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Harris’ feat is great but there were many women leaders before her

As the 56-year-old Kamala Devi Harris, Democratic senator and running mate of President-elect Joe Biden, is set to take charge as vice-president, women across the globe are in a celebratory mood.

Never has there been so much enthusiasm and discussion around a vice-president. A narrative is building up—that with Harris’ election, women have finally arrived in the global arena. Social media is abuzz. Celebrations are on almost everywhere.

Yes, there are many firsts to Harris’ credit. Besides being the first woman to be occupying the post of vice-president, she will be the first woman of color. Harris, also known for her far-Left views, will also be the first from the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority to be elected for this post. She will be the first with roots outside the US—in Tamil Nadu in India.

“A proud moment for all women around the world,” wrote a senior executive working with a multinational company in Switzerland on Facebook.

“A daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, she will be the first woman, the first Black person, the first Indian American and the first Asian American to hold the office,” US media organization National Public Radio—NPR.org said.

While it is no mean achievement for Harris to have won the election, the development in no way reflects a quantum jump in the status of women. Many women across the globe, much before Harris, have occupied positions of power, participated in critical policy frameworks, and successfully steered their respective countries.

The list is long: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen; Prime Ministers Jacinda Ardern, Sheikh Hasina, Sanna Mirella Marin, and Saara Kuugongelwa of New Zealand, Bangladesh, Finland, and Namibia, respectively.

Canada that borders the US can too can boast of having a woman head of government, albeit for a very short time. Avril Phaedra Douglas "Kim" Campbell served as the country’s 19th prime minister in 1993 just for a few months.

If one takes into account women who have served as heads of state and government or deputies in the past, the list will be even longer. Many countries in Europe including the UK, Switzerland, Norway, France have already had women leaders steering their countries.

Back home, Indira Gandhi, became India’s Prime Minister way back in 1966. Undoubtedly, Gandhi’s name appears as one of the most powerful leaders of the country till date. In fact, not just India and Bangladesh, in the south Asia region, Pakistan and Sri Lanka too have had women heads of state.

Recently, amid the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, several women leaders—Merkel, Arden and Ing-wen were repeatedly given a shout-out for managing the situation well—in fact better than their male counterparts across the world.

Harris, after winning, gave a rather invigorating speech. She said her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris, an immigrant from India who married a Jamaican, could have never imagined this. “And so, I’m thinking about her [mother] and about the generations of women Black women, Asian, White, Latina, Native American women who throughout our nation’s history have paved the way for this moment tonight,” she said. “Women who fought and sacrificed so much for equality, liberty and justice for all, including the Black women, who are often, too often overlooked, but so often prove that they are the backbone of our democracy.”

The Congressional Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party, which represents the Left-leaning faction, sees Harris as its own person.

As the US and the world celebrate Harris—and rightly so—let us not undermine the achievements and contributions of other eminent women leaders, past and present.