HERSTORY LESSON

You probably won’t guess how many women have led countries since the last century

Obsession
2016
Obsession
2016

With Hillary Clinton still the favorite to win the 2016 elections, the possibility that a woman will become president of the US seems closer than ever. But over the last month, the historic importance of having a woman hold the most powerful office in the world has been overshadowed by Donald Trump’s sexism. The conversation moved from empowerment and feminism to having to explain why it is not OK to objectify and assault women. Even so, Hillary Clinton remains, as she likes to say, the biggest crack in the glass ceiling, no matter the outcome of the race.

Clinton’s achievement would be a first—for America, that is. While the world is certainly nowhere near gender equality—in political representation, or otherwise—women have been elected to run countries for years, all over the world. With the exclusion of monarchs, over 170 women have been elected, appointed, or acted as heads of state or government in the modern era, beginning with Yevgenia Bosch who, in 1917, briefly functioned as acting leader of the Soviet government of Ukraine. She was followed in 1940 by Khertek Amyrbitovna Anchimaa-Toka of Tuva, a partially recognized state in territories that were once part of imperial Russia. Anchimaa-Toka was the first female head of state in the modern era who had not inherited her title.

Several of these women were appointed, rather than elected or, like Bosch, only acted temporarily as prime minister, or president. Yet, the count of women who have been effectively leading countries—as heads of state, heads of government or, as it would be in Clinton’s case, both—is larger than some may think.

Overall in modern history, 77 women have been outright elected to serve as prime ministers, presidents, and, as in the case of Janet Jagan of Guyana, both. American-born, Jagan became prime minister after the death of her husband, the country’s president, in 1997; in the same year, she ran for president, winning the election. Today, 12 countries have a woman as chief executive of the government, commander-in-chief, or both.

The trend also appears encouraging for female leadership. In the 1960s, only three women led countries. The first, Sirimavo Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) was elected in 1960, followed by India’s Indira Gandhi in 1966 and Israel’s Golda Meir in 1969. By the 1990s, that number was up to 22—and in the 2010s so far it’s already 30.

