Countries which have had elected female leadership
These women shaped the course of history thanks to their passion and determination. Some challenged the status quo and made reforms ushering in prosperity and cultural revolutions in their respective countries.
There have been countless iconic women who have served as role models in society, some of which proved to be powerful leaders. Here is a list of the powerful leaders and the countries they represented.
The countries have been ordered by start of term, from earliest to last.
1. Sri Lanka
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, (1960-1965, 1970-1977 and 1994-2000)
As Prime Minister, Bandaranaike embraced socialist policies and undertook major constitutional changes that resulted in the island becoming a republic.
Chandrika Kumaratunga, (1994-2005)
Kumaratunga privatized the controversial state-owned industries such as Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, State Distilleries Corporation, and Air Lanka.
Indira Gandhi, (1966-1977 and 1980-1984)
With her unprecedented centralisation of power, Gandhi went to war with Pakistan. She supported the independence movement in East Pakistan, which resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.
Golda Meir, (1969-1974)
Meir is known as the "Iron Lady" of Israeli politics. Not only was she Prime Minister, she served as Foreign Minister and Minister of Labour.
Isabel Martínez de Perón, (1974-1976)
Martínez de Perón made significant economic policy decisions, amongst which was the enactment of a new, pro-labour employment contract law.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, (2007-2015)
Kirchner’s political approach was a form of left-wing populism characterised as Kirchnerist. She was also a member of the Justicialist Party.
5. The United Kingdom
Margaret Thatcher, (1979-1990)
Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, Thatcher undid the socialist policies of her predecessors with her own policies known as Thatcherism.
Theresa May, (2016- present)
May is Britain’s current Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. She served as Home Secretary from 2010 to 2016.
Maria Lourdes Pintasilgo, (August- November 1979)
During her time in office, Pintasilgo left her mark by modernising and making social security universal and improved health care, education, and labour legislation in Portugal.
Dame Eugenia Charles, (1980-1995)
Charles was one of the founding members of the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) and its leader from the early 1970s to 1995.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, (1981, 1986-1989 and 1990-1996).
Brundtland entered the government as Minister of Environment and went on to lead the Labor party. After her resignation as Prime Minister, she served as Director-General of the World Health Organisation.
Milka Planinc, (1982-1986)
Planinc began her career within the League of Communists of Croatia. She specialised in education, agitation, and propaganda. She was later elected into the Croatian Central Committee.
Benazir Bhutto, (1988-1990 and 1993-1996)
A liberal and a secularist woman, Bhutto was the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim majority nation. She chaired the centre-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
Kazimira Prunskiene, (1990-1991)
Prunskiene served as a leader of the Peasants and New Democratic Party Union and the Lithuanian People's Party.
Hanna Suchoka, (1992-1993)
Suchoka was one of the founders of the liberal and social-democratic Liberty Union party, which later became the country's third largest political force.
Ewa Kopacz, (2014-2015)
Kopacz has been described as one of the most prominent leaders of the European Union and was ranked as the world's 40th most powerful woman by Forbes magazine in 2015.
Tansu Ciller, (1993-1996)
Ciller is Turkey's first and only female Prime Minister. She served as a Deputy Prime Minister and as Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Kim Campbell, (June-November 1993)
Campbell reorganised the cabinet as Prime Minister. She created three new ministries: Health, Canadian Heritage, and Public Security.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana, (1993-1994)
As an Education Minister, Uwilingiyimana abolished the academic ethnic quota system and awarded scholarships by open merit ranking.
Claudette Werleigh, (1995-1996)
Werleigh engaged in social and educational work in a number of non-governmental organisations in the fields of adult literacy and humanitarian relief. She was one of the founding members of the League for women's empowerment ("Lig Pouvwa Fanm").
Sheikh Hasina, (1996-2001 and 2009- present)
Hasina leads the Bangladesh Awami League which positions itself as the leader of the "pro-liberation" forces in Bangladesh, promoting secular and social democratic sections of the political establishment in the country.
Ruth Perry, (1996-1997)
Known for being the first female President of Liberia, Perry served as the interim Chairman of the Council of State of Liberia from 1996 to1997.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, (2006-present)
Sirleaf is the first elected female President in Africa. She is considered a strong proponent of equal rights for women.
19. New Zealand
Jenny Shipley, (1997-1999)
Shipley was the first female Prime Minister of New Zealand, first to attend the gay and lesbian Hero Parade, and is the only woman to have led the National Party.
