A number of elections across the developing world in 2019, including Ukraine and Moldova, will see female candidates campaigning for prominent positions. And when Georgia and Ethiopia both named women as presidents for the first time ever last year, much was made about the potential for advancement. But does having women in high-profile political roles translate into measurable progress?
UN Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka believes that female leadership drives sustainable development. “Where there are more women in decision-making positions we see more inclusive decisions and different solutions to longstanding problems,” she says. Greater female leadership generally means more progress on gender-sensitive issues such as health, sexual violence and wages: in Namibia in 2016, on average women were earning 97 per cent of what men were paid (in the UK, that gap is 81.6 per cent); violence against women in Bangladesh has declined since Sheikh Hasina became prime minister in 2009 and made it a crime.
But the link between female leadership and economic development isn’t as straightforward. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made history in 2006 when she became Africa’s first female president, yet she failed to bring economic prosperity. Liberians also blame her for allowing corruption to swell. Similarly, corruption under India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the country’s anti-poverty initiative, proliferates in villages headed by women compared to those led by men. The difficulty in India, as in other patriarchal societies, is that women often lack prior political experience.
Championing women to leadership positions in developing countries requires institutional support and skills development. Even if 2019’s women candidates prove successful, don’t expect immediate policy successes. Still, it sets an important example for young women, which can be its own measure of progress. “When girls growing up see women in leadership roles, it raises their educational attainment and career aspirations,” says Mlambo-Ngcuka.
Canadian politics is dominated by three parties but a new populist group has entered the ring for the 2019 federal election in October. The People’s Party of Canada was formed by Maxime Bernier in September 2018, after the former Conservative MP failed to win his party-leadership bid. Bernier established the new party with a populist platform that’s defined, in part, by strong anti-immigration rhetoric.
While the party is likely to remain a fringe player, that doesn’t mean it won’t be politically significant. In Canada the left and centre typically split their vote between the Liberal and New Democratic parties, while the country’s right has just a single choice (in 2003 the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservatives merged into the Conservative party). Capturing a fraction of the right-leaning vote could split this group of voters and prove a boon to Justin Trudeau’s re-election campaign. The prime minister will have a close eye on the by-elections taking place before the general election, as they will be the first test of both Bernier’s appeal and populism in Canada.
Stop the presses: Turkish publishers are demanding the state get involved to alleviate an ongoing paper crisis. The book-publishing industry, which depends almost entirely on imports, is struggling to deal with soaring costs amid the devaluation of the Turkish lira. Prompted by tensions with Washington, the currency has lost up to 40 per cent of its value to the US dollar in just a year.
“It’s not just paper: all aspects of production – including ink, printing machines and royalties – are linked to foreign currencies,” says Kenan Kocaturk, president of the Turkish Publishers Association. “Many members face the possibility of running out of paper by November, despite cutting costs.”
Although the association is appealing for immediate industry-wide tax exemptions from the government, some worry over the ultimate cost of state help. The regime has recently increased its control over the publishing industry and last year the country’s biggest bookshop chain, D&R, was bought by a company that’s closely affiliated with the government.