Women Presidents and Prime Ministers
A List of Female Presidents and Prime Ministers of the World
Who was the world's first woman president? Isabel Peron of Argentina earned that title more than three decades ago, but she can't claim the title of the world's first elected female head of state. That position was filled in 1960, and since then dozens of countries, from powerful nations like England and Germany, to smaller countries like Lithuania and Rwanda, have elected women to the top post. Read on to find out which countries have had female leaders.
(Image: German Chancellor Angela Merkel by Aleph via Wikimedia Commons)
First Woman President - the Title is Already Taken in Many Countries
Even countries like Senegal and Haiti have elected women leaders
Ask your average American about female heads of state and my guess is that most could name a few - perhaps Margaret Thatcher, Cory Aquino or Angela Merkel, depending on their age and knowledge of history. But ask who was the very first woman in the 20th century to become prime minister of a nation and most would probably draw a blank. And if they had to guess the year -- how many would know it was 1960? And the country? Even more improbable - it was Sri Lanka. Even before Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka was blazing a trail for female politicians.
Since then, more than 50 women have been elected heads of state. Some countries, such as the Philippines, New Zealand and Ireland, have already elected women leaders two or more times (New Zealand has only had two female heads of state, but the current prime minister is serving her third term). Surprised? Then read on.
Who Was the First Female President in the World?
Hint: Say hello to our friends in South America
Isabel Peron of Argentina was the world's first woman president. She took office in 1974, becoming the first woman to lead a South American country. Like many other women who have become head of state, Peron was the wife of a previous president, Juan Peron, and she actually served as vice president during his third term.
When Juan Peron died in office of a heart attack, she assumed the presidency. But unlike Peron's second wife, Eva Peron, who became immortalized by the play "Evita," Isabel Peron was not popular and she was overthrown by a coup d'etat in March 1976.
(Public domain image of Isabel Person from Wikipedia)
List of Women Presidents, Prime Ministers and Heads of State
In order of the year they took office
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, prime minister of Sri Lanka - 1960, 1970, 1994
Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India - 1966, 1980
Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel - 1969
Isabel Peron, president of Argentina - 1974
Elisabeth Domitien, prime minister of Central African Republic - 1975
Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of Great Britain - 1979
Maria da Lourdes Pintasilgo, prime minister of Portugal - 1979
Lidia Gueiler Tejada, prime minister of Bolivia - 1979
Dame Eugenia Charles, prime minister of Dominica - 1980
Vigdis Finnbogadottir, president of Iceland - 1980
Gro Harlem Brundtland, prime minister of Norway - 1981, 1986, 1990
Milka Planinc, federal prime minister of Yugoslavia - 1982
Agatha Barbara, president of Malta - 1982
Maria Liberia-Peters, prime minister of Netherlands Antilles - 1984, 1988
Carmen Pereira, acting president of Guinea Bissau - 1984
Corazon Aquino, president of Philippines - 1986
Benazir Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan - 1988, 1993
Kazimiera Danuta Prunskiene, prime minister of Lithuania - 1990
Violeta Chamorro, president of Nicaragua - 1990
Mary Robinson, president of Ireland - 1990
Ertha Pascal Trouillot, interim president of Haiti - 1990
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, president of German Democratic Republic - 1990
Khaleda Zia, prime minister of Bangladesh - 1991, 2001
Edith Cresson, prime minister of France - 1991
Hanna Suchocka, prime minister of Poland - 1992
Kim Campbell, prime minister of Canada - 1993
Sylvie Kinigi, prime minister of Burundi - 1993
Agathe Uwilingiyimana, prime minister of Rwanda - 1993
Susanne Camelia-Romer, prime minister of Netherlands Antilles - 1993, 1998
Tansu Ciller, prime minister of Turkey - 1993
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, president of Sri Lanka - 1994
Reneta Indzhova, interim prime minister of Bulgaria - 1994
Claudette Werleigh, prime minister of Haiti - 1995
Sheikh Hasina Wajed, prime minister of Bangladesh - 1996
Mary McAleese, president of Ireland - 1997
Pamela Gordon, premier of Bermuda - 1997
Janet Jagan, prime minister of Guyana - 1997
Jenny Shipley, prime minister of New Zealand - 1997
Ruth Dreifuss, president of Switzerland - 1999
Jennifer M. Smith, prime minister of Bermuda - 1998
Nyam-Osoriyn Tuyaa, acting prime minister of Mongolia - 1999
Helen Clark, prime minister of New Zealand - 1999
Mireya Moscoso, president of Panama - 1999
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, president of Latvia - 1999
Tarja Halonen, president of Finland - 2000
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, president of the Philippines - 2001
Mame Madior Boye, prime minister of Senegal - 2001
Megawati Sukarnoputri, president of Indonesia - 2001
Maria das Neves, Prime Minster of Sao Tome and Principe - 2002
Beatriz Merino, prime minister of Peru - 2003
Luisa Diogo, prime minister of Mozambique - 2004
Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany - 2005
Yulia Tymoshenko, prime minister of Ukraine - 2005
Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile - 2006
Micheline Calmy-Rey, president of Switzerland - 2006
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia - 2006
Han Myung-sook, prime minister of South Korea - 2006
Portia Simpson Miller, prime minister of Jamaica - 2006
Pratibha Devisingh Patil, president of India - 2007
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, president of Argentina - 2007
Borjana Kristo, president of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzogovina - 2007
Zinaida Greceanii - prime minister of Moldova, 2008
Dalia Grybauskaite - president of Lithuania, 2009
Laura Chinchilla - president of Costa Rica, 2010
Kamla Persad Bissessar - prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, 2010
Julia Gillard - prime minister of Australia, 2010
Dilma Rousseff - president of Brazil, 2010
Yingluck Shinawatra - prime minister of Thailand, 2011
Park Geun-hye - president of South Korea, 2013
Who Was the First Woman to Run for President in the United States?
No, wasn't not Hillary
Victoria C. Woodhull was the first woman to run for president in the United States. She was selected by the Equal Rights Party to be its candidate in the 1872 election.
The Equal Rights Party platform supported women's right to vote and work, among other issues, but Woodhull was soundly defeated in the election by Ulysses S. Grant.
Shirley Chisholm also deserves recognition. In 1972, she became the first major-party black candidate for President of the United States and the first woman to run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Margaret Chase Smith was the first woman to run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Elizabeth Dole is another woman who ran for the Republican presidential nomination during the 2000 elections. She campaigned for the position for several months in 1999, but dropped out of the race before any of the primaries due to a lack of funding.
(Public domain image of Victoria Woodhull from Wikipedia)
Image provided by AllPosters
What Was the First Country to Elect a Female Head of State?
You might be surprised!
Sri Lanka was the very first country to elect a female head of state. Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected prime minister for the first time in 1960 (and later served two more terms) after her husband, Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike, was assassinated.
Thirty-four years after Mrs. Bandaranaike first served as PM, she was re-elected. In 1994, Sirimavo Bandaranaike took the office of prime minister again -- the same year her daughter, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, was elected president of the country. You go, girls!
(Public domain image of the flag of Sri Lanka from Wikipedia)
Lives of Extraordinary Women - A book for young children about women leaders and heroes
As with other titles in this nicely thought-out series, Krull whets readers' appetites with brief biographies of some amazing individuals. Most of these women will be familiar to students, but a few obscure figures are introduced. The writing tends toward gossip in places. (Isabella I of Spain reportedly took only two baths in her lifetime.) Like gossip, each chapter is enticing. A full-page caricature of the subject opens each chapter. The stories are arranged chronologically, beginning with Cleopatra, who reportedly spoke eight languages, and concluding with Guatemalan leader Rigoberta Menchu, who fights for native Indian rights.
Two Female Presidents and Counting...
Which country became the first to have one woman succeed another as president?
A few countries have already elected more than one woman to serve as head of state, but Ireland wins the prize for being the first to have one woman succeed another to the post.
Ireland President Mary McAleese assumed the presidency from Mary Robinson in 1997 and was re-elected, without contest, to another seven-year term in 2004. Her term as president ended in 2011.
(Image of Mary McAleese provided by Wikipedia)
Books About Female Leaders - Learn More About These Incredible Women
If you're interested in reading more about female leaders, check out these books about some of the amazing women who had led countries around the world.
Men vs. Women - Who Makes a Better Leader?
Does a person's sex affect their ability to lead a country?
Female Leaders Who Have Been Assassinated
The dark side of leadership
Although only a small number of women have been elected to lead countries, several have already been assassinated. Two were killed while in office. The third was killed while campaigning:
Indira Gandhi, India's first prime minister, was assassinated by her own bodyguards in 1984 while serving her fourth term as prime minister.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana, who served as prime minister of Rwanda for nearly a year, was assassinated by Hutu soldiers in 1994 during the early days of the Rwanda genocide.
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan's first female prime minister, was assassinated in 2007 while campaigning for another term in office.
Links About Female Heads of State - Learn more about women leading the world
"Whether women are better than men I cannot say, but I can say they are certainly no worse." - Golda Meir, PM of Israel