Last week saw prominent females rise to significant roles in both official and unofficial capacities. From Janet Yellen's historic nomination as the first female Chair of the Federal Reserve and Pakistani student-actvist Malala Yousafzai capturing the world's attention in her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize, to something of a common sense block formed by female members of Congress hoping to avert economic catastrophe, strong and capable women were front and center throughout the world.
Yellen's nomination – which for all intents and purposes is an appointment – marks an end to one of the most elevated of the remaining glass ceilings, at least in terms of global power and influence. The Atlantic went so far as to suggest that the post could make her the most powerful woman in history of the world. Yellen is current Fed Chair Ben Bernanke's top deputy, and though the President was said to have favored close ally and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers for the position, Yellen's support within the economic establishment was nothing short of a groundswell.
Seen as a highly-intelligent and supremely competent central banker, Yellen is already being called things like the most qualified nominee in the history of the Fed. Because her and Bernanke rarely clashed on policy matters, the former Harvard and London School of Economics professor's approach is not anticipated to be a departure from the status quo. However, her intense academic interest in the Fed's other mandate in addition to controlling inflation – maximizing employment – is seen as a major plus as many think she could use the platform to urge both the White House and Congress to focus more intently on job creation.
For all of Bernanke's success curbing inflation (not to mention staving off a second Great Depression, which happened to be his area of academic prowess), the persistent high-unemployment that has dogged the U.S. economy since the Great Recession is seen as one of the biggest roadblocks to true financial recovery. Yellen certainly has her work cut out for her, but the great degree of confidence she has inspired is certainly a promising sign.
The World's other high-ranking female economic official, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, was also center stage last week, hitting the news circuit to explain quite eloquently just how hosed-up the notion that a U.S. default really wouldn't be so bad actually is.
The always articulate French attorney told American lawmakers they were risking a “massive disruption the world over” that could send the world economy into a tailspin worse than we saw in 2008-10, explaining that not only a default on debt obligations, but a signal that the keeper of the world's reserve currency was unable to govern such essential functions, would send a dangerous message to global markets.
On Capitol Hill, females were front and center in attempts to pull off a bipartisan compromise that would reopen the federal government, while also raising the debt limit. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine took the bull by the horns and hammered out a framework that would have given Republicans a chance to save face, without forcing Democrats to give in (too much) to threats of tanking the economy in order to avoid default.
Collins was able to line up fellow Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Kelly Ayotte (NH), while Democratic Senators Maria Cantwell (WA), Claire McCaskill (MO) Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Amy Klobuchar (MN) and Jeanne Shaheen (NH) were all poised to cross the aisle and form something of a female common-sense caucus. That is until Paul Ryan basically blew Collins's framework out of the water, calling it everything short of socialist surrender. Cantwell told MSNBC that, “If it were up to the women, this would be over already. There’s still a lot of testosterone going around.”
Ironically, if a deal is reached (as it looked like it would as of this column's deadline), it seems like it will be pretty close to Collins' suggestion, though perhaps even less favorable for Republicans, who probably should have taken her more seriously.
All of the economic excitement still paled, however, in comparison with the story of Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani student, who at 15 survived being shot by the Taliban in reprisal for her persistent fight to secure females the right to an education. After being lauded as the favorite for this year's Nobel Prize, Yousafzai was passed over by the Nobel committee, who again selected an international body, this time the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Not that it matters, as the child has in all likelihood already eclipsed the award.
At the age of 11, Yousafzai began penning a blog for the BBC about her life under Taliban rule, speaking passionately on her views for promoting education for girls, whom the group did not allow to attend school. The blog spawned a New York Times documentary putting her in the national spotlight. Despite the mortal danger it would surely bring, the young girl continued giving interviews and speeches.
Last October Malala was shot in the head and neck as she rode the school bus home, in an assassination attempt by the Taliban. After a considerable struggle, she eventually recovered. But while the group reiterated their intent to murder the young girl, she continued her campaign with remarkable grace and poise, humbly noting that if education was the key and she was to stop speaking out, the goal of providing that opportunity would obviously be lost.
Yousafzai's passion, dedication and humility inspired the world. From UN petitions to her country's first-ever right to education bill, her reach has perhaps been greater than any youth in modern history. Last week, as her story finally seemed to reach all corners of the Earth, human beings of all ages sat stunned, listening to the wisdom in her gentle voice, each undoubtedly wishing they could be just a little bit more like this teenaged girl from Pakistan. Yes, a good week indeed.