Food for Thought

The following nations have had female heads of government of some form (President, Queen, Prime Minister, Governor General, etc, although I skipped a few regencies even though I am aware that some regents wielded immense power, and I note that I tried to go with heads of state in their own countries which is why, for example, I consider Jeanne Sauve Canada’s first female head of government instead of Queen Victoria for the purposes of this list). I also want to note that many of the nations on this list are former colonies with borders and systems of government imposed by colonial nations; undoubtedly within all of these nations women led communities including sovereign ones, but it’s harder to find records on native communities, alas.

For your convenience, I’ve noted the year a woman was first elected/appointed to office, followed by her name. I am well aware that there are probably some errors on this list, between typos, disputes over what makes a country, and so forth, so please consider this a rough guide and add corrections in the comments if I have made glaring errors, please (or even not so glaring ones).

  • Antigua and Barbuda (2007, Louise Lake-Tack)
  • Argentina (1974, Isabel Martinez de Peron)
  • Australia (1953, Queen Elizabeth II)
  • Austria (1740, Queen Maria Theresia of Austria)
  • Bahamas (2001, Dame Ivy Dumont)
  • Bangladesh (1991, Khaleda Zia)
  • Barbados (1990, Dane Nita Barrow)
  • Belarus (1793, Queen Catherine the Great)
  • Belize (1981, Dame Minita Gordon)
  • Bolivia (1979, Lidia Gueler Tejada (acting President))
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (2007, Borjana Kristo)
  • Bulgaria (1994, Reneta Indzhova (acting Prime Minister))
  • Burundi (1992, Sylvia Kinigi)
  • Canada (1984, Jeanne Sauve (Governor General)) (ETA: 1993, Kim Campbell, Prime Minister (see comments))
  • Central African Republic (1975, Elisabeth Domitien)
  • Ceylon (1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike)
  • Chile (2006, Michelle Bachelet)
  • Costa Rica (2010, Laura Chinchilla)
  • Croatia (2009, Jadranka Kosor)
  • Denmark (1387, Queen Margaret I)
  • Dominica (1980, Eugenia Charles)
  • Ecuador (1997, Rosalia Arteaga Serrano (acting President))
  • Egypt (1806 BCE, Sobekneferu and yes that is the earliest recorded female head of state)
  • Estonia (1632, Queen Christina of Sweden)
  • Faroe Islands (1993, Marita Petersen)
  • Finland (2000, Tarja Halonen)
  • France (1991, Edith Cresson)
  • Gabon (2009, Rose Francine Rogombe (acting President))
  • Georgia (2003, Nino Burjanadze (acting President))
  • Germany (2005, Angela Merkel)
  • Guinea-Bissau (1984, Carmen Pereira)
  • Guyana (1997, Janet Jagan)
  • Haiti (1990, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot (acting President), 1995, Claudette Werleigh)
  • Hungary (1382, Queen Mary of Hungary)
  • Iceland (1980, Vigdis Finnbogadottir)
  • India (1966, Indira Gandhi)
  • Indonesia (2001, Megawati Sukarnoputri)
  • Iran (631, Purandokht)
  • Ireland (1990, Mary Robinson)
  • Israel (1969, Golda Meir)
  • Jamaica (2006, Portia Simpson-Miller)
  • Japan (592, Empress Suiko)
  • Latvia (1999, Vaira Vike-Freiberga)
  • Lesotho (1970, Queen ‘Mamohato)
  • Liberia (1996, Ruth Perry)
  • Lithuania (1990, Kazimira Prunskiene)
  • Luxembourg (1247, Ermesinde, Countess of Luxembourg)
  • Macedonia (2004, Radmila Sekerinska (acting Prime Minister))
  • Madagascar (2009, Cecile Manorohanta (acting Prime Minister))
  • Malta (1982, Agatha Barbara)
  • Moldova (2008, Zinaida Greceanii)
  • Mongolia (1953, Sukhbaataryn Yanjmaa (acting Chair of the Presidium of the State Great Khural))
  • Mozambique (2004, Luisa Diogo)
  • Netherlands (1890, Queen Wilhelmina) (ETA: Queen Emma was regent from 1890-1898, see comments)
  • New Zealand (1997, Jenny Shipley)
  • Nicaragua (1990, Violeta Chamorro)
  • ETA: Northern and Southern Netherlands (Present Day Netherlands and Belgium) (1559, Margaretha of Parma, vicequeen (see comments))
  • Norway (1981, Gro Harlem Brundtland)
  • Pakistan (1988, Benazir Bhutto)
  • Panama (1999, Mireya Moscoso)
  • People’s Republic of China (1968, Soong Ching-ling (acting Co-Chair)) (ETA: Also 690, Wu Zetian (see comments))
  • Peru (2003, Beatriz Merino)
  • Philippines (1986, Corazon Aquino)
  • Poland (1991, Hanna Suchocka)
  • Portugal (1979, Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo)
  • Russia (1725, Catherine I of Russia)
  • Rwanda (1993, Agathe Uwilingiyimana)
  • São Tomé and Príncipe (2002, Maria das Neves)
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis (1701, Queen Anne)
  • Saint Lucia (1701, Queen Anne)
  • San Marino (1981, Maria Lea Pedini-Angelini)
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (1837, Queen Victoria)
  • Senegal (2001, Mame Madior Boye)
  • Serbia (1458, Queen Jelena)
  • South Korea (2002, Chang Sang (acting Prime Minister), 2006, Han Myung Sook)
  • Spain (1474, Isabel I)
  • Sweden (1389, Margaret I)
  • Switzerland (1984, Elisabeth Kopp)
  • Sri Lanka (1970, also Sirimavo Bandaranaike)
  • Tannu Tuva (1940, Khertek Anchimaa-Toka)
  • Transkei (1987, Stella Sigcau)
  • Edited to add: Trinidad and Tobago, as of 25 May 2010 (Kamla Persad-Bissessar)
  • Turkey (1993, Tansu Ciller)
  • Ukraine (2005, Yulia Tymoshenko)
  • United Kingdom (1701, Queen Anne, also 1979, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher)
  • Yugoslavia (1982, Milka Planinc)

