Rachel Smalley: Women who could change the world


2017 might see women leading the US, the UN and world banking body the IMF — a chance for a real shift in gear.

Helen Clark, No 3 in the UN leadership. Photo / AP
Helen Clark, No 3 in the UN leadership. Photo / AP

The year is 2017. It's February, and it's cold in Washington DC.

The Clinton family is settling in at the White House. The former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary have moved back in, but this time Hillary is in charge.

The former First Lady rested up over Christmas. She took a moment, she says, to catch her breath after an exhaustive election campaign. She is ready now. Ready to implement change. She is America's first female President and she is eager to leave her mark on the world.

Clinton's appointment is timely. She is not alone as a woman in a senior strategic and diplomatic role. In fact, she will rely heavily on two women who are already shaping our world, making decisions on economic reform, global poverty, and addressing the ferocious civil wars in Syria and Iraq.

The first is the brilliant Christine Lagarde. She runs the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and is entering her sixth year in the job.

She has guided the world economy back to its feet like a newborn foal trying to stand for the first time.

The second is Helen Clark, the newly appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations. She is the first woman to hold the UN's top job, after two terms as head of its Development Programme.

Clinton's presidency begins the same way her predecessor's. Like Barack Obama, she is conciliatory. She wants an end to the conflicts and the killings ravaging the Middle East.

The Syrian conflict is in its sixth year. Clinton says it won't enter a seventh under her watch. She's spoken at length to Clark about the mess in the Middle East. Both are troubled by so-called "conflict creep". The fighting has moved beyond Syria's borders into Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Turkey. Next stop, Clinton warns, will be terrorist cells in Europe.

Clinton wants peacekeepers to enter Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, but she needs the UN Security Council to pass a resolution. That's where Clark comes in.

Russia and China are almost certain to veto it, but Clark will make the case for the 12 million Syrians displaced or living as refugees. The World Food Programme is running out of money. Children and women are suffering the most. The conflict can't drag on, and Clark knows she has to get Russia and China on side to get a resolution.

The two women agree to bring Lagarde into the mix. Clinton wants Bashar al-Assad and his regime removed from power. Once that happens, Largarde's expertise will be instrumental in rebuilding Syria's monetary system in what is now a failed state.

The three emerge as a powerful trio.

Of course, this is hypothetical, but this political and diplomatic menage a trois is a very real possibility in 2017.

Clinton is positioning herself to become the first female US President, and is tipped to win the Democratic nomination should she contest it. Clark is currently No3 at the United Nations.

She's given several interviews gently canvassing whether it is time for a woman to be appointed to the role of UN Secretary-General.

Lagarde, considered one of the greatest financial brains in the Eurozone, is already in charge of the IMF. Her intelligence is formidable and her ability to win over people and negotiate in times of economic crisis is unparalleled.

So how might the world look under the leadership of these three women? In a nutshell - calmer. Less confrontational. More cohesive.

That said, it's a tough ask for Clark to win the top job. Ban Ki-moon, the incumbent, is from the Asia-Pacific. The UN would need to break with tradition to appoint a successor from the same region. And the UN doesn't change quickly.

But Clark's chances would improve if New Zealand wins a seat on the UN Security Council. There is little we can do to effect change on the sluggish and increasingly impotent council that seems to have failed more times than it has succeeded.

But once inside, New Zealand's representative could lobby hard for Clark's appointment to the top job.

If there is to be change in the world, then change should start at the top. And 2017 has the potential to be a historic year for women and the world.

Rachel Smalley hosts Early Edition on Newstalk ZB and contributes to TVNZ's
Q+A and Sunday programmes.

- NZ Herald

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