Name Country Office Election Time in office
Cristina Fernández de Kirchner Argentina President 10-Dec-07 8 years
Julia Gillard Australia Prime Minister 24-Jun-10 3 years, 3 days
Khaleda Zia Bangladesh Prime Minister 27-Feb-91 5 years, 32 days
Sheikh Hasina Bangladesh Prime Minister 12-Jun-96 5 years, 33 days
Khaleda Zia Bangladesh Prime Minister 1-Oct-01 5 years, 28 days
Sheikh Hasina Bangladesh Prime Minister 6-Jan-09 7 years, 301 days
Jennifer M. Smith Bermuda Premier 9-Dec-98 4 years, 227 days
Dilma Rousseff Brazil President 1-Jan-11 5 years, 243 days
Sylvie Kinigi Burundi Prime Minister 10-Jul-93 109 days
Kim Campbell Canada Prime Minister 25-Jun-93 132 days
Elisabeth Domitien Central African Republic Prime Minister 2-Jan-75 1 year, 96 days
Michelle Bachelet Chile President 11-Mar-06 4 years
Michelle Bachelet Chile President 11-Mar-14 2 years, 236 days
Laura Chinchilla Costa Rica President 8-May-10 4 years, 0 days
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović Croatia President 19-Feb-15 1 year, 257 days
Jadranka Kosor Croatia Prime Minister 6-Jul-09 2 years, 170 days
Helle Thorning-Schmidt Denmark Prime Minister 3-Oct-11 3 years, 268 days
Dame Eugenia Charles Dominica Prime Minister 21-Jul-80 14 years, 328 days
Tarja Halonen Finland President 1-Mar-00 12 years
Anneli Jäätteenmäki Finland Prime Minister 17-Apr-03 68 days
Mari Kiviniemi Finland Prime Minister 22-Jun-10 1 year
Édith Cresson France Prime Minister 15-May-91 323 days
Angela Merkel Germany Chancellor 22-Nov-05 10 years, 346 days
Janet Jagan Guyana Prime Minister 6-Dec-97 1 year, 327 days
Janet Jagan Guyana President 19-Dec-97 1 year, 235 days
Claudette Werleigh Haiti Prime Minister 7-Nov-95 112 days
Michèle Pierre-Louis Haiti Prime Minister 5-Sep-08 1 year, 67 days
Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Iceland President 1-Aug-80 16 years
Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir Iceland Prime Minister 1-Feb-09 4 years, 111 days
Indira Gandhi India Prime Minister 24-Jan-66 11 years, 90 days
Indira Gandhi India Prime Minister 15-Jan-80 4 years, 290 days
Mary Robinson Ireland President 3-Dec-90 6 years, 283 days
Mary McAleese Ireland President 11-Nov-97 13 years, 364 days
Golda Meir Israel Prime Minister 17-Mar-69 5 years, 78 days
Portia Simpson-Miller Jamaica Prime Minister 30-Mar-06 1 year, 165 days
Portia Simpson-Miller Jamaica Prime Minister 5-Jan-12 4 years, 58 days
Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga Latvia President 8-Jul-99 8 years
Laimdota Straujuma Latvia Prime Minister 22-Jan-14 2 years, 20 days
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Liberia President 16-Jan-06 10 years, 291 days
Dalia Grybauskaitė Lithuania President 12-Jul-09 7 years, 113 days
Kazimira Prunskienė Lithuania Prime Minister 17-Mar-90 299 days
Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé Mali Prime Minister 3-Apr-11 354 days
Hilda Heine Marshall Islands President 28-Jan-16 279 days
Zinaida Greceanîi Moldova Prime Minister 31-Mar-08 1 year, 167 days
Luísa Diogo Mozambique Prime Minister 17-Feb-04 5 years, 333 days
Aung San Suu Kyi Myanmar State Counsellor 6-Apr-16 210 days
Saara Kuugongelwa Namibia Prime Minister 21-Mar-15 1 year, 226 days
Jenny Shipley New Zealand Prime Minister 5-Dec-97 2 years
Helen Clark New Zealand Prime Minister 5-Dec-99 8 years, 350 days
Violeta Chamorro Nicaragua President 25-Apr-90 6 years, 260 days
Sibel Siber Northern Cyprus Prime Minister 13-Jun-13 81 days
Gro Harlem Brundtland Norway Prime Minister 4-Feb-81 252 days
Gro Harlem Brundtland Norway Prime Minister 9-May-86 3 years, 160 days
Gro Harlem Brundtland Norway Prime Minister 3-Nov-90 5 years, 357 days
Erna Solberg Norway Prime Minister 16-Oct-13 3 years, 17 days
Benazir Bhutto Pakistan Prime Minister 2-Dec-88 1 year, 216 days
Benazir Bhutto Pakistan Prime Minister 19-Oct-93 3 years, 17 days
Mireya Moscoso Panama President 1-Sep-99 5 years
Beatriz Merino Peru President of the Council of Ministers 28-Jun-03 170 days
Rosario Fernández Peru President of the Council of Ministers 19-Mar-11 131 days
Ana Jara Peru President of the Council of Ministers 22-Jul-14 254 days
Corazon Aquino Philippines President 25-Feb-86 6 years, 126 days
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo Philippines President 20-Jan-01 9 years, 161 days
Hanna Suchocka Poland Prime Minister 11-Jul-92 1 year, 106 days
Ewa Kopacz Poland Prime Minister 22-Sep-14 1 year, 55 days
Beata Szydło Poland Prime Minister 16-Nov-15 352 days
Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo Portugal Prime Minister 1-Jul-79 186 days
Agathe Uwilingiyimana Rwanda Prime Minister 18-Jul-93 263 days
Maria das Neves São Tomé and Príncipe Prime Minister 3-Oct-02 1 year, 351 days
Maria do Carmo Silveira São Tomé and Príncipe Prime Minister 8-Jun-05 317 days
Mame Madior Boye Senegal Prime Minister 3-Mar-01 1 year, 246 days
Aminata Touré Senegal Prime Minister 1-Sep-13 310 days
Iveta Radičová Slovakia Prime Minister 8-Jul-10 1 year, 271 days
Alenka Bratušek Slovenia Prime Minister 20-Mar-13 1 year, 182 days
Park Geun-hye South Korea President 25-Feb-13 3 years, 251 days
Han Myeong-sook South Korea Prime Minister 19-Apr-06 322 days
Sirimavo Bandaranaike Sri Lanka (Ceylon) Prime Minister 21-Jul-60 4 years, 249 days
Sirimavo Bandaranaike Sri Lanka (Ceylon) Prime Minister 29-May-70 7 years, 55 days
Chandrika Kumaratunga Sri Lanka President 12-Nov-94 11 years, 7 days
Tsai Ing-wen Taiwan President 20-May-16 166 days
Yingluck Shinawatra Thailand Prime Minister 3-Jul-11 2 years, 308 days
Tatiana Turanskaya Transnistria Prime Minister 10-Jun-13 2 years, 125 days
Tatiana Turanskaya Transnistria Prime Minister 30-Nov-15 2 days
Kamla Persad-Bissessar Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister 26-May-10 5 years, 106 days
Tansu Çiller Turkey Prime Minister 13-Jun-93 2 years, 267 days
Yulia Tymoshenko Ukraine Prime Minister 24-Jan-05 225 days
Yulia Tymoshenko Ukraine Prime Minister 18-Dec-07 2 years, 75 days
Margaret Thatcher United Kingdom Prime Minister 4-May-79 11 years, 208 days
Theresa May United Kingdom Prime Minister 13-Jul-16 112 days
Milka Planinc Yugoslavia Prime Minister 16-May-82 3 years, 364 days

(Data via: Council of Women World Leaders, Wikipedia, Worldwide guide to women in leadership)

Update: The table has been updated to include Jennifer M. Smith, premier of Bermuda. The map was updated to include Indonesia.

home our picks popular latest obsessions search