One of the most interesting – and perhaps under-reported -- aspects of the G20 summit in Seoul is the four female political leaders in attendance. According to press reports, no prior G20 summit has had this many women heads of state present.
The four ladies in Seoul comprise Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, president of Argentina; Dilma Rousseff, president-elect of Brazil; Julia Gillard, prime minister of Australia and Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany.
A local Korean paper wrote “all eyes are now on whether the new breed of female leaders will be able to speak up about complicated issues such as currency devaluation, [IMF] reforms and other thorny international issues.”
Indeed, there hasn’t been a prominent female leader of a major country on the global stage since Margaret Thatcher, the UK Prime Minister.
Her four “descendants” form an interesting and diverse group.
Gillard is the first female prime minister in Australia, winning a contentious battle for leadership just this year.
Merkel is the first female chancellor of Germany, the strongest economic power in Europe. She was elected to a second term in 2009 and has been widely praised for steering Germany through the economic crisis with minimal damage to the nation. However, her government’s austerity program and attendant spending cuts have been criticized,
Perhaps the most controversial woman in attendance at Seoul is De Kirchner, the wife of former President Nestor Kirchner, who just passed away in late October. The two were often regarded as a two-headed president.
She has often been compared to Hilary Clinton in the sense that she helped her husband achieve power first, before pursuing high office on her own.
Regardless, she is not only the first lady chief of Argentina, but the first female leader of any South American country.
Rousseff, a former Marxist guerrilla, will take over for current Brazilian president Lula Da Silva, and rule a country with one of the highest annual economic growth rates in the world.
However, the most high-profile female political leader in Seoul (and probably on the planet) is not technically the leader of her country – Hilary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State.
During a speech here earlier this week, Mrs. Clinton focused on how to help women of underprivileged nations.
“We know that when women are accorded equal rights and afforded equal opportunities, they drive social and economic progress,” she said.
“But for many women, the financial tools to lift themselves and their families out of poverty or to take small business to the next level are still out of reach.”
It will be interesting to see if the four women leaders at G20 collectively comment on gender issues and how they stack up against their male counterparts.