The following have not. (To my knowledge, again, mistakes happen.)

  • Afghanistan
  • Albania
  • Algeria
  • Andorra
  • Angola
  • Armenia
  • Azerbaijan
  • Bahrain
  • Belgium
  • Benin
  • Bhutan
  • Botswana
  • Brazil
  • Brunei
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burma
  • Cambodia
  • Cameroon
  • Cape Verde
  • Chad
  • Colombia
  • Comoros
  • Côte d’Ivoire
  • Cuba
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Djibouti
  • Dominican Republic
  • East Timor
  • El Salvador
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Eritrea
  • Ethiopia
  • Fiji
  • Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Greece
  • Grenada
  • Guatemala
  • Guinea
  • Honduras
  • Iraq
  • Italy
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati
  • Kuwait
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Laos
  • Lebanon
  • Libya
  • Liechtenstein
  • Malawi
  • Malaysia
  • Maldives
  • Mali
  • Marshall Islands
  • Mauritania
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Micronesia
  • Monaco
  • Montenegro
  • Morocco
  • Namibia
  • Nauru
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • North Korea
  • Oman
  • Palau
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Paraguay
  • Qatar
  • Republic of the Congo
  • Romania
  • Samoa
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Seychelles
  • Sierra Leone
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Solomon Islands
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • Sudan
  • Suriname
  • Swaziland
  • Syria
  • Taiwan
  • Tajikistan
  • Tanzania
  • Thailand
  • Tibet
  • Togo
  • Tonga
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Tunisia
  • Turkmenista
  • Tuvalu
  • Uganda
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United States
  • Uruguay
  • Uzbekistan
  • Vanuatu
  • Vatican City
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam
  • Yemen
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe

That is all.

8 Replies to “Food for Thought”

  1. Did you leave out Empress Wu Zetian because China wasn’t then the People’s Republic? I think that would be a mistake since the Chinese generally still regard her as part of their history. I’m not sure where in the list you’d put her though.

  2. Queen Emma was regent from 1890-1898 in the Netherlands. Don’t know if you left her out cause she wasn’t a “real” queen (she acted on behalf of queen Wilhelmina until she turned 18) or what?

  3. I tended to leave off Queens Regent and other people acting as regents, but I’ll add her to the list with a note! (I am very much viewing this list as a work in progress, not a definitive document.)

  4. Ooh, and it would be interesting to see the list separated out to those who inherited their office, and those who didn’t. Australia’s number would be much more recent then (Governor-General Bryce, and Julia Gillard who has been Acting P.M.)

  5. Oh, I was already wondeirng if there was a reason you didn’t include queen Emma. I saw you did include acting presidents/prime ministers, so I wasn’t sure about acting regents.

  6. Here in Canada, though, the Governor-General’s position is largely symbolic, with virtually no political influence; it’s more of a cultural and ceremonial position. What you should be looking at is our head of government, the Prime Minister. We’ve had one woman PM, the Progressive Conservative* Kim Campbell in ’93, and most would like to forget her…she was deeply unpopular and her term was only a few months.**

    * Not an oxymoron, for some reason. Later, the two federal conservative parties (Reform and aforementioned PCs) merged into the Conservative Party, which is the one in power right now. *winces*

    ** Background on Canadian politics, which is so dry I may fall asleep typing this: the head of a political party is elected by the members, and is that party’s candidate for PM. (It’s far more like the UK system than the States’.) The previous PM retired before the term was over, and so the party elected a new head, that being Campbell, who served as PM till the term was up and it was federal election time. They lost spectacularly***, thus paving the way for ten friggin’ years of Liberal Jean Chrétien’s “benign dictatorship”.

    *** The nail in the coffin was an attack ad perceived widely as targeting Chrétien’s facial paralysis (Bell’s palsy). Campbell pulled the ads with a fauxpology about being very sorry if she’d unintentionally offended anyone, and Chrétien’s speech in response (“It’s true, that I speak on one side of my mouth. I’m not a Tory, I don’t speak on both sides of my mouth”) gave him an immense boost in popularity.

  7. If you are counting women regents, I’d like to suggest adding Margaretha of Parma. She was appointed vicequeen of the Seventeen Provinces, also known as the Northern and Southern Netherlands (the territory of which includes both the present day Netherlands and Belgium) from 1559 to 1567. She ultimately answered to Philip II, King of Spain, but as vicequeen she was responsible for the internal affairs of the Northern and Southern Netherlands. (She had much more power than Emma or Wilhelmina, who, as a constitutional monarchs, had to answer to Parliament.) Maybe you could mention her in relation to Belgium?

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