It is the most ‘womanish’ leaders who will willingly let go of power

Saturday March 25 2023
New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. PHOTO | EMMANUEL DUNAND | AFP


In the last week of Women’s March, I am revisiting an old question. A friend recently pointed out to me that “the women leaders are all going away.” Angela Merkel is no longer leading Germany, Scotland’s Premier Nicola Sturgeon is also not going to be around longer and, most interestingly, Jacinda Ardern is stepping down from her role as Prime Minister of New Zealand at the beginning of the year.

Then of course, there is a man queen now in England since Elizabeth, Second of Her Name, joined the ancestors last year. This brought up a familiar question: Would the world be different if women were in charge?

Yes, I think so. Is “different” synonymous with “better,” though? Implied in the question is the idea of women as soft creatures that naturally have a nurturing instinct, a strong moral code, etc.

Superior leadership

For the longest time it was my wish and belief that, indeed, women’s leadership would invariably be superior. Of course, it is not that simple. Gender is a very complex construct, insisting that women are intrinsically better than men is a trap. It might be more interesting to ask whether feminist principles and practices, as well as effeminate qualities, might make for better leaders. A soft approach, dare I say?

I do dare say. It has always amused me that, given roughly two biological sexes and generally two genders, we still struggle with the concept of duality and balance. We associate the idea of leadership with so many qualities and, lo and behold: they are mostly patriarchal. For its own survival, patriarchy is antithetical to anything to do with the feminine. Effeminacy, softness — surely not great qualities in a leader!


And yet we want democracies in which leaders can listen to the people, compromise, collaborate, think about the greater good… ironically all of the things we label as womanish.

Inculcated qualities

Women aren’t born, they are created and, in their socialisation, certain qualities are inculcated in them: Compromise, care, negotiation and non-violence. The list is long. The list is also the same as the desirable qualities of a leader in a democratic and thriving society. One could be forgiven for thinking that this must mean that more women in leadership would make for a better world immediately and directly. Alas!

The women leaders I have named above are notable because they are in the minority. They had to work within patriarchal frameworks which in and of themselves are — remember — antithetical to anything to do with the “feminine.” A wonderfully human contradiction, a conundrum which would be amusing if it weren’t so lethal all the time.

Since we are caught up in this ongoing dynamic, I don’t have anything conclusive to offer. Just an observation: Women leaders tend to demonstrate what it means to leave, and leave well.  I like Jacinda Ardern’s style. She has emphasised the quality of her life in her choice to let someone else head her country, causing me to look at all these men in positions of power who whine incessantly that “it simply isn’t possible to let go of power.” Really? Or does it take a maturity and courage that only the most “womanish” can achieve with a lifetime of training?

Have a good week.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]