Helen Clark, (1999-2008)
Clark was interested in social policy and international affairs. She was a strong supporter of nuclear disarmament. She pursued a policy of peace-making within the Pacific region.
Jacinda Ardern, (2017-present)
Ardern describes herself as both a social democrat and a progressive. She is the world's youngest female head of government, having taken office at the age of 37.
Janet Jagan, (1997-1999)
Jagan served both as President and Prime Minister of Guyana. She was awarded the Order of Excellence in 1993 which is Guyana's highest national award and the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Gold Medal for Women's Rights in 1998.
Nyam-Osoryn Tuyaa, (22-30 July 1999)
Tuyaa served as Chairperson of the 55th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
Mireya Moscoso, (1999-2004)
Moscoso was an active member of the 1968 presidential campaign. After her husband’s death in 1988, she assumed control of his political party, the Arnulfista Party (PA).
Mame Madior Boye, (2001-2002)
Boye made efforts to strengthen education and health, improve salaries, reduce unemployment among the young and support the agriculture sector.
Megawati Sukarnoputri, (2001-2004)
Sukarnoputri is now the leader of one of Indonesia's largest political parties, the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
25. The Philippines
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, (2001-2010)
Apart from being President, Arroyo served as Vice President and Deputy Speaker of the 17th Congress. She currently serves as Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, making her the first woman to hold the position.
26. Sao Tomé and Príncipe
Maria Das Neves, (2002-2004)
Das Neves was a major figure in the Movement for the Liberation of São Tomé and Príncipe-Social Democratic Party.
Luisa Diogo, (2004-2010)
During her time in office, Diogo focused on gender equality and women empowerment. She urged the African health ministers to offer reproductive and sexual health services free of charge throughout the continent.
Yulia Tymoshenko, (January- September 2005 and 2007-2010)
Tymoshenko is the leader of the All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" political party. In 2005, she was placed third in Forbes magazine's list of the world's most powerful women.
Angela Merkel, (November 2005 to Present)
Merkel is the current Chancellor of Germany. She led Germany out of the recession, is one of Europe’s strongest leaders and has topped Forbes’ most powerful women list eight times. Amongst her key achievements lie the energy reform (a decision to close down eight nuclear stations), abolishing conscription, and the introduction of the parent benefit.
Portia Simpson-Miller, (2006-2007 and 2012-2016)
Apart from being Prime Minister, Simpson-Miller was also the leader of the People's National Party from 2006 to 2017.
Michelle Bachelet, (2006-2010 and 2014-2018)
Bachelet created a new law to reform the pension system which guaranteed a minimum pension for the 60% poorest segment of the population, regardless of their historical contribution. The reform grants a bonus to female pensioners for every child born alive.
Iveta Radicova, (2010-2012)
Radicova led a coalition government, in which she also briefly held the post of Minister of Defence.
Julia Gillard, (2010-2013)
Gillard is the only woman to hold the positions of Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister and leader of a major party in Australia.
34. Costa Rica
Laura Chinchilla, (2010-2014)
During her tenure, Chinchilla structured a government plan based on human security which included: economic security and competitiveness; social security and welfare; citizen security and social peace; and environmental security and development.
Jadranka Kosor, (2011-2015)
During her tenure, Kosor managed to prevent the country's budgetary meltdown with two budget revisions and introduced new taxes as a response to the ongoing economic crisis.
Joyce Banda, (2012-2014)
Apart from being President, Banda also served as Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs. She is the founder and leader of the People’s Party and she is a women's rights activist.
Alenka Bratusek, (2013-2014)
During her term, Bratusek presided over the construction of the first mosque in the country.
Aminata Toure, (2013-2014)
Toure was named "Iron Lady" by the press due to her anti-corruption campaign. She worked for women's rights and vowed to continue improving the living conditions of citizens.
39. South Korea
Park Geun-hye, (2013-2017)
Geun-hye was ranked 11th on the Forbes list of the world's 100 most powerful women and the most powerful woman in East Asia in 2013-2014. Her government wanted to open a new era of hope and happiness for all people.
Ana Brnabic, (2017- present)
Brnabic is the current Prime Minister of Serbia. She is also the first female and openly gay person to hold the office.
Mia Mottley, (2018-present)
Mottley is the leader of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP).