Overall, though, the face of global power is clearly changing, scholars say. And it is looking far more feminine.
It started with a UN conference
To understand this shift, you need to go back to 1995, said Mona Lena Krook, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, when the United Nations held its Fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing. Thousands of government representatives, advocates, and interested laypeople debated all sorts of topics related to women over 10 days – everything from education to reproductive rights to women's role in development. They also talked about political power.
"Women's equal participation in political life plays a pivotal role in the general process of the advancement of women," states the final report. "Women's equal participation in decisionmaking is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women's interests."
The report recommended that governments restructure their electoral and political party systems to better enable female representation. No longer should women's rights be the focus only of feminist and advocate groups, the conference concluded: It should be a mainstream goal for mainstream institutions. And one recommended way of adjusting political systems, the report said, was through gender quotas.
Gender quotas, which vary in structure but typically reserve political seats or spots on a ballot for women, have existed in a handful of countries since the 1930s. They came into vogue in the 1970s among European leftist parties, and started to gain more widespread traction in the '80s. But it was this Beijing conference, Ms. Krook says, that made the concept palatable to a wider variety of countries.