Women in Politics: New-Old Problems for Office-Seekers

Article excerpt

WHEN Margaret Thatcher made a five-city tour of the United States last month to promote her memoir, "The Path to Power," a photographer in New York captured the former British prime minister in a familiar scene: getting into a limousine. Yet instead of appearing on Page 1, as it might have when Lady Thatcher resided at 10 Downing Street, this photo was buried inside the Metro section of the New York Times.

The perils of being out of power!

Still, even in this journalistic backwater, the picture was enough to make at least one newspaper reader long for the days when a woman was among the world's top political newsmakers. It served as a reminder of earlier photo ops during Thatcher's 11-1/2 years in office - Britain's longest-standing prime minister this century.

There she was at the G-7 economic summit in Tokyo in 1986, for example, her print dress and ever-present pearls punctuating a lineup of dark suits and striped ties. And there she was again at the 1989 G-7 summit in Paris, a reminder to all the world that women do have a place in global leadership.

Today women are conspicuous by their absence at the highest level of government in major industrialized nations. A few women do serve as heads of state, to be sure. Among them: President Chandrika Bandaranaika Kumaratunga in Sri Lanka, President Mary Robinson in Ireland, Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan, and President Violetta Chamorro in Nicaragua. But when it comes to presidential politics in the US, power suits rather than power skirts still prevail.

It was 11 years ago this month that 1,200 members of the National Organization for Women converged on Miami Beach with a singular goal: to push for a woman on the presidential ticket. Members threatened a floor fight at the Democratic convention if candidate Walter Mondale failed to select a woman as his running mate.

Mr. Mondale did choose a woman, of course, assuring Geraldine Ferraro a permanent tag line in American political history: "first woman vice presidential candidate on a major-party ticket. …

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