After news broke on Saturday evening of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris winning the United States’ presidential elections, a sense of jubilation gripped people all over the world. But not just because of how unpopular the incumbent Donald Trump had become during his four-year tenure, but how symbolic it was that a black woman had finally clinched arguably the second most powerful office in the world.
Kamala Harris became the US first female, first African-American, first Asian-American and first Caribbean-American Vice President. She is also set to become the highest elected female official in US history.
Data has shown that more women had voted for the Biden-Harris ticket than they did for Hillary Clinton, who ran for the top seat in 2016 and lost to Trump.
Democratic strategist James Carville attributed the votes of women and the African-American population for Biden’s landslide victory to Harris’ candidacy.
Harris had herself run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination but later ended her campaign in December 2019 in favour of Biden after which he chose her as his running mate.
During her acceptance speech, Harris made a strong point in acknowledging her feat. “I’m thinking of my mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, and the generations of black women who came before me who believed so deeply in an America where a moment like this is possible,” she said.
She further stated that while she may be the first woman in the office, she “will not be the last – because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”
How Does This Shape Nigeria’s Political Space?
UN Women reported in 2019 that the number of women participating in politics in Nigeria still remained “abysmally low”, with less than 6 per cent of lawmakers in the house of assembly being female.
According to the International Parliamentary Union, Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female representation in parliament across Africa and globally ranks 181 out of 193 countries.
Only five out of 73 candidates running for the presidency in 2019 were women. Also, 232 women compared to 1,668 men contested for 109 senatorial seats, while 4,139 men vied for the 360 seats in the House of Representatives as opposed to 560 women who contested as well.
In most parts of the world, women have remained marginalised when it comes to occupying political office and have faced outright backlash. But with Harris shattering the political glass ceiling in the US after 244 years of independence, the question is raised whether other democracies such as Nigeria are ready to have a female in the forefront of governance.
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, during her visit to Nigeria this week said she believed a woman could take power from President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023.
“This is my ambition and I think a woman can. One should always persevere in seeking this candidate and not fail in trying one’s luck. Therefore, women should stand up. They have 50 percent of the vote and if they can show off like men, men will support women, so who can stop them? There is no reason why a woman should not be able to lead Nigeria,” the former minister said.
A Reawakened Hope for Women of Colour?
HumAngle spoke to a few women to hear what their thoughts were on witnessing a black woman becoming the Vice President in one of the world’s most powerful nations.
Fatima Gebi, a girl-child advocate said even though she wasn’t a fan of the newly elected duo, she couldn’t help but acknowledge their win as nothing short of being a “symbolic event”.
“It shatters a number of ‘glass ceilings’ ranging from her being black to her being a woman.
“For the Nigerian political space, due to the immense ‘respect’ and high regard it has for the US; it puts into perspective the capabilities of women, and also that it can be done since America has done it. Also, it was quite monumental as it shows the strength and importance of democracy and coming out to vote,” she said.
Sabeeha Hussein, a medical doctor of both Nigerian and Pakistani descent said what she considered important was the representation.
“Seeing someone like me, in a world that has all odds stacked against you as a woman, especially one of colour, it is beautiful to see some hope. This hope transcends politics. It is a hope for us in all sectors,” Hussein said.
“Having a black president (Barack Obama) was groundbreaking. It gave every black man and woman hope. Despite all the negatives, positives can happen. The same thing and more is the case here. I mean after 45 male and white vice presidents, there is a woman, a black woman, a South Asian woman, a woman of color. Dreams do come true.”
Natalie Montgomery, a careers consultant and founder of Almara Consulting Group, however, has a different opinion. According to her, black women need to refrain from “mentally configuring” Kamala Harris’ victory as symbolic for the black community.
“Kamala Harris like many mixed-race people does not identify as black (and rightfully so). She has stated openly that she identifies more closely to her Indian heritage/culture, which is understandable since many bi/multi-racial people identify more closely with their mother’s heritage, whatever that may be,” she explained.
“Kamala Harris is a mixed race person who identifies as a mixed race person. Furthermore, she does not phenotypically resemble the vast majority of West African black women in regards to her facial features and complexion.”
This, she added, is why it is not in the best interests of black women to relate to Kamala Harris or any other mixed-race woman in this way.
“Kamala Harris is the first woman to fill her new position of great political power and influence. As it pertains to black women, that should be enough,” Montgomery emphasised.