I never pass an opportunity to write about a powerful woman I admire. As an ambitious young woman with bigger ambitions than writing about ‘pink topics’, I try to soak in as much inspiration as I can from the pioneers and trailblazers who went before us. So as I was watching the World Cup finals in between studying for exams, I could not help but wonder about the woman dressed in a red-and-white Croatian jersey and white pants in the VIP section cheering the Croatian team.
Who is she?
Her name is Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, the President of Croatia. When she run against the incumbent Ivo Josipovic in 2015, she was nicknamed “Barbie” and pundits projected that she would lose to Josipovic until she pulled a stunner and won by a whisker, with 50.5 per cent of the vote. When she came to power, Kolinda was not only the first female president of Croatia but also the youngest to hold that office in the country, at the age of 46.
As critics downplay her achievements with silly nicknames like “Barbie” and even as media try to shift our focus to her apparent closeness with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Word Cup finals, I feel that the light-hearted media reports denied young women in this part of the world an educational moment from this woman who has surprisingly not attracted much coverage. While tomes have been written on Macron and other world leaders, there is remarkably little written about this outstanding woman, so I will take it upon myself to tell us a little more about President Grabar.
Kolinda is not your average pretty girl. She is, in the words of many men who think they are doing women a favour by telling them this, “a rare combination of beauty and brains.” (By the way, beauty and brains should not be made to look like they are mutually exclusive. And no, we don’t take it as a complement when it is suggested that one has both!) Kolinda is what in Croatia, they would call “foreign-educated” having received fellowships from Ivy-League universities such as Harvard and attended George Washington University as a Fulbright Scholar. At the moment, she is pursuing a PhD in international relations at the University of Zagreb. Prior to becoming president, Kolinda held several high profile jobs in Croatia, including Minister for European Affairs (2003-2005), Minister for Foreign Affairs (2005-2008) and a senior Nato official (2011-2014). If young women are looking for an icon to emulate and inspire them, then Kolinda should be first on the list.
However, Kolinda’s greatest achievement to us should not be the mere fact that she is a woman of many firsts, but the fact that she – as other women such as Angela Merkel, Theresa May — has shown that it is possible to be whatever you want to be in life, the obstacles, opposition and frustrations not withstanding. It may have taken her exemplary show of support for the national football team at the World Cup for the world to finally notice her, but I have a feeling that this is not the last we have seen of her. Her motherly support of the football team—with the tight hugs and words of encouragement—showed us why we need more women leaders. They are compassionate and empathetic, they naturally assume the motherly role, they are understanding and considerate, just see how Russian President Vladmir. V. Putin treated the players! Her enthusiasm on the football stands and the fact that she made sure she attended every match her team was playing, except for the one that clashed with a Nato meeting, was impressive and it demonstrated to us that the world needs more female leaders.
In other equally interesting news, I have realized that there is a wave of young folks who are taking over the world and nothing could be more encouraging. Whether it is newly elected 41-year-old Ethiopian PM Dr. Abiy Ahmed who, together with his Eritrean counterpart brokered peace between the countries, or Kylian Mbappe, the sensational 19-year-old footballer who impressed all of us during the World Cup, or the 40-year-old French president Emmanuel Macron, there are a lot of young people making history today and this could probably serve as a learning curve to many that young people have the energy, expertise and intelligence to do great things.
I can only end today’s column with a word to young people; now is our time!