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Voters Demonstrate More Acceptance of Women Leaders

January was a history-making month for women as Chile elected its first female president and Liberia inaugurated Africa's first elected female head of state. Are voters getting used to the idea of women as political leaders or is it simply coincidence?

American actress Geena Davis portrays the President of the United States in the popular TV series, "Commander In Chief". It may be pure fiction but some analysts say it could be a sign of things to come.

Avis Jones-de Weever heads the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington D.C. Ahe says, "I think that it has done a tremendous job for making real something that people really had never perceived before."

The changing perceptions are reflected in what Ms. Jones-de Weever says has been a remarkable three months for women. In November, Angela Merkel became Germany's first female Chancellor. Soon after, former political prisoner and single mother Michelle Bachelet became Chile's first elected female president. And earlier this year, Liberia's former finance minister, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, became the first woman head of state in Africa.

Former Democratic Party Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, a long-time friend of the new Liberian president, says women have come a long way since 1984, when she became the first woman from a major political party to run for Vice President of the United States.

"It's taken Ellen 21 to 22 years to achieve the presidency, not an easy thing to do. So it's a progression that has been good, but one woman elected to the continent of Africa is not a sea change." But Ms. Ferraro says the tide appears to be shifting.

According to Colombian women's rights activist Luz Piedad Calceido, voters around the world are increasingly turning to women because of their ability to reach agreements and find common ground.

"If we don't have women in this process, we cannot reconstruct our countries," she says. "Why? For a simple reason, because women are more educated for the care of people."

But while some see this stereotype as a strength, others see it as a weakness, arguing that women tend to be strong on domestic issues but weak on military and foreign policy decisions.

Samra Filipovic-Hadziabdic, the director of the Gender Equality Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, isn't buying that argument. "Women can be tough you know -- just remember your mother."

"Most people naturally think that women are more inclined to think about domestic issues versus military issues,” says Ms. Jones-de Weever. “I personally think women have the ability to do it all."

And even if they choose not to run for the highest office, where they could "do it all", Congresswoman Ferraro says women in powerful positions are leading the way. She says good examples of that include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and another former State Secretary, Madeleine Albright.

"The two things she and Madeleine have done is that they have focused the attention of the American public on the fact that women can be in a position of power and working on and influencing the foreign policy decisions of this country and thus, the world," Ms. Ferraro told us.

And Americans think a woman could be running for president soon. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll shows 70 percent believe they are likely to vote for a woman president in 2008.

But worldwide, women remain a small minority in the top jobs. Excluding reigning monarchs and hereditary rulers, the United Nations says women lead just 11 of 193 countries. Some analysts say that number could rise as women candidates vie for the top leadership jobs in France, Peru and Zambia in 2006.