Ruling a man’s world: New Premier Paula Cox, right, follows in the footsteps of former female leaders Dame Jennifer Smith, centre, and Dame Pamela Gordon, left. *File photos
Ruling a man’s world: New Premier Paula Cox, right, follows in the footsteps of former female leaders Dame Jennifer Smith, centre, and Dame Pamela Gordon, left. *File photos
Paula Cox is the third female Premier to lead this country.

She follows in the footsteps of Dame Pamela Gordon, leader from 1997-98, and Dame Jennifer Smith, leader from 1998-2003.

But while Dame Jennifer succeeded Dame Pamela in 1998, she was ousted in a political coup in 2003.

It was then another seven years before Bermuda’s next female Premier, Ms Cox.

So is Bermuda’s political system a bastion of male power and sexism?

Globally, the cut and thrust of politics is seen as a man’s world where women sometimes have to shout to be heard.

A common stereotype is also that ‘the fairer sex’ must be as hard as nails to progress — British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was referred to as the Iron Lady.

But female political involvement is on the increase worldwide. In the U.S., a record number of women have applied to run for the House of Representatives and Senate in the primaries this year. 

The Swiss now have more women than men in government.

So how does Bermuda compare? Our Senate is evenly split, with five female and six male representatives.

But the House of Assembly is disproportionately male. There are just seven women among the 36 seats — a fifth of the country’s Members of Parliament.

The U.K.’s House of Commons does not fare much better, with 143 female MPs and 507 men.

In Bermuda, both Government Minister Neletha Butterfield and former Minister Renee Webb have spoken out about the challenges facing women in local politics.

In 2004, Ms Butterfield said women were “grossly under-represented”.

Four years later, when she was ousted from Ewart Brown’s Cabinet as Environment Minister, she questioned whether Bermuda was “moving backward” in terms of female political representation.

Ms Webb, a retired Government MP, added that “Bermuda has much to do in the area of sexism. It is a problem”.

She added that male MPs “can be very patronizing”.

Kim Wilson, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, said yesterday: “There is much work to be done to increase the numbers of women in politics.  

Chauvinistic

“There does still exist in some quarters of our society the misconceived, chauvinistic notion that decision-making and leadership is exclusively a role for men.

“Equitable participation of women and men in politics and Government is essential to build and sustain democracy.

“Minister Cox serves as an example of integrity and loyalty.

“She possesses strong character with both conscience and charisma.”

Jeanne Atherden, Opposition Senator and Shadow Minister of Community and Culture, said: “Women leaders are more likely to demonstrate an inclusive team-building style of problem solving and decision making.  

“That’s what is needed in the country right now.”

Suzann Roberts-Holshouser, Opposition Senator, said: “In politics women do have to be a little bit more aggressive but that does not mean men are not prepared to listen to your opinions.”

For UBP MP Louise Jackson, ageism is more of a problem than sexism.

The Shadow Minister for Health and Seniors said: “I have not encountered sexism challenges in politics but I have been insulted and belittled as a senior.

“Ageism is alive and well in politics. Government members including the Premier (former leader Dr. Ewart Brown) have resorted to hurling insults on the floor of the House to do with my age. But I personally know of other female politicians who have had great problems with sexism.

“Women in politics are faced with a triple threat.

“Most have three areas to function in high gear — home and family, job and politics. “But Bermuda has had three women Premiers. This country has shown the world they respect women in the world of politics.”

Ianthia Wade, wife of the late PLP leader L. Frederick Wade, said: “It is challenging for a woman in politics because, like it or not, it is a man’s world.

“Minister Cox has dealt with it extremely well. She has been strong and vocal and has earned the respect of other ministers.

“Her election is significant. It is a milestone for the PLP — they have again realized that a woman can lead the party and the country.

“Women bring a whole different perspective as to how they look at and analyze situations.

“We need to play a much more significant role in moving this country forward.”