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Yulia Navalnaya and Nikki Haley embody a single truth: sometimes the act of opposing is enough

The world’s wars were started by men and are being continued by men. Maybe only women can stop them

Eleanor Roosevelt said women are like tea bags because “we don’t know our true strength until we are in hot water”. There is something else we have in common. Turn up the heat and you’ll find our boiling point. By killing Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin has raised up a powerful enemy in the shape of the dead man’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya. In the US the more Donald Trump derides Nikki Haley’s frocks and gumption, the more determined his Republican Party rival is to continue her challenge to him.

With one woman taking on a beast to the east of us and another taking on a beast to the west, it is no longer academic to ask: can women save the world? As our planet’s downward spiral turns to free fall, who would not hope so?

At a Fox News event after Navalny’s murder – whether committed by some instantaneous method or a thousand cuts – Trump had the gall to liken his own self-made legal woes to the deceased Russian’s fate. Only days earlier the former US president and aspiring next one said he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to any Nato country not financially compliant with the organisation.

With enemies like that, who needs friends, Putin must have smirked as he contemplated that day’s to-do list of body counts. Among the latest of them, it is suspected, is a Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine and whose body has been found in Spain riddled with bullets. The Kremlin tyrant has repeatedly demonstrated that there is no hiding place from his death squads, be it Salisbury, Alicante or in a plane flying in the sky. Knowing this, Navalnaya has courageously vowed to continue the campaign against Putin that signed her husband’s death warrant.


Tomorrow is the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nearly 80,000 people have perished, including about 10,000 civilians, and thousands of children have been snatched across the border into Russia. Military allies have showered Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s army with weapons to fight the invader. North Korea’s Kim Jong-un gave Putin big murderous missiles and Putin gave him a big, shiny limo. War games, what a buzz for the bad boys.

It is almost five months since Hamas’s incursion into Israel on October 7th that left nearly 1,200 people slaughtered and 253 taken hostage. Since then more than 29,000 people – two-thirds of them women and children – have died in Gaza and 69,000 others have been injured. In Washington Joe Biden sends killing arsenals to Binyamin Netanyahu that helps prolong the massacre. The Iran of Ali Khamenei, its lifelong supreme leader, funnels support to Hamas and to Yemen’s Houthi rebels attacking cargo ships in the Red Sea.

No prizes for detecting a theme running through all of this chaos. These wars were started by men, they are being continued by men, they are being armed by men and attempts to stop them have been scuppered by men at the UN’s male-dominated Security Council. It is no coincidence that some of these men fancy themselves as alpha males, like the bare-chested Putin out a-hunting or Islamist militants who view women as inferior beings or the regime in Iran where a woman can be killed by the so-called morality police for not covering her head.

The sex-deviant Trump appears to think his predilection for squeezing women is a badge of privileged manhood. Women who spurn him get mocked for the offence of allegedly not being good-looking enough for him or, as he is wont to say, “not my type”. Haley felt his moronic backlash when he lambasted a dress she wore for being “fancy” and yet not “so fancy”.

There is much not to like in Haley’s politics but the woman has guts and perseverance. As the last Republican standing against the US’s biggest threat to democracy – a narcissist who stirred up a lethal riot in his mendacious attempt to retain the presidency – she has no hope of beating him in the primaries, US media suggests. The question most often posed about her campaign is why she is even bothering.

The same question could be asked of Navalnaya. Her husband returned to Russia and to certain death after the Kremlin had poisoned him. She and her mother-in-law cannot even get his body back to bury him. As she pledges to assume her husband’s mantle, the odds are stacked against her. She surely knows she risks being murdered too.

The late South African archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu said the world would be a more peaceful place if women ran it. To which the standard cynical response is two words: Margaret Thatcher. Britain’s first female prime minister ordered the blowing up of the Belgrano battleship killing 323 people and presided over a prison regime in Northern Ireland where 10 IRA hunger strikers starved themselves to death. She was, say her admirers, as tough as any man. Had the anti-Thatcher argument been advanced in the aftermath of Adolf Hitler or Idi Amin or Caligula maybe the Irish Constitution would be saying that “man by his life within the home” and his “duties” therein must be protected. Women have as much right to be wrong as have men.

Haley, whom Trump appointed as UN ambassador before she transmogrified into his arch opponent, is not in the Republican nomination race to win because she won’t, unless her rival leaves the way clear for her. But victory is not everything. Sometimes the act of opposing can prove enough. With her candidacy she is giving a sliver of hope that the US, the self-regarding cockpit of global democracy, has more to offer than two white, privileged men of advanced years and questionable mental faculties.

In Russia, where hundreds of citizens have been arrested for laying flowers in memory of Navalny, his wife’s resolve to fight on has already lifted the spirits of those who are mourning him. Her heroism inspires hope just when all hope seemed to have been crushed. She brings to life the US feminist Lisa Powell-Graham’s declaration that women “don’t want to conquer the world – we want to save it”. There is no greater ambition than that.