Women have been at the helm of the affairs of their countries for many generations, but in the 20th Century the number of well known women leaders increased manifold. The 10 women listed below led their countries through times of turbulence and peace.
1. Indira Gandhi – Prime Minister of India
Born into India’s politically influential Nehru family, she was India’s first woman Prime Minister. A hard nosed pragmatic, she ruled the country with firmness and determination, taking hard and tough decisions when needed. She was assassinated by two of her own guards in 1984.
2. Margaret Thatcher – Prime Minister of United Kingdom
Nicknamed “Iron Lady” due to her tough stance against the erstwhile Soviet Union, she led her country through recession and high unemployment into a period of relative prosperity, and a rise in its stature among fellow nations. She was the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom.
3. Benazir Bhutto – Prime Minister of Pakistan
The daughter Pakistan’s Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, she ruled her country from 1988-1990, and 1993-1996. She was assassinated in 2007, during election campaigning. It was widely expected that she would go on to become Prime Minister for a record third term.
4. Corazon Aquino – President of Phillipines
Asia’s first female President, she was a novice when she was elected President sometime after her husband’s assassination. She was a strong advocate of women’s rights and of democracy as opposed to Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorial rule.
5. Sonia Gandhi – Leader of India’s Congress Party
Believed by many to be the power behind the throne, she holds no political office, yet rules the country. An Italian by birth, she adopted India as her country after marrying Rajiv Gandhi. She has been nominated as the third most powerful woman in the world.
6. Eva Peron – Wife of the President of Argentina
The second wife of President Juan Peron, she was a very powerful woman, due to her influence on her husband, and her fight for the rights of the poor and the women of Argentina. She ran the Ministries of health and Labour, and found the first large female political party in her country.
7. Golda Meir – Prime Minister of Israel
Termed the “best man in the cabinet” by Daivd Ben Gurion, she was the fourth Prime Minister of the state of Israel. The greatest crisis during her term was the 1973 Yom Kippur War, during which she made the decision to avoid a pre-emptive strike, thereby gaining the approval of her greatest ally, the United States.
8. Sirimavo Bandarnaike – Prime Minister of Sri Lanka
The first woman worldwide to become the Prime Minister of a country, she rules Sri Lanka thrice, from 1960 to 1965, 1970 to 1977 and 1994 to 2000. She was the head of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party for 40 years until her death. Her terms saw the country see-saw through good times and bad times, and during her last term she was more popular abroad than she was in her own country.
9. Johanna Sigurdardottir – Prime Minister of Iceland
The first openly gay Prime Minister in the world, she is also Iceland’s first female Prime Minister. A very popular leader, she presides over a coalition of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green movement.
10. Mary McAleese – President of Ireland
Ruling over a country divided by years of conflict, she has surprised her critics by building bridges and attempting to diffuse tensions all around.
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