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Do Women Leaders Matter?

Do Women Leaders Matter?

Photo Credit: LWR/Krista Zimmerman

Do women leaders matter for women? Not at the national level suggests Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times article focused on a specific woman leader he doesn’t care for very much. According to him, she’s bad for everyone in her country, but especially for the women.

Kristof points out that, “metrics like girls’ education and maternal mortality don’t improve more when a nation is led by a woman.” He cites research that indicates women local leaders and corporate board members make a positive difference, but says the trend does not hold up in assessing the importance of national leaders.

Be that as it may, I recently had the opportunity to attend an event featuring two women leaders at the national level who are making a real difference for women in Africa.

Kristof was also there with me (he on the stage, me in the audience) and I suspect he agrees that these two seem generally on the right track when it comes to helping women.

The first was U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the second, Joyce Banda, President of Malawi.  Together they convened a panel of high-level experts to discuss the importance of agriculture, food security and civil society for global economic development at the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.

Secretary Clinton has been a forceful supporter of the United States’ “whole of government” initiative to assist smallholder farmers in Africa and elsewhere called Feed the Future. Feed the Future isn’t perfect, but one thing it has gotten right is the high priority it places on women. (The majority of Africans rely on agriculture in one form or another for income and, although often overlooked, most of those farmers are actually women).

President Banda was only recently elected to her position as leader of Malawi. In many ways, it’s too early to tell whether or how she will make a lasting difference for women in her country. But she is certainly shaking things up, cutting her own pay and getting the rid of the presidential jet. She’s also leading from the heart, which I like. At the UNGA event she told the audience how she went from being in an abusive relationship to becoming the President of Malawi, and I saw many women in the audience nodding in affirmation as she spoke. They identified with her struggle and appreciated her honesty.

But what do you think?  Are women national leaders important when it comes to helping women? Should promoting leadership by women be a U.S. foreign policy priority?



Krista Zimmerman

Krista Zimmerman works for a non-governmental organization as its senior advisor on international development assistance and food security policy. She has worked as the deputy director for a rule of law advocacy project in Karnataka, India and as a business services attorney for a leading multinational law firm. Krista grew up in the Philippines and has traveled extensively throughout Asia and Africa. In her free time, she enjoys experimental cooking, canning and blogging. She has a BA in History from Goshen College and a Juris Doctor from the University of Notre Dame Law School.