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WOMEN AND POWER : World View : A threshold is being crossed from tokenism to tangible progress. But gender parity is a long way off.


In an extraordinary 24-hour period this month, three women in disparate parts of the world were selected for powerful positions. Each, in more ways than one, marked a watershed.

In Turkey--a country where articles 152 and 153 of the civil code still stipulate that "the husband is the family head" and the home is the wife's responsibility--Tansu Ciller was appointed prime minister.

In Canada, Kim Campbell was elected leader of the ruling Progressive Conservative Party, automatically becoming prime minister and the first-ever female head of government in North America.

And in the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated for the Supreme Court, ending speculation that, like other minority quotas on the court, only one slot would ever be filled by a female justice.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 6, 1993 Home Edition World Report Page 3 Column 1 World Report Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo credits--Credits for photographs take by Greg Girard (Contact) and Pascal Le Segretain (Sygma) on the cover of last week's World Report were inadvertently switched.

In Vienna just one day later, a coalition of about 950 women's groups from the globe's far corners came together at the U.N. World Conference on Human Rights and all but stole the show.

The highlight of their campaign was a mock "global tribunal" chronicling a half-century of political, physical and cultural abuse of women. Their gripping testimonies ranged from that of a Korean "sex slave" forced to serve Japanese soldiers during World War II to Bosnian, Palestinian and Peruvian women detailing the often life-threatening impact of contemporary political repression.

The U.N. conference underlined how far women in many parts of the world still have to go. At the same time, however, its clear message was that--one way or another--the world is increasingly unable to drown out the voice of half its population.

In diverse forms in disparate places, women worldwide are increasingly earning, convincing, campaigning, demanding and promoting their way onto the global agenda. More are gaining true political and economic power. Others remain far behind but--though often only slowly--are closing the gap.

Both the achievements and the movement of the 1990s are distinguished in many ways from previous decades.

On Their Own

Unlike the emergence of so many earlier leading ladies--the Netherlands' Queen Juliana in the 1940s, Britain's Queen Elizabeth in the 1950s, India's Indira Gandhi in the 1960s, Argentina's Isabel Peron in the 1970s and the Philippines' Corazon Aquino in the 1980s--women at the top are no longer usually hereditary monarchs or relatives of famous former politicos.

Turkey's Ciller, an economist, particularly stands out from the two other women who have risen to power in Islamic countries. Benazir Bhutto followed her father as Pakistan's prime minister, while Khaleda Zia succeeded her late husband as Bangladesh's leader. In stark contrast, Ciller's husband took her name when they married.

And the new female leaders are no longer alone. Two of Canada's three major parties are now headed by women, while the third's deputy leader is female. Worldwide, six countries now have female prime ministers, three have female presidents and three female governors general--some in unlikely places.

In the male-dominated world of Irish politics, Mary Robinson beat thousand-to-one odds in 1990 to win the presidency, while in 1992 Hanna Suchocka became the first woman to lead a government in Poland since Queen Jadwiga in the 14th Century.

And among the more than 4,000 female judges from 37 countries that belong to the International Assn. of Women Judges, at least seven nations--Costa Rica, Panama, the Philippines, Romania, Mexico, France and Canada--now have two women on their high court.

In the 1990s, women are even breaking ground in unlikely professions--as bullfighters in Spain's macho society and as peasant leaders in Mexico's slums.

"Women rising to the top are no longer a fluke. They're now part of a major trend," said Joe Ryan, resident scholar at Freedom House, a global human rights monitoring group.

"We're going to see more and more women in high elected and appointed positions," Ryan said. "I even expect we'll see a woman secretary general of United Nations soon." Ireland's Robinson is often mentioned as a possible candidate.

Tangible Progress

While global gender parity is still a long way off, a threshold is being crossed from tokenism to tangible, even occasionally substantial, progress. And viewed historically, the change is stunning.

After millennia of being excluded or marginalized, one nation--and an unlikely one at that--finally enfranchised women in the 19th Century: Women voted for the first time in 1893 in New Zealand--27 years before the United States passed the 19th Amendment.

There are still holdouts--notably in many Arab Gulf states where there is universal suffrage for neither men nor women. But virtually everywhere else, the empowering of half the human race by giving women the vote has been one of the most significant achievements of the intervening 100 years. Indeed, it is likely to go down as one of the hallmarks of the 20th Century.

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