After former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was barred from holding political office, his wife Kalsoom Sharif has announced that she will be contesting in the by-elections from the seat vacated by her husband.
She is among the many women in the world of politics who have stepped up to further along their family’s legacy.
In the Indian subcontinent, politics can often be a family affair.
In South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, women who have taken up the mantle to further their family’s political legacy have also emerged as powerful players of their own right.
From Benazir Bhutto to Sonia Gandhi, here’s a look at women who became political juggernauts.
The women of the Gandhi family
Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was also the first and the only woman to have been the Prime Minister of India. She was also the second longest serving Prime Minister of India. A controversial figure, she instituted the State of Emergency in India between 1975 and 1977, thereby ruling by decree. Her tenure in the office ended with her assassination.
Sonia Gandhi, the wife of the late Rajiv Gandhi, kept her distance from politics for several years after her husband’s assassination. After she joined politics in 1997, she was elected the President of the Congress Party. An Italian-born Indian, she is credited for steering the party to victory in the 2004 elections.
Khaleda Zia was the first female Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She served from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006. She also became a political force after the assassination of her husband, Ziaur Rahman, who had served as the President of Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the battle for power has been fought between two women, Sheikh Hasina and Zia since 1991.
Sirima Ratwatte is considered one of the first female heads of government of the contemporary world. She served as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka three times, 1960–65, 1970–77 and 1994–2000. She became the guiding force of her political party, after her husband, the former PM of the nation S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, was assassinated in 1959. A year later, she would become Prime Minister herself. She is also the mother of Sri Lanka's fourth Executive President, Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Benazir Bhutto became a political heavyweight when her father, the former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, was overthrown by the military. Undeterred by the coup, Bhutto ran a campaign to free her father from prison and to fight the military rule. Her time in politics was often tumultuous and she spent multiple years in exile. However, she was also elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan twice during her life. She was assassinated in 2007.
Our assessment is that there is a pattern of women emerging as political heavyweights after taking the mantle from their families. It is debatable if political legacies are actually good for the health of democratic nations.