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Sirimavo Bandaranaike gives a speech
AP Photo
Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected prime minister on Jul. 21, 1960.
HERSTORY LESSON

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

Annalisa Merelli
By Annalisa Merelli

Geopolitics reporter

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.

NameCountryOfficeElectionTime in office
Cristina Fernández de KirchnerArgentinaPresident10-Dec-078 years
Julia GillardAustraliaPrime Minister24-Jun-103 years, 3 days
Khaleda ZiaBangladeshPrime Minister27-Feb-915 years, 32 days
Sheikh HasinaBangladeshPrime Minister12-Jun-965 years, 33 days
Khaleda ZiaBangladeshPrime Minister1-Oct-015 years, 28 days
Sheikh HasinaBangladeshPrime Minister6-Jan-097 years, 301 days
Jennifer M. SmithBermudaPremier9-Dec-984 years, 227 days
Dilma RousseffBrazilPresident1-Jan-115 years, 243 days
Sylvie KinigiBurundiPrime Minister10-Jul-93109 days
Kim CampbellCanadaPrime Minister25-Jun-93132 days
Elisabeth DomitienCentral African RepublicPrime Minister2-Jan-751 year, 96 days
Michelle BacheletChilePresident11-Mar-064 years
Michelle BacheletChilePresident11-Mar-142 years, 236 days
Laura ChinchillaCosta RicaPresident8-May-104 years, 0 days
Kolinda Grabar-KitarovićCroatiaPresident19-Feb-151 year, 257 days
Jadranka KosorCroatiaPrime Minister6-Jul-092 years, 170 days
Helle Thorning-SchmidtDenmarkPrime Minister3-Oct-113 years, 268 days
Dame Eugenia CharlesDominicaPrime Minister21-Jul-8014 years, 328 days
Tarja HalonenFinlandPresident1-Mar-0012 years
Anneli JäätteenmäkiFinlandPrime Minister17-Apr-0368 days
Mari KiviniemiFinlandPrime Minister22-Jun-101 year
Édith CressonFrancePrime Minister15-May-91323 days
Angela MerkelGermanyChancellor22-Nov-0510 years, 346 days
Janet JaganGuyanaPrime Minister6-Dec-971 year, 327 days
Janet JaganGuyanaPresident19-Dec-971 year, 235 days
Claudette WerleighHaitiPrime Minister7-Nov-95112 days
Michèle Pierre-LouisHaitiPrime Minister5-Sep-081 year, 67 days
Vigdís FinnbogadóttirIcelandPresident1-Aug-8016 years
Jóhanna SigurðardóttirIcelandPrime Minister1-Feb-094 years, 111 days
Indira GandhiIndiaPrime Minister24-Jan-6611 years, 90 days
Indira GandhiIndiaPrime Minister15-Jan-804 years, 290 days
Mary RobinsonIrelandPresident3-Dec-906 years, 283 days
Mary McAleeseIrelandPresident11-Nov-9713 years, 364 days
Golda MeirIsraelPrime Minister17-Mar-695 years, 78 days
Portia Simpson-MillerJamaicaPrime Minister30-Mar-061 year, 165 days
Portia Simpson-MillerJamaicaPrime Minister5-Jan-124 years, 58 days
Vaira Vīķe-FreibergaLatviaPresident8-Jul-998 years
Laimdota StraujumaLatviaPrime Minister22-Jan-142 years, 20 days
Ellen Johnson SirleafLiberiaPresident16-Jan-0610 years, 291 days
Dalia GrybauskaitėLithuaniaPresident12-Jul-097 years, 113 days
Kazimira PrunskienėLithuaniaPrime Minister17-Mar-90299 days
Cissé Mariam Kaïdama SidibéMaliPrime Minister3-Apr-11354 days
Hilda HeineMarshall IslandsPresident28-Jan-16279 days
Zinaida GreceanîiMoldovaPrime Minister31-Mar-081 year, 167 days
