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Sirimavo Bandaranaike, First Woman Prime Minister in the World

Updated on February 9, 2014

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the First Female Prime Minister

Long before Margaret Thatcher became one of the most powerful women in the world, before Angela Merkel became a household name and even before Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir took the helm of their countries, Sirimavo Bandaranaike made history in 1960 by being elected prime minister of Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). She served as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka three times, serving from 1960-65, 1970-77 and again from 1994-2000.

first female prime minister in the world
first female prime minister in the world

A Brief Biography of Sirimavo Bandaranaike

The world's first female prime minister

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was born on April 17, 1916 to a prominent family. She was the eldest child in the family of six children, and had four brothers and one sister. She was educated at St Bridget's Convent in Colombo, but was a practicing Buddhist. In 1940, she got married to Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike, a member of the State council and son of a prominent advisor to the Governor.

Her husband Solomon, was a founding member of the United National Party (UNP) in 1946 and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1947 before breaking away from the UNP and forming the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). Solomon became Prime Minister after the SLFP won a majority in the House of Representatives in the 1956 general elections. Three years later, he was assassinated.

Sirimavo then stepped into politics. In 1960, when a member of the Semate stepped down from his seat, Sirimavo was appointed as a member of the Senate from the SLFP. She led her party to win the July 1960 elections on the pledge to continue her husband's policies and to proceed with repatriation of the estate Tamils to India. On July 21, 1960, she became prime minister, becoming the first female prime minister in the world.

Within a year of her election, she declared a "state of emergency" following a civil disobedience campaign by the country's minority Tamil population. The state takeover of foreign businesses, including petroleum companies, led to more problems. Both the US and Britain ended aid to Sri Lanka to protest. She defeated an attempted coup in 1963, but lost a vote of confidence in 1964, and in 1965, the SLFP coalition was defeated.

She won a second term in the 1970 elections but her government was nearly toppled 16 months later by the 1971 JVP Insurrection, but was saved with military help from India and Pakistan.

During her second term, a new constitution was introduced in 1972. Ceylon was renamed Sri Lanka and became a republic. Under the old constitution, elections should have been held in 1975, but Bandaranaike used a clause of the new constitution to delay elections until 1977. This did not help, and her party lost the elections.

In 1980, Bandaranaike was charged with abuse of power for delaying the elections. She was expelled from parliament and banned from public office for seven years. Banadaranaike spent the next seventeen years fending off challenges to her leadership of the SLFP, but managed to maintain control.

In 1994, when the SLFP-led coalition won the general elections, Bandaranaike's daughter Chandrika outmanuevered her mother to become prime minister and then was elected President that year.

Although Bandaranaike then became prime minister again, the constitution had changed since her last tenure, making the position subordinate to the president. She had little real power. She died on Election Day, October 10, 2000, after having cast her vote for the last time.

Source: Wikipedia

First Female PM, First Female President

Bandaranaike's daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, later became Sri Lanka's first female president

Books About Sri Lanka

Read more about this island country located in South Asia off the coast of India.

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    • Asiri Hewage profile image

      Asiri Hewage 

      5 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      She was a hugely symbolic victory for people the world over regardless of the efficacy of her actual administration.

    • lankanwriter profile image


      8 years ago

      Although some called her the weeping widow she took some strong measures in her time, but in general her tenure is considered a failure

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      In my opinion, the best Asian destination would be Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka holidays are an unforgettable experience.


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