By Moign Khawaja
These are only a dozen women but they are in charge of one and a half billion souls on the planet. It is true that women own only one percent of the world’s land but these head of states/governments control vast tracts of land that include rainforest, fertile plains and industrial heartlands. Moign Khawaja of Outernationalist.net profiles 12 most powerful women and tracks their ascent to power.
Name: Mary McAleese
Date of Birth: 27 June, 1951
Place of birth: Belfast, Northern Ireland
Political leaning: Centrist
Party: Fianna Fáil
Religion: Roman Catholic
Assumed Office: 11 November, 1997
Time in power: 13 years (approx.)
Professional Background: Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology; Journalist and presenter
Personal: She is married to dentist Martin McAleese and have three children together.
Mary McAleese has got many firsts under her belt. She is the first Irish president to be born in Northern Ireland. She is also the world’s first ever female president to succeed another woman as an elected head of state. Last but not the least, she is currently the longest serving elected female president in the world.
Mary McAleese was born in Belfast on 27 June, 1951. Her father, who hails from County Roscommon in the Irish Republic, ran a famous pub in Catholic area of west Belfast but was forced to flee when sectarian violence broke out in the early 1970s. Her family, including eight brothers and sisters, moved to the rural County Down but eventually returned to Belfast soon. She studied law at Queen’s University and graduated with honours in 1973.
In 1975, she was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin succeeding Mary Robinson, who later became the first president of Ireland. Four years later, she joined Ireland’s national broadcaster, Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE), as a current affairs journalist and worked on several documentaries before returning to Trinity College in 1981. In 1987, she returned to her Alma Mater, Queen’s University, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. McAleese became the first female Pro-Vice Chancellor of the Queen’s University of Belfast in 1994.
History repeated itself twenty two years later when Mary McAleese succeeded Mary Robinson as the President of the Irish Republic on 11 November, 1997. The centrist politician took the office on a promise of reconciliation between the Catholic and Protestants sects in Ireland. Mary McAleese raised quite a few eyebrows when she embraced and worshipped with Protestants even though she is a Catholic. She also openly praised Queen Elizabeth II of England, putting behind the traditional British-Irish rivalry while upsetting many nationalists.
During McAleese’s reign, Ireland saw its transformation from one of Europe’s poorest countries to an economic powerhouse, earning itself the nickname ‘Celtic tiger’. She won praise from both her admirers and critics on her efforts of ‘building bridges’, a personal commitment to bring both Catholic and Protestant communities together to foster peace and mutual coexistence.
In an interview to Harvard University’s bulletin, she said that the gift of women to the world is that they come at problems conceptually quite differently than men. “I tend to bite off problems in small pieces. I might have a global vision, but I understand that I have to achieve that global vision in small increments,” she elaborated when asked about the qualities women bring to positions of leadership. She added: “While my own vision is a global vision — one of reconciliation of all classes and creeds — nonetheless, I know those words are meaningless unless we work one heart at a time. It’s understanding the dynamics of doing things on a small scale and being patient, growing little by little, increment by increment, and not being particularly worried about being around for the full flowering of it.”