Can a single woman without children become Prime Minister? Such comments have raised the question of what it takes to become a powerful woman in politics. See what our subscribers have had to say below this introductory note from the Crikey editor:

Note from the Crikey editor

The debate about Julia Gillard really fired up after this column by Glenn Milne on January 23 in The Sunday Telegraph. The key paragraphs were as follows:

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However, yesterday she gave a strong indication she still considered herself a chance, rejecting claims that a single, childless woman was unelectable. Ms Gillard said single and childless US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the most powerful woman in the world.

“No leader can encapsulate everybody’s life experience. It is artificial to say this life experience (being a mother) is the norm,” Ms Gillard said.

She said she would ignore calls for her to get married if she became leader.

At first we launched an attack on Milne and encouraged our readers to have a go but this was unfair and we withdraw and apologise because all he was doing was reporting what others were saying about Gillard. He never actually endorsed the view himself which is quite different from expressing his own opinion that Gillard was unelectable unless she got married and had children.

For the record, Milne hasn’t contacted us to complain.

The marital status of leaders

Subscriber email – 24 January

Anti-Gillard rumour-mongers are out in force, attacking Julia Gillard saying that a single women without kids can’t be Prime Minister. The Gillard came up with an interesting response at her barbie yesterday as follows:

“No one person can encapsulate everyone’s life experience. A man doesn’t know what it’s like to be a woman, a person with children doesn’t know what it’s like to be a person without children, a person from a wealthy background doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up on a housing estate. In terms of whether being childless counts in politics, well, someone better explain that to (NSW Premier) Bob Carr, and whether being single counts in politics, well, someone better explain that to (South Australian Premier) Mike Rann.”

CRIKEY: This was a typically feisty rebuttal although it is plain wrong to say “a person with children doesn’t know what it’s like to be a person without children”. It is not very PC to debate this point, but it remains a fact that no divorced or single person has ever been elected Prime Minister.

Given that Iron Mark made his family such a huge part of his pitch, it is ironic in the extreme that the Latham rump is now pushing a candidate with no family. It is doubly ironic for the Labor Party given that their core pitch is to provide good health and education services for families and to get the “work and family” balance right.

This will make for a very interesting list. Let’s name the women who have climbed to power globally and look at whether they were mothers, or single.

Margaret Thatcher is the best family woman example and Condi Rice the best single and childless political star. Will Australia’s first female Prime Minister be single and childless or a family woman?

Women who made it to the top job in politics:

  • Kim Campbell, Prime minister of Canada (Jun – Nov 1993), married and divorced twice, Nathan Divinsky (72-83), Howard Eddy (86-93), no children.
  • Mary-Eugenia Charles, Prime minister of Dominica (1980 – 95)
  • Tansu Çiller, Prime minister of Turkey (1993 – 1996)
  • Edith Cresson, Prime minister of France (1991 – 92)
  • Helen Clarke, Prime Minister of New Zealand, married Peter Davis in 1981, no children.
  • Kazimiera Danutë Prunskienë, Prime minister of Lithuania (1990 – 91)
  • Elisabeth Domitien, Prime minister of the Central African Republic (1975 – 76)
  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime minister of Norway (Feb – Oct 1981, 1986 – 89 and 1990 – 1996)
  • Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, Prime minister of Portugal (1979 – 80)
  • Golda Meir, Prime minister of Israel (1969 – 74), married and divorced Morris Myerson (1917-45), no children.
  • Milka Planinc, Federal prime minister of Socialist Yugoslavia (1982 – 1986)
  • Jenny Shipley, Prime Minister of New Zealand (1997 – 1999), married Burton Shipley, children.
  • Hanna Suchocka, Prime minister of Poland (1992 – 93)
  • Margaret Thatcher, Prime minister of the United Kingdom (1979 – 90), married Dennis Thatcher, two children.
  • Anneli Tuulikki Jäätteenmäki, Prime minister of Finland (Apr – Jun 2003)
  • Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Prime minister of Rwanda (1993 – until her death 1994)
  • Vaira V­ike-Freiberga, President of Latvia, (1999 – )

* India’s Indira Gandhi, Sri Lanka’s Chandrika Kumaratunga, Pakistan’s Benazir Bhutto, Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Indonesia’s Megawati Sukarnoputri are all related to a former statesman and so have had the benefit of family influence.

Crikey reader feedback:


NZ is full of top women

Look no further than NZ for diverse and interesting women in politics. Current NZ PM Helen Clark (who married Peter Davis in 1981). Jenny Shipley was PM before her though she was married (to a farmer).

NZ is full of women at the top of political scene: Currently Governor General is Dame Silvia Cartwright and two G-G’s ago was Dame Cath Tizard. Women currently make up 40% of the 110 members in NZ parliament.

In fact a current MP there, Georgina Beyer, is the first transsexual to be in parliament in the world. That would take a bit of beating for “life experiences” quote from Julia Gillard!

Unfortunate to have to use Margaret Thatcher as the example of “best family women” given the hot water her son Mark has recently, and almost continually in most of his “adult” life!

New Zealand and more

NZ had a female opposition leader and a female PM – Helen Clarke has a husband, no kids, Jenny Shipley has both. There’ve been Scandinanian/Icelandic PMs who are female, I seem to recall.

Let’s leave out the female Heads of State who got there via family influence – Indira Ghandi, Mrs Bandaranaike, and the Pakistan PM, who got elected not long after giving birth. Her dad had been PM.


Helen and those incessant rumours

Rather than speculating about Condi, or Maggie, it seems far more to the point to mention Helen. After all, Helen is childless, has a marriage which the NZ media has reported as a “sham” (they live apart, and have lived apart but remain – so they both claimed – “together” for years), and she has been plagued by incessant rumours that she is in fact a closet Lesbian. There are books on this published in NZ, and they all know about it. Whether it is true or not, it is not the point. The perception in NZ about Helen was this for years, and yet – despite these “faults”- she is in a very strong position to win her third term in office.

If Helen could (in a country so similar to Australia), whether Julia Gillard can or cannot, should not be contingent on her marital or family status.

Ezequiel Trumper
(A dual Australian and NZ citizen)

Who cares if she is single and has no children?

If its a choice between yesterday’s looser, another policy-less male, or a woman who seems to have the brains and the balls (?) to do the job, who cares if she is single and has no children? We need somebody to lead the opposition who can at least, snap at the rodents ankles when he gains control of the senate!

Clive Brooks

It’s about ability, not marital status

It matters not a jot whether the leader is single, married, divorced, children, no children. What matters is the ability to take on the Howard mob effectively. Gillard has the measure of many in the front bench as does Rudd. As for Beazley, I had enough of his happy me tooism last time around How can anyone think of him as an effective leader where all he seems to do is appeal to the same people as the Howard mob -a facsimile of Howard on many policy issues–but does so less effectively than the incumbent.

And its plain wrong to say “a person with children doesn’t know what it’s like to be a person without children”. I think you have probably not noticed but once you have them you tend to forget what is was like with out them. Just ask any childless person what happens when their friends have kids…


The most famous single, childless female leader

Here’s another to add to your list Crikey. Elizabeth 1 – sure, in theory the job was hers by birthright, but let’s not forget she had to keep her head first. Once in the job, she made it her own – in times that had no compunction about launching coups and attempts to oust her.

It’s pretty pathetic that we keep having these discussions. How about the media focussing on some really important issues for a change?

Carmel Boyle

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