Pop Quiz: how many female heads of state are currently holding office?
The answer is 20. They serve around the globe in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. So let’s name names and learn a fun fact or two about the women who help run the world.
Female leadership in Africa has existed for some time. Lately women have been seen as a solution to the brash decisions of male leaders, which can result in years of war. Indeed, many of these women were elected thanks to their levelheaded responses to conflict:
- President and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Edith Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia was elected after helping bring an end to the devastating civil war that tore the country in two.
- Dr. Joyce Banda of Malawi was elected at a contentious time of instability, and has helped transition the country back to calm.
- Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic is the newest female president in the world. Elected to lead the CAR out of civil war, she was one of the only candidates that refused to take bribes during elections.
- Prime Minister Aminata Touré of Senegal has worked to pursue several corruption cases against high ranking officials while working on woman’s rights initiatives.
In the Latin American and the Caribbean, there are five female heads of state. While not all agree on issues such as abortion or separation of church and state, there is a very common thread of development running through their platforms.
- President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina follows in the footsteps of Eva Peron, one of her noted influences, increasing protectionism and attention to state-owned enterprises.
- President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica, while adamantly Catholic, has signed laws for civil unions between same-sex couples and stated she would not oppose gay marriage if the people called for it.
- Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago, sometimes called Aunty Kamla, is heralded as being ‘Trini to da bone.’
- President Dilma Roussef of Brazil, who was once jailed and tortured for her political leanings, now enjoys high popularity ratings thanks to her tax reductions.
- Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller of Jamaica is the first governmental figure in her country to fully endorse civil rights for LGBT Jamaicans.
In Asia, where women are all too often thought of as subservient, three female heads of have taken the lead. Their faiths and ideas range tremendously, but they’ve shown themselves to be as competent, and corrupt, as many other world leaders.
- Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of Thailand came in on a platform of trade, although she is now facing corruption charges.
- Bangladesh’s Sheikh Hasina Wajed has faced assassination attempts in her four decades of political service. She is now in her third term as Prime Minister.
- South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye has put the issues sexual and domestic violence on the national agenda.
In Greater Europe, eight women have made it into the highest office. As many of these countries enjoy equitable rights and high levels of education among women, it’s interesting to imagine what the world would look like if such rights and education were extended to women and girls throughout the globe.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel, well known and respected for her work on trade and finance.
- President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania has staunchly supported human rights, threatening to boycott Sochi.
- President Atifete Jahjaga of Kosovo strengthened women’s issues, giving legal protections to those raped during war.
- Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt of Denmark has rolled back anti-immigration laws and instituted tax reform.
- Slovenia’s Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek has worked to ensure religious freedom.
- President Sibel Siber of North Cyprus has been working to bring agreement about in her divided nation.
- Prime Minister Erna Solberg hosted the Millennium Development Goals forum at Davos, with a focus on education and empowerment of girls worldwide.
- And perhaps with the best title of all, Captain Regent Anna Maria Muccioli is the 15th woman to hold head of state in the small nation of San Marino. They are the world leader of electing women to their highest office.
For as many countries as there are on Earth (196 to be exact), having 20 female leaders is an incredibly low percentage. However, speaking historically, these women are making a monumental shift towards a new era. And for the girls being raised in these female-led countries, it sends a very clear message that regardless of gender, the highest ranking political office in the nation belongs to everyone.