Hillary Clinton is no doubt a history-maker for the United States. She represents a new age of equality in the United States. She is the face of the evolution of the concept of fairness in the United States, and that she may become President after Barack Obama, the first black President of the country only makes the cake sweeter (for the United States of America). Please note how I keep saying for the United States…the truth of the matter is she cannot be hailed as a world icon, or a global history-maker when the likes of Margaret Thatcher and our very own Ellen Sirleaf have already been etched in the records of time. Iris Berger, a Professor of History, Emerita at the State University of New York, Albany then rightly argues that President Sirleaf paved the way for Hillary Clinton and others. In other words, Hillary Clinton will not break the global glass ceiling when people like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf already smashed it to smithereens. Rather, she will be restricted to making history in her own country.
Hillary is the presumptive Democratic Party candidate for the 2016 elections, making her the first female presumptive candidate for the Oval Office on a major party ticket. The details of her being the first on a major party ticket become important once one realises she is not the first female candidate in United States history. For starters, Victoria Claflin Woodhull in 1872 and Belva Ann Bennett in 1884 and 1888 were candidates for the Presidency fielded by the Equal Rights Party. Iris Berger goes to the extent of citing how small parties have fielded more than thirty women for the Presidency. Margaret Chase Smith however, made history in 1964 by becoming the first female to be placed in nomination for the presidency at a major party’s convention. This is not at all an attempt to downplay Clinton’s achievement who is cruising on a wave of relative popularity over her presumptive political rival, Donald Trump. The issue is that the world should not exaggerate Clinton’s influence as this may create unnecessarily high hopes which she will simply fail to meet.
The media may want to overplay this new achievement as a huge affair to make noise about but the reality of the matter is that the country is far behind so many African countries in issues of gender equality. Rwanda with its big 63.8% women representation in parliament makes the United States’ 19.40% look laughable. In total, twenty-two African countries have better representation in their parliaments than the United States which is ranked 97th. Although this is true, Africa is still painted as a land of oppression and inequality…a conception which is far from the truth. Now that the United States may have a female president, it becomes a victory for women the world over but not President Sirleaf and other remarkable women in Africa who made powder out of the so-called glass ceiling. If anything, America has a lot to learn from Africa and Hillary Clinton should come below Sirleaf in the list of global history-makers.
President Johnson Sirleaf became Liberia’s President of Liberia in 2006 after winning the 2005 elections. This made her the first female head of state in Africa and she was again successful in the 2011 elections. Sirleaf, much like Clinton had run in a prior election in 1997 where she placed second but re-entered in the Presidential race in 2005 where she placed second in the first round of elections behind George Weah, a footballing legend. She was however successful in the run-off, making her the continent’s first female leader. She has gone on to win a Nobel Prize and has been awarded the Indira Gandhi Prize. In June, 2016, she was elected the chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States- the first woman to take up this position since formation. Sirleaf did not succeed because of the gender card, she succeeded because she was a well-qualified candidate, deserving of the Presidency. Hillary Clinton will be the same type of leader if she wins; a deserving candidate who only happens to be a woman. However, she will not be the first and I would do the world a whole lot of good to accept that Africa in issues of gender equality comes far ahead of America. Africa has broken the glass ceilings and America cannot purport to re-do this. Whatever glass ceiling shattering Clinton may do will be American. President Sirleaf already shattered the African glass ceiling.