Before Sanna Marin came Benazir Bhutto

On December 10, Finland’s left-wing Social Democrats, who lead a five-party coalition government, picked 34-year-old Minister of Transport and Communications Sanna Marin as the country’s new prime minister.

The decision made the relatively unknown politician an international celebrity overnight – after all it is not every day that a woman as young as Marin gets the chance to lead a country. Countless articles and news reports published and broadcast across the world celebrated her sudden rise to power as a “feminist victory” and praised Finland for its “progressiveness”.

Marin’s premiership has clearly been perceived by many in Finland and beyond as a manifestation of Nordic gender equality. But is Finland really that unique for having a young, female leader? And more importantly, is having a woman leader definitive proof that a country reached gender equality?

According to this measure, Pakistan, a country often branded “deeply conservative” and “patriarchal” and even considered one of the most dangerous in the world for women, for example, was seemingly as progressive as Finland over 30 years ago when Pakistanis elected a 35-year-old woman, Benazir Bhutto, as their prime minister.

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