PARIS — When they met Thursday in Berlin, Angela Merkel and Theresa May were two leaders in crisis: the German Chancellor trying to salvage her governing coalition in the face of criticism of her migration policy, while the UK Prime Minister is being dragged ever deeper down in the Brexit quagmire. The meeting, mocked in a less-than-flattering cartoon in The Guardian, took place between two of the world’s most powerful women whose “hold on power is starting to look precarious,” as Mary Dejevsky writes in The Independent.

Despite the hard times for these female national leaders in Europe, a series of “firsts” on the local level in the rest of the world may hint at a new momentum for women politicians.

In San Francisco, London Breed became the first black woman to be elected mayor with her June victory over two challengers. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Breed garnered support from across the demographics of the diverse Californian city.

San Francisco mayor London Breed — Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen

Meanwhile, south of the border, Claudia Sheinbaum is now the first woman to be elected mayor of the Mexican capital — a surprise win on July 1, in a country where the culture of machismo remains very much an issue. Supporters of the incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who belongs to the same Morena party as Sheinbaum) have called for a great "shake off" and renewed conversation on the place of women in Mexican society.

In Tunisia, the biggest obstacle today to women’s advancement is not called machismo, but Islamism. Yet the North African nation also has a history of leading the way on gender equality in the Muslim world, notably with the freedoms inherited from Habib Bourguiba in the 1950s.

Undoing millennia of patriarchy across the world won’t happen overnight.

All eyes are now on Tuesday’s election of 53-year-old Souad Abderrahim as the first woman mayor of the country’s capital. It is a victory that must be put into perspective, as Abderrahim is backed by the Islamist party Ennahda: “Abderrahim is one of the faces that will help de-demonize Ennahda with a Tunisian electorate that is generally against political Islam,” wrote French daily Le Monde.

Undoing millennia of patriarchy across the world won’t happen overnight, even as each election of a woman to power can be counted as progress. Still, just ask Mesdames Merkel and May: Rising to power is one thing; wielding it successfully is something else.


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