11 June 2020
View from the Cotswolds
Women – Who Needs Them ….?
By Paul Branch
I like to think I know a bit about women. There have been many I’ve known intimately, of particular note being my grandmothers (one Italian, the other Liverpudlian) who successfully managed their own immediate family in times of great stress, and deserved the love and respect showered on them, even if at times they had to adopt an authoritarian attitude to survive. Many of their problems were the results of decisions made by men in power (Italian women didn’t achieve emancipation until 1948), but they got through two wars and made sure their offspring were equipped to make their way in the world. I now have three granddaughters who will face challenges of their own as they grow up in an uncertain future.
Some of my best friends are women. Since moving here to the glorious Cotswolds we have made many new friends, most of them in the same boat as us: incomers with a dire need to either socialise or perpetually self-isolate. And I’m very pleased that, without exception, they are very friendly, considerate, articulate and intelligent, and have done things in their previous lives which I can only wonder at. I imagine that all of them have had to try just that bit harder to earn their opportunities to get ahead in this male-dominated world.
So what’s my point? Well, given that there are lots of them in the world, and that by and large they are very capable at raising and managing families while holding down good jobs and generally getting things done properly, it strikes me the world could be a far better place in the future if more women were in charge of The Bigger Stuff – governments, UN, health, banking, making sure we all have enough to eat and drink, cleaning up the planet, and generally just getting along nicely with one another. It would seem to make a change from relying mostly on men all the time, and then stepping back to survey the shambles.
Historically there have obviously been notable women who made it to The Top, although Eve did get things off to a bit of a shaky start. In terms of modern political heavyweights, Mrs Bandaranaike’s election as first lady president of (then) Ceylon and indeed anywhere was a great achievement emulated gradually elsewhere across the globe, so that today there are scores of women in the highest national offices. Angela Merkel has been around a while now but sadly not for much longer. The New Zealand premier Jacinda Ardern has made an enormous impact leading her country through the pandemic, and no doubt her example will serve as one of many lessons learnt by our own leaders come the day of reckoning.
But with the exception of Angela none are occupying the real big global jobs, in big countries with huge muscles and lots of money: the USA, India, Russia, China. India has had the female leader experience but has reverted to type; only America came close, and look how well that turned out.
Our own fractiously United Kingdom has set a good example with women leaders: at one stage we had Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and the Arlene Foster/Michelle O’Neill NI combo. You could argue that Theresa made it to UK PM solely because Boris didn’t, but nevertheless she was there and in charge. Sadly that era will probably be remembered for faltering Brexit negotiations, rumblings of IndyRef2 and the dissolution of the Northern Ireland assembly, so not a great deal to shout about.
But what about mystical Maggie Thatcher you might ask? Now there was a strong leader who knew her own mind, knew exactly what she wanted to achieve, and did it by using all the guile, wit and intelligence at her disposal. Riding roughshod if required over the timid men of her own party, the opposition party, those pesky Europeans, the coal miners and any other union drawing attention to itself, swinging that handbag as she went, Maggie had Reagan and Gorbachev in the palm of her hand as she bludgeoned the country back into the top tier of global influencers and decision-makers through sheer force of character. And yet .. she is not remembered fondly by many who suffered deprivation under her reign. She may have been way ahead of her time in closing down some of our most inefficient and polluting industries, but she forgot to replace them with something else. A coal miner of 30 years standing in Yorkshire does not transfer easily to a financial services role in Canary Wharf, despite the encouragement of her henchman Norman Tebbit to “get on your bike”.
Some of the major characteristics that seem to set women apart from men are compassion and intuitive common sense. Compassion is a quality not often associated with a strong and effective leader but one which is essential for harmonious co-existence in this complex world of ours. In negotiating a better future with men like Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping, you don’t need yet another bullying autocrat to make the chemistry even more toxic. People like them tend to shrivel up when faced with genuine kindness and generosity. You might wonder if compassion is a good defence against war, but I would argue that if women were in charge there would be no wars because the underlying reasons for them would have been removed.
So, do we really need women in charge to tell us what to do? Too right we do.
And who would be my “Ideal Woman” to put the world to rights (excepting my wife of course)? I can only offer a composite suggestion comprising the caring intelligence and drive of a Mrs Merkel and the sheer human goodness of a Mother Teresa. How many of those can you think of? But the great women of tomorrow need to be encouraged today to aspire to great things, and I know three little girls where I at least can make a start.