Rising Female Politicians

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SÉGOLÈNE ROYAL, 52, FRANCE

TODAY: Member of Assemblée Nationale (the French parliament)

TOMORROW: At press time, she was the Socialist Party's most serious contender in the race for the presidency.

BACKSTORY: Born in Senegal, Royal attended Ecole Nationale D'Administration, the training ground for French politicians. "I am the clean break," she has said in reference to France's aging political parties, and she's arguably the most stylish, sophisticated candidate the country has turned out in years.

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FIGHTIN' WORDS: When she pondered running for office, Royal didn't take kindly to comments lobbed by male colleagues like,"Who's going to look after the children?" (She has four with her partner; they never married. Vive la différence, sister.)

TZIPI LIVNI, 48, ISRAEL

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TODAY: Foreign minister and vice– prime minister in the new Kadima Party, co - created last year with former prime minister Ariel Sharon and other prominent political figures.

TOMORROW: She is touted as the next Golda Meir—prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, and the only other woman to have served as foreign minister.

BACKSTORY: Raised in a family of hard-core Zionists (her parents both fought for the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi movement), Livni has been publicly firm about her belief in a two-state solution. Though she only decided to enter politics at 37, she's Israel's own Sidney Bristow, boasting a four-year stint with the country's legendary Mossad spy agency.

HAN MYUNG-SOOK, 62, SOUTH KOREA

TODAY: What a difference: During Korea's military dictatorship in 1979, she was imprisoned and tortured for reading books deemed antigovernment; now she's prime minister, second in command of the country.

TOMORROW: Her nomination to prime minister by the vastly male National Assembly was a blow to patriarchal Korean society. Should she run for president in 2007, it would be against another woman: Park Geun-hye, the former chairwoman of the conservative Grand National Party.

BACKSTORY: Holds degrees in French literature and women's studies; is known as the godmother of women's rights activism in Korea.

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