Until recently, modern western democracies have excluded women from political leadership and disparaged their ability to lead, as if there is something contradictory in being female and a leader. Women who do achieve positions of leadership face misogynist media messaging and persistent gender stereotyping. In her stunning novel, Petra, the Vancouver author Shaena Lambert uncovers the complex reality of one woman, Petra Kelly, who broke through those barriers and co-founded the Green Party of Germany. In 1983, Kelly was part of the first slate of Green candidates elected to the West German legislature.      

German born and American raised, Petra rose to prominence as a charismatic young activist inspiring hundreds of thousands to take to the streets to protest the placement of nuclear missiles on West German soil. She was the Greta Thunberg of her day. Here’s how Lambert described Petra when she met her at a peace rally: “Leaning forward at the microphone, sweeping her boyish blond-brown hair from her eyes, she wove together a passionate vision of ecology, feminism, love for the planet, rights for First Nations, equity for the poorest nations, and always, the need for freedom for Tibet. I was shaken by how deeply she saw connections between issues, and how brilliantly she shook out the blanket that held all of them.”

Petra Kelly was the epitome of a transformational leader. She had the ability to connect with the hopes and dreams of people and make them real. She inspired a belief in a new ecofeminist vision, then mobilize people around it. Four decades later, more women are entering democratic politics. Research shows that, in general, these women are not clones of male politicians, nor was Petra Kelly. They tend to be more participative than men in their approach to leadership. They advocate for compassionate policies promoting the interests of women, minorities, children, and the poor. And finally, they are rising to the top of the political hierarchy. As Kamala Harris said in her inauguration speech when she was elected as vice-president of the United States, “I may be the first woman to hold this office. But I won’t be the last.”

Gail Benick is a Toronto author and educator. Her career as a professor on the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, spanned more than three decades. Her debut novella, The Girl Who Was Born That Way, was published in 2015. Gail’s new novel, Memory’s Shadow will be published in spring 2021. www.gailbenick.com