘You have given us a chance to dream.’”
So we are left with the broader question: does gender really matter in leadership? In terms of stereotypes, various psychological studies show that men gravitate to the hard power of command, while women are collaborative and intuitively understand the soft power of attraction and persuasion. Americans tend to describe leadership with tough male stereotypes, but recent leadership studies show increased success for what was once considered a “feminine style”.
In the past, when women fought their way to the top of organisations, they often had to adopt a “masculine style”, violating the broader social norm of female “niceness”. Now, however, with the information revolution and democratisation demanding more participatory leadership, the “feminine style” is becoming a path to more effective leadership. In order to lead successfully, men will not only have to value this style in their women colleagues, but will also have to master the same skills.
After anti-mining protests in Panama left three dead and brought the Pan-American highway to a standstill, the elected chief of the Ngäbe-Buglé people says the fight for justice must continue.
As she stands among villagers in the highlands of western Panama, their chosen leader, Silvia Carrera, is an image of bucolic harmony. Then Carrera, elected chief or general cacique of the Ngäbe-Buglé community, gestures to a woman who hands her a bag of spent US riot-control equipment – rubber bullet casings, shotgun shells, sting-ball grenades, teargas canisters.
Panama national police, she explains, used these against her people only days earlier to break up a protest against government plans for a vast copper mine and hydroelectric schemes on their territory. Three young Ngäbe-Buglé men were killed, dozens were wounded and more than 100 detained.
What began with villagers at Ojo de Agua in Chiriquí province using trees and rocks to block the Pan-American highway earlier this month – trapping hundreds of lorries and busloads of tourists coming over the border from Costa Rica for six days – has now placed Panama at the forefront of the enduring and often violent clash between indigenous peoples and global demand for land, minerals and energy. Carrera is emerging as a pivotal figure in the conflict.
But America has never leapt over that final gender barrier by electing a woman to our highest office — and the interesting thing is, so many countries around the world have achieved that equality.
Familiar to all of us are women like Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi and Benazir Bhutto, all of whom made history. But they were just the tip of the spear. If you Google “women world leaders” you’ll see a whole new generation of women with real power across six continents, all of them living proof to young girls and women that hard work, education, dedication and a true passion to lead can make it possible for any of them to rise up and reach their greatest potential.