THERE IS MORE GOOD NEWS IN THE WORLD THAN BADToday was a special day at the Northern School of Peace Conflict and Justice.* The topic in one of the second year classes was WOMEN LEADERS to mark International Women’s Day on March 8th. Erica, the professor, wanted to test the class’ knowledge, so she started the class with a question: “What do the following institutions have in common?:” U.S. AID, The International Monetary Fund, The World Food Programme, The Economist and the European Commission. *not the real name

There was quiet from the 28 in attendance (16 women and 12 men), then a hand went up. “They are all political organizations focusing on International Development.”

“Partly right,” said Erica. “The leaders are all women,” said Hamara, a female student. “That is correct,” said the professor. “Do any of you know their names and anything about them?” A long pause then Hamara spoke again, “I think Cindy McCain is head of The World Food Programme. I do not know any others…,” nor did any other students. 

“Well,” said the professor, “U.S. Aid is headed by Samantha Power, a former key adviser to Barack Obama. Kristina Georgieva from Bulgaria, a mother of four, is head of the International Monetary Fund. She succeeded Christine Lagarde from France who now heads the European Central Bank.The editor in chief of the very respected magazine, ‘The Economist,’ is Zanny Minton Beddoes, known as Zani. She is often on Fareed Zakaria’s programme GPS on CNN on Sunday morning, and the head of the European Commission is Ursula Von der Leyden, a physician, mother of seven and considered by many as the most powerful and influential woman in the world.” 

Ursula Von der Leyden

“These women, even though they are not elected politicians, have enormous influence.” Erica had their attention. “OK, let’s flip to Canada,” said Erica. “How many women ran in the last Canadian election and how many were elected?” Guesses flew from everyone. “Here are the correct ones,” said Erica, “Five hundred-eighty-two ran and 103 were elected with both records making up 30% of Parliament. Also important to know: there are 19 female cabinet members out of 39…almost half.” 

“That is good news,” said Raoul. 

“Next question: When did women first get to vote in Canada and who was the first woman elected to parliament?”

“1917,” said two of the students simultaneously. One went on to say the first woman elected was Agnes McPhail in 1921. “Yes,” said Erica. “Sticking with elected politicians, can you name three women who are mayors of a major Canadian city?” 

Olivia Chow

“Olivia Chow in Toronto, Jyoti Gondek in Calgary and Valerie Plante in Montreal,” came from various students.

“Since you know that one: How many municipalities in Canada have female mayors? Is it: 67, 105, 250 or 310? After all of the numbers were heard, “250 is correct,” said Erica. Since you have a good read on Canada’s elected women, how about the past. Does anyone know how many female mayors there were in 1950?” 

No one knew, nor did the professor, however, she surmised there were only a handful. The only one she knew of was Charlotte Whitton in Ottawa in the 1950s. 

Charlotte Whitton

“She came to office when the mayor died in 1951 and she was next in line. She was freely elected in 1953 and served as mayor – with a break – until 1964. Charlotte was colourful, well known and remembered for many things including the quote,” ‘Women have to do twice as well as men to be thought of as half as good. Fortunately that is not difficult,’ the class laughed.

“Do you think this is true today?” The vote was even. Erica cast the deciding vote. She did not think it true today that on the whole women leaders were respected and as effective as men. 

Over the years we have had a number of very strong women leaders: Queen Victoria, Indira Gandhi, Eleanor Roosvelt, Golda Meir, to name a few. Recently, Angela Merkel in Germany.

Some are young leaders such as Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, who became Prime Minister at 37 and is now a visiting fellow at Harvard. Sanna Marin was elected President of Finland at age 34. After years of neutrality, she successfully got Finland admitted into NATO. And of course Kamala Harris, Nicki Haley and Hilary Clinton. 

Not to be forgotten are Liberians Leymah Gbowee, an activist and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman head of government in Africa. They rallied Liberian women to protest the civil war. That included a sex strike. This helped to stop the war. They both were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with female activist Tawakkul Karman from Yemen. Johnson also played a huge role in ending ebola in east Africa. https://www.nobelpeaceprize.org/nobel-peace-prize/about-the-nobel-peace-prize/women-laureates

“Do these very capable women leaders inspire you or make you feel you have accomplished nothing?” 

“BOTH!” stated everyone. Erica went on. “In my opinion, in general women leaders have been very strong and can make things happen. I have an article by Kevin Kruise, CEO of LeadX, advancing why many believe women are more effective leaders than men. Before I give you the link, any thoughts?”

Enryque blurted out, “because they are more trusted than men.”

“Because women are better at developing relationships than men,” said Myra.

“These are included,” Erica said. “According to Krause, research also shows women compared to men have better creative competencies and lower reactive tendencies, have better self-awareness, and appear to be more authentic and better aware of systems. They build stronger connections and play for all to win. Men are more likely to play from a ‘play not to lose position.” 

The article went on to say in spite of this there is a shortage of women in middle management. Here are a few more traits you might recognize:


Erica remarked, “Most of these women are in politics, however, do you need to be in politics to be a leader?” 

“No,” said Janine. “Take Oprah, Taylor Swift, Malala and Greta Thunberg. They are very influential, and in sports how about Billie Jean King? There are many women doctors, lawyers and business leaders. According to FORBES magazine, 10% of the Fortune 500 have women CEOs.” 

“Furthermore, there are many outstanding female volunteers and stay at home moms who are great leaders. The stay at home moms lead in many ways, including passing on values and skills to their children.” 

“Great response,” said Erica. “Sticking with Forbes,” said Erica here is a link to Forbes list of the 100 most powerful women: https://www.forbes.com/power-women/list/

“Next question. What 10 countries have the highest gender equality?” 


“According to the World Population Review, the top 10 are: Iceland (89%), Finland, Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Namibia, Rwanda, Lithuania, Ireland, Switzerland. Note two of the top ten are in Africa: Namibia and Rwanda. The worst, not surprisingly, is Afghanistan (44%), followed by Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Where do you think Canada stands?”

Most were baffled. Canada was listed as 24th. The reason they scored so low was because of domestic violence, low political power and economic inequality. Some of the students said, “How do we help women achieve equality?”

“EDUCATION,” said Immanuel. They all agreed. Another said, “CHANGE MEN.” There was silence then, an embarrassed laugh. Erica said this reminded her of a U.N. conference on children she attended about 20 years ago. In a breakout session on AIDS, one African man stood up to answer the question, “How do we stop AIDS? “We men need to change our behaviour.” There was a loud round of derisive laughter from all of the men and women from all over the world. Someone shouted, “MEN WILL NEVER CHANGE.” The man sat down. 

“Is it any different now? Will men change?” 

There was a cold silence in the room. Erica continued, “Melinda Gates says change will happen only when women move into positions of power in multiple places. Sally Armstrong, a long time writer advocate for women’s rights, presenter at the Massey Series and writer of the excellent book on women’s rights, ‘Power Shift,’ says women’s rights have been a long time coming. But it is happening. Women all over the world are demanding a better, more equitable place beside men and they need men by their side. She believes there has never been a better time to be a woman.” Heads nodded.

Erica concluded the class by quoting from the IWD INTERNATIONAL DAYS STATEMENT, “The theme of the U.N. International Day for Women on March 8 is ‘Inspire Inclusion.’ When we inspire others to understand and value women’s inclusion, we forge a better world. And when women themselves are inspired to be included there is a sense of belonging, relevance and empowerment.” The bell sounded to end the class and…….. 

Till next time,

Chris Snyder, Climate Optimist

**Gender Equality image from Image by <a href=”https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/gender-equality-illustrated-theme_8918407.htm“>Freepik</a>

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