Luísa DiogoMozambiquePrime Minister17-Feb-045 years, 333 days
Aung San Suu KyiMyanmarState Counsellor6-Apr-16210 days
Saara KuugongelwaNamibiaPrime Minister21-Mar-151 year, 226 days
Jenny ShipleyNew ZealandPrime Minister5-Dec-972 years
Helen ClarkNew ZealandPrime Minister5-Dec-998 years, 350 days
Violeta ChamorroNicaraguaPresident25-Apr-906 years, 260 days
Sibel SiberNorthern CyprusPrime Minister13-Jun-1381 days
Gro Harlem BrundtlandNorwayPrime Minister4-Feb-81252 days
Gro Harlem BrundtlandNorwayPrime Minister9-May-863 years, 160 days
Gro Harlem BrundtlandNorwayPrime Minister3-Nov-905 years, 357 days
Erna SolbergNorwayPrime Minister16-Oct-133 years, 17 days
Benazir BhuttoPakistanPrime Minister2-Dec-881 year, 216 days
Benazir BhuttoPakistanPrime Minister19-Oct-933 years, 17 days
Mireya MoscosoPanamaPresident1-Sep-995 years
Beatriz MerinoPeruPresident of the Council of Ministers28-Jun-03170 days
Rosario FernándezPeruPresident of the Council of Ministers19-Mar-11131 days
Ana JaraPeruPresident of the Council of Ministers22-Jul-14254 days
Corazon AquinoPhilippinesPresident25-Feb-866 years, 126 days
Gloria Macapagal ArroyoPhilippinesPresident20-Jan-019 years, 161 days
Hanna SuchockaPolandPrime Minister11-Jul-921 year, 106 days
Ewa KopaczPolandPrime Minister22-Sep-141 year, 55 days
Beata SzydłoPolandPrime Minister16-Nov-15352 days
Maria de Lourdes PintasilgoPortugalPrime Minister1-Jul-79186 days
Agathe UwilingiyimanaRwandaPrime Minister18-Jul-93263 days
Maria das NevesSão Tomé and PríncipePrime Minister3-Oct-021 year, 351 days
Maria do Carmo SilveiraSão Tomé and PríncipePrime Minister8-Jun-05317 days
Mame Madior BoyeSenegalPrime Minister3-Mar-011 year, 246 days
Aminata TouréSenegalPrime Minister1-Sep-13310 days
Iveta RadičováSlovakiaPrime Minister8-Jul-101 year, 271 days
Alenka BratušekSloveniaPrime Minister20-Mar-131 year, 182 days
Park Geun-hyeSouth KoreaPresident25-Feb-133 years, 251 days
Han Myeong-sookSouth KoreaPrime Minister19-Apr-06322 days
Sirimavo BandaranaikeSri Lanka (Ceylon)Prime Minister21-Jul-604 years, 249 days
Sirimavo BandaranaikeSri Lanka (Ceylon)Prime Minister29-May-707 years, 55 days
Chandrika KumaratungaSri LankaPresident12-Nov-9411 years, 7 days
Tsai Ing-wenTaiwanPresident20-May-16166 days
Yingluck ShinawatraThailandPrime Minister3-Jul-112 years, 308 days
Tatiana TuranskayaTransnistriaPrime Minister10-Jun-132 years, 125 days
Tatiana TuranskayaTransnistriaPrime Minister30-Nov-152 days
Kamla Persad-BissessarTrinidad and TobagoPrime Minister26-May-105 years, 106 days
Tansu ÇillerTurkeyPrime Minister13-Jun-932 years, 267 days
Yulia TymoshenkoUkrainePrime Minister24-Jan-05225 days
Yulia TymoshenkoUkrainePrime Minister18-Dec-072 years, 75 days
Margaret ThatcherUnited KingdomPrime Minister4-May-7911 years, 208 days
Theresa MayUnited KingdomPrime Minister13-Jul-16112 days
Milka PlanincYugoslaviaPrime Minister16-May-823 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.

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