Queen Elizabeth may not have been elected as our head of state, but her softly spoken yet powerful words show she deserves her place as Britain’s matriach, writes Susan Dalgety.
Barack Obama just said something that most women know is a basic truth.
“I’m absolutely confident that for two years if every nation on Earth was run by women, you would see a significant improvement across the board on just about everything... living standards and outcomes,” declared the former president.
His remarks, made at a leadership event in Singapore, were widely reported. Some cheered his wisdom.
Others saw his words as subtle support for Elizabeth Warren in the Democrat presidential primaries, especially as he followed them with the killer line, “If you look at the world and look at the problems it’s usually old people, usually old men, not getting out of the way.” Are you listening, Uncle Joe?
A few feminists declared them as nonsense, arguing that women are no more a monolithic group than men. There are some good, some bad, and most are, well, just pretty average.
Me? I cheered. You only have to look around at Putin, Trump and his apprentice Johnson to realise that even Theresa May, on one of her most dithering of days, was a more thoughtful leader than her successor.
Looking forward to 2020, it seems our future may well lie in the hands of a few powerful women, but will they live up to their supporters’ high hopes for them?
Here at home, Nicola Sturgeon dominates our political life in a way that no female politician has since Maggie Thatcher. Casually mention her name over the festive dinner table, and the responses will range from “isn’t she hard-working” to “I hate that bloody woman”.
Everyone has an opinion on the former lawyer, turned Nicola, Queen of Scots. And those views will only get more pointed as 2020 unfolds. This is a make-or-break year for our First Minister, and our country.
She needs to satisfy the baying demands for a second independence referendum coming from some of her more impatient supporters, while at the same time improve her Government’s abysmal record on public services in time for the Holyrood election campaign.
Trump tweeting like sulky teenager
But first there is the small matter of the trial of the century, when Nicola’s former boss and mentor, Alex Salmond, will face charges of sexual assault and attempted rape. And I thought my to-do list was tough.
Another woman with man trouble is US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. At 79, she has more energy than your average 19-year-old. She can silence a roomful of raucous politicians simply by raising an eyebrow.
And Donald Trump is so terrified of her, he spent the Christmas period, like a sulky teenager, rage-tweeting about her.
Pelosi holds the fate of the 45th President in her hands. She needs to decide how long she can hold back Trump’s impeachment charges in an effort to force the Republican-held Senate into holding a proper trial, complete with evidence.
If she folds too soon, she risks handing Trump a victory, with the Senate declaring him an innocent man without hearing from a single witness.
If she holds off for too long, she may well persuade voters that the impeachment is nothing but a cynical political ploy, or a “witch-hunt” by “crazy Nancy”, as Trump is wont to scream at midnight. But if anyone can win a game of high-stakes poker against the man-child that is the leader of the free world, it is this grandmother of nine and the woman who, almost single-handedly, crafted Obama’s healthcare act and steered it into law.
Back in Scotland, there is a group of influential women who, like Nancy Pelosi, have dared to speak truth to power.
Some, like MSPs Jenny Marra and Joan McAlpine, enjoy a public profile. Others, such as researchers Susan Sinclair and Lucy Hunter Blackburn, are less well-known, but just as effective.
Gender debate set to erupt
Together, these women are members of an informal network of Scottish women who have publicly questioned the new orthodoxy that says that anyone can legally be a woman. All they need to do is declare their femininity.
Like JK Rowling, most women could not care less about what anyone wears, what they call themselves or who they sleep with (as long as it’s consensual), but we know that biological sex is real, and that it matters.
Women’s hard-won rights, from better maternal health to safe spaces, depend on society treating men and women differently and positively.
The Scottish Government has just published its consultation paper on reforming the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. Among other changes, the Government suggests that people as young as 16 can legally declare themselves the opposite of the sex they were born, and can secure life-changing treatment, apparently without the need for parental support.
The bill is out for consultation until 17 March, so expect fireworks over the next few weeks as the debate erupts on social media and in Parliament.
And look out for a torrent of insults as women standing up for their rights are dismissed as bigots, transphobes, and of course the 21st-century equivalent of witch – a ‘Terf’.
An unexpectedly powerful voice
The most significant global event of the year will happen in Glasgow, in November, when the city will host the 2020 UN climate change summit. The most influential voice there will not be that of the newly elected American president, or Boris Johnson, or even China’s president-for-life, Xi Jinping.
As I have said before, and will repeat as necessary, the voice we should all heed will be that of a slightly built Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg.
However, perhaps the most powerful female voice of all, as we head into a new decade, is one of the most softly spoken, and for me the most unexpected. This is a woman who has seen it all – from the horrors of World War Two to the moon landing. She has kept the secrets of 14 Prime Ministers and known every US President since Harry Truman.
When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne, she used a fountain pen to correspond. Today she is on Instagram.
In her Christmas message, she urged us to honour our freedom and democracy that had been won at such a great cost. She praised Greta’s generation for their sense of purpose in their campaign to save our planet.
And she reminded us that it is often “the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change”.
She may not have earned her role as head of state, but the Queen deserves her place as our nation’s matriarch.