By Emily Becker
In the Central African Republic, a country currently struggling with sectarian violence and the resulting humanitarian crisis, the newly sworn-in president Catherine Samba Panza recently started she believes she was elected because the country “didn’t want any more male politicians.”
While I can’t help but grin at this imagery (that all male politicians in the CAR are so corrupt and unable to develop their country that the voting population has thrown their hands up in the air and turned instead to the trustworthy and nurturing female politician who will gently easy the country through their current conflict and crisis) that the most powerful woman in the CAR attributes her political influence to her people wanting a leader “who could calm things, reconcile people,” stereotypes that continue to define women based on their perceived rightful and natural role as mothers and caretakers puts a slight damper on the election of a female leader of a country in an area of the world where women have to fight to be seen as more than the wife of their husband and are lucky to complete an education.
Powerful women must walk a strange dichotomy in our society. On one hand, successful women are judged as being conniving and ruthless and, to put it frankly, as bitches. On the other, when women try to curb this image, they are seen as emotional and unstable and unable to run a country or company for 3-4 days every month.
Samba Panza’s reliance on the latter surprises me. As the leader of a country that needs strength right now, she should own her abilities and power instead of becoming seen as the mother of the CAR who is responsible for focusing on the emotional support of a country, while leaving the politics, economics and development for others.
Why can’t she, and other powerful, just be praised for their effectiveness as leaders? Why can’t she just be seen as the right person to be at the head of her country right now? Why can’t the focus be on past on how she will be different from past leaders, regardless of her gender?
My point is, Samba Panza, don’t comfort your nation.