Sarah Brown: A Phenomonal Woman?

05/07/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I wonder what it was that made Michelle Obama, an impressive woman herself, say that Sarah Brown, the wife of the British Prime minister, was a phenomenal woman.

What is it that has so far gone unnoticed by the British public. Is it simply a case of getting up in the morning knowing that Gordon is on the other side of the bed? Maybe it's her friendships with stars like literary phenomenon JK Rowling, she of Harry Potter fame. Or perhaps it's her support of women's charities. Difficult not to support empowerment for women in less developed countries where they bare the brunt of harsh tradition -- not least Afghanistan where this week a furor erupted over sanctioning rape in marriage and condemning women to even more repressive rules in an already repressive society.

Whatever it is it would be difficult at best to call the domestic Sarah Brown phenomenal. How many women, especially women married to powerful men, don't support charities -- and those who campaign for maternal health are a natural base. Except for the extreme elements in extremist societies, most people think keeping mothers alive is a goal worthy of support.

Mrs Brown is surely a nice enough woman, interesting, smart, no doubt energetic, a good wife and mother, possibly friend, but phenomenal?

What about those women who have to get up every morning and figure out how they are going to survive the day, how they are going to feed their families, gather firewood to make the meal or make it out of extreme poverty. Marrying the right guy in those circumstances might be considered phenomenal.

And what about those women who climb their way from the deepest deprivation to rise to the top in medicine or politics or science? Or the phenomenal strength of African women, some ordinary others with incredible intelligence, who rebuild their countries or keep their communities together. Or what about the Afghan woman who is married off to a man who beats her, is tortured by her father-in-law, worked almost to death by her mother-in-law but somehow finds the strength to go on? What about the women I have met in refugee camps who find the ability to smile having lost everything?

Admirable as Mrs Brown may be, she is far from phenomenal.