To understand the distinctions, consider three different female prime ministers:Gro Harlem Brundtland was prime minister in a parliamentary democracy. In the Norwegian government, the prime minister acts as both the executive and legislative head of the government. He or she holds the most powerful political position in the country. While in office Brundtland pursued strong economic and foreign policy agendas and will be remembered for bringing environmental issues to the top of the nation's political agenda.
Edith Cresson was the prime minister of France from 1990 to 1992. France has a mixed political system with a strong president and a potentially powerful prime minister. The prime minister is chosen by the president from the dominant party in the parliament. If the dominant party in the parliament is different from the party of the president, then the prime minister can be a very strong political figure (this is called cohabitation). However, if the dominant party is the same as the president's party, then the prime minister is generally viewed as subservient to the president and holds little independent power. Edith Cresson was of the same party as François Mitterrand, a strong president. Indeed, as Cresson explains, “You are not entirely free to choose [your] ministers (far from it). As far as I [was] concerned, my freedom was certainly limited”. In a list of leaders of France in the 20th century, Mitterrand would appear from 1990 to 1992, but not Cresson.
Elisabeth Domitien held the position of prime minister of the Central African Republic from 1975 to 1976. She was appointed to the position by the dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa when he formed a new government and decided to include a prime minister. But when Bokassa began discussing making the country a monarchy and crowning himself emperor (which he ultimately did), Domitien publicly spoke out against his plans and was promptly fired. Domitien cannot be considered to have had any substantial political power.
What “paths to power” do women take to gain top political office? Some women gain power through a connection to a politically powerful male. That is, women run as a “surrogate” for a husband or visible continuation of the legacy of a father. This is not a rare occurrence. To name just a few, Indira Gandhi's father was India's founding, prime minister; Corazon Aquino's husband was viewed as a national martyr; and in Bangladesh, the widow of a former president replaced the daughter of a former prime minister. The phenomenon of daughters or wives standing as surrogates for their fathers or husbands is particularly apparent in regions of the world where women in leadership positions would be least expected. For example, Asia has generally low levels of female participation in other areas of politics, but it accounts for 30% of female national leaders and 75% of countries with more than one female leader over time. However, every woman who has held high political office in Asia is part of a political dynasty.
This “widow's walk to power” may be most common where attitudes toward women are especially traditional. In places where women are seen as helpmates to their spouse, it is easy to visualize them as stand-ins for their husbands. The husband or father may have been assassinated, hanged, or have spent a great deal of time in prison, thereby making him a martyr in the eyes of the public and the surrogate wife or daughter a symbol of the continuing struggle. Recent examples also include wives succeeding husbands who are still living, including Cristina Kirchner, president of Argentina, and Hillary Rodham Clinton, who attempted the U.S. presidential bid.

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