Can Thailand’s Yingluck Shinawatra Unite a Divided Nation?

August 5, 2011 | Lauren Feeney

Thailand’s parliament elected Yingluck Shinawatra as the country’s first female prime minister on Friday. A political novice, Yingluck must prove that she’s more than the puppet of her older brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister who was overthrown in a military coup in 2006 and now lives in exile in Dubai.

The 44-year-old businesswoman now faces the task of leading a deeply divided country that has endured years of violence and upheaval since her brother’s ouster.

Yingluck has said that despite her inexperience, as a woman, she’s qualified for the job of uniting the country.

“Females are the symbols of nonviolence,” she told reporters. “Another thing I would say is that a female is more compromising. A female can talk with anyone easily.”

Whether or not her status as a woman can really help her lead a fractured nation, it certainly makes her part of an elite club — Yingluck will be one of only 18 female heads of state anywhere in the world. But is her election a victory for women’s equality? Probably not.

“The connection between herself and a powerful man is the determining factor,” Chalidaporn Songsamphan, gender studies expert at Bangkok’s Thammasat University, told Global Post. Like other female leaders in the region — Benazir Bhutto, Aung San Suu Kyi, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — it’s family name, not gender, that’s her main qualification.