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Women in Control

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany [1]

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Party: Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Assumed office: Nov. 22, 2005

  By Suzanne Merkelson, Andrew Swift

 While it’s true that more than 75 percent of parliaments worldwide are more than three-quarters male, in recent years some high-powered female heads of state have bucked the trend. If Dilma Rousseff is elected as Brazil’s first female president, she’ll be joining a small,  but elite, cohort.

 One of Europe’s longest-serving leaders and Germany’s first female chancellor, Angela Merkel has played a key role in the continent’s response to the global recession — and has seen her once-popular chancellorship almost torpedoed by it. Trapped between her German constituents and the demands of the EU during Europe’s worst crisis in decades, Merkel has been forced into unpopular decisions ranging from bailing out Greece [2] to enacting Germany’s new austerity measures [3]. The childless and twice-married Merkel has pushed the CDU in a more socially liberal direction than ever before, offering a modern twist on the tired old “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher paradigm for conservative European women.

Just two months after Kevin Rudd stepped aside and left Julia Gillard the head of Australia’s Labor Party and, thus, Australia’s first female prime minister, a tight August election [4] laid her premiership out on the rocks, supported only by a tenuous coalition with the Greens. Her government now must deal with immigration issues [5] and the aftereffects of a mismanaged and potentially corruption-fraught multibillion-dollar stimulus package [6], while facing challenges from her allies on the left on social issues such as same-sex marriage, which she does not support. Gillard, who has never married or had children (and was once called [7] “deliberately barren” by an opposition member of Parliament), said she would be unable to do her job with a family. “There’s something in me that’s focused and single-minded,” she said [7]. “And if I was going to [have a family], I’m not sure I could have [had a political career].”

 Continue reading in Foreign Policy [8]  [8]