I took this photo three years ago – January 2018, when my daughter, Julia, earned her Purple Belt in karate. That’s no small feat, no matter how big or how old you are. Julia was just seven years old the day she wrapped this precious belt around her little waist. I remember the day like it was yesterday, and it makes me smile with pride. I knew it already when she was very tiny, but on this day, when Julia raised her arms high, holding that purple belt, I knew: my girl can do anything.
There has been much written and discussed over the last week about the incredible achievement in the United States, that a woman is now their Vice-President. It took the U.S. 244 years to elect a woman to the second-most senior seat in their government. I, like millions of women around the world, am thrilled and feel that it’s about time. I even admit that I teared up, just a bit, on January 20th, when I watched this incredible woman, Kamala Harris, take the oath of office.
But through those tears of joy a little bit of the cynic in me was there too. Other thoughts were pulsing through my head, and I can’t get them out. Writing about my thoughts does not diminish Vice President Harris’s achievement, but I feel I need to share my considerations.
Much of the Democratic World is far ahead of the US: they’ve elected female leaders
I can’t help but think about the fact that the U.S. just inaugurated their FIRST ever woman Vice President, in 2021. If I look over the past 100 years, in democracies around the world, it’s not hard to find many incredible women who haven’t just achieved the second highest office in the land, but the highest. There are dozens of women on the list.
Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India, first elected in 1966, then again in 1980. I can’t forget Golda Meir, who led Israel as its Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974. Even Canada had a female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, for six fleeting months in 1993. Angela Merkel has been the Chancellor of Germany since 2005. Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister of New Zealand in 2017 and has even had a baby during this time.
Throughout our nation’s history, in Canada, three remarkable women have achieved the office of Deputy Prime Minister, starting with Sheila Copps in 1993. Anne McLellan held the role from 2003-2006, and since November 2019 our Deputy Prime Minister is a woman of whom I have tremendous respect: Chrystia Freeland.
Celebrating the United States’ first ever female Vice President is important and is significant, and Kamala Harris is following in the footsteps of some of the world’s greatest women. But is she first on the world stage? Is the U.S. a leader here? No.
My girl can do anything: it’s not just about going after political office
During a recent conversation with a friend of mine, we discussed, in jest, what our children may be when they grow up. We both have three kids, and our third child, in both cases, is outgoing, confident, even a bit of a dictator. It didn’t occur to me at the time, but the fact that hers is a boy and mine is a girl didn’t even come up in our conversation. For us both, as successful working mothers, we know that our children can do anything. Whether their child is a boy or a girl, it doesn’t matter. I always know that my girl can do anything.
Here’s a question I have been asking with respect to women: is becoming the Prime Minister, or President, or Vice-President, the highest achievement? Is that what I want my daughter to think, that women have achieved greatness only once we have been elected, not just in the United States, but around the world? My answer is the same here: no.
To be the first woman to do anything is significant, and it must be celebrated. Books have been written, movies have been produced, on the many trail blazing women from around the world who were firsts to achieve greatness, and most of these women had no political aspirations. Those women, who have been our drivers of change, have made it possible for a female to be the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Canada, Chief News Anchor, or the President of a University, CEO of a Fortune 500 Company or the Head of my daughter’s elementary school.
What about the second woman?
The first is important, in politics for sure, and in medicine, journalism, education, corporate boards and more. But how about that second woman or third or fourth, or 717th or 7,000th?
I love to celebrate great women, and not just our trail blazers who are the first to achieve something great. Most of the young girls and women with whom I have crossed paths in my life and career have no aspirations to be the first or even to be a driver of change. But they do believe that they can do anything. And that’s because 717, or 7,000 or 7 million women have gone before them to create that path.
To be the first woman Vice President of the United States is an achievement. It is worth a celebration, across social media, newspapers, TV, movies. Everywhere. If it makes even just one young girl develop the ambition to seek the highest political office, then the world is a better place. And you will hear me cheer. Let’s also cheer on the second woman who will one day be Vice President of the United States, or the fourth woman to become Deputy Prime Minister in Canada, or the next woman to be named the CEO or President of a University, or really, to achieve whatever dream she has.
Let’s encourage girls and women to do anything and be everything they WANT to be, no matter what that it is. That’s what I do in my house every day, and I know that my girl can do anything.