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Female Heads of State and Government: 20 Powerful Leaders Shaping the World

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“Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are leaders in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out … and bear the consequences.” Susan B. Anthony

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, standing with female Afghan politicians in 2011

U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, standing with female Afghan politicians

DEMOCRACY: Democracy refers to a government chosen by the people, whether it is direct or representative, and women are an important part of the process. The term has different interpretations, but today often refers to a representative democracy with power wielded through elected representatives; including an elected head of state, such as a president. The elected leaders serve for a limited term; unlike states with a hereditary monarch as a head of state where the title is passed on to the monarch’s offspring. “Democracy encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.” Wikipedia

This year, in the world of political leadership, the shifting winds brought fresh female leaders and voices to the global arena. The focus wasn’t just on who they were but also on how they exercised leadership. Even with their individual successes, all of these female leaders recognized that for many women globally, the journey to gender equality is a precarious one. The challenge must be to build consensus, initiate changes, and increase opportunities for the benefit and progress of all.

As Secretary of State, Hilary Rodham Clinton reiterated, in her remarks at the Female Heads of State and Foreign Ministers Luncheon held on Sept 24, 2009, giving women more opportunities to serve is fundamental to progress and leadership. Often, what women lack is opportunity not ability. The problems women face around issues of gender equity and leadership are not unique to developing nations; they remain a global concern.

At the luncheon, Ms. Clinton addressed the issue head-on by saying, “investments in women yield very big dividends, and we want women to be given the tools so that they can make the most out of their own lives – run for office to be president or prime minister, work your way up to be appointed to a position of foreign minister, so many opportunities, because we know there is so much talent. … But what I have concluded over the years is that talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” Undoubtedly, despite the growing numbers of women in leadership roles, we must continue to seek opportunities to give all women access. We must entrust our daughters with leadership roles from an early age and learn to collaborate; the onus is on us all, males and females, to do more.

“I don’t believe you are simply born with the ambition of becoming chancellor. But if you want to make a difference, if you enjoy putting ideas into practice, then the post of chancellor has to be the one presenting the biggest opportunity of all.” Angela Merkel

Queen Hatshepsut - The fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

Queen Hatshepsut – Female pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

Queen Hatshepsut – Fifth pharaoh of the eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt.

A lot happened this year and women were right in the middle of the fray. Forbes magazine’s list of 100 Most Powerful Women bore testament to the fact that even in a world were millions of women remain marginalized, trailblazers have always thrived. A Forbes Magazine writer pointed out that this year’s selections were not just about celebrity, popularity or even position and money, but about influence. We’ve had powerful female leaders in ancient history and in the last century, I dare say, more female leaders will continue to open doors and set the stage for positive change in the 21st Century. We have come a long way babe … but we still have a long way to go. Sadly, across the globe, girls and women remain powerless and marginalized; whether through loss of political representation, acts of violence, female infanticide, forced prostitution, battles over reproductive rights, genital mutilation, lower wages, lack of education or early marriage; so the struggle continues.

As I write this piece, I am aware that the notion of women remaining in subservient roles as 2nd class citizens is slowly, but surely, eroding and being replaced by confident grandmothers, mothers, sisters and daughters taking on leadership roles; these are women who can foster positive exchanges with other power brokers and bridge the communication void between males and females. By becoming actively engaged in the political process and supporting our female leaders, including the powerful women we get to meet here – albeit in brief, we can all participate in paving the way to see more dynamic female leaders ruling the world.

“Unless you choose to do great things with it, it makes no difference how much you are rewarded, or how much power you have.” Oprah Winfrey

Empress Wu Zetian - The only woman to rule China in her own right.

Empress Wu Zetian – Female ruler of China in the Tang Dynasty

Empress Wu Zetian – The only woman to rule China in her own right (Zhou Dynasty).

December is often a time for reflection; a time when we reminisce about the preceding months and ponder events, large and small, that have defined the year as it steadily comes to an end. It is also a time when a garden variety of lists emerge, on every imaginable topic, as a way to countdown the many news events, triumphant or tragic, uplifting or unnerving, that set the world afire.

Culling the current list of women leaders wasn’t as simple as I had imagined. It became quite apparent, as I sifted through several disparate sources on the internet, that a current list of women heads of state around the world was sorely needed. I have focused my list around incumbent women presidents (heads of state) and prime ministers (heads of government) in office as of December 2009. If I missed anyone, please feel free to add your voice here.

“Leadership should be more participative than directive, more enabling than performing.” Mary D. Poole

Michelle Bachelet ~ President of Chile

Michelle Bachelet – President of Chile: Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria was born in Santiago on September 29, 1951. Michelle is the first woman to hold this position in the country’s history. She won the 2006 presidential election against billionaire businessman/former senator Sebastián Piñera, with an impressive 53.5% of the vote and took office on 11, March 2006.
Bachelet is a pediatrician and epidemiologist by training with a background in military strategic studies. She speaks several languages, is a self-described agnostic, and a separated mother of three.

Emily deJongh Elhage ~ Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles

Emily de Jongh Elhage – Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles: Born December 7, 1946. Emily has been Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles since she took office on March 26, 2006. Mary is also leader of the Party for the Restructured Antilles.
She is of Lebanese descent and is currently an esteemed member of the Council of Women World Leaders, which is an International organization made up of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose key goal is to “mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.” Emily is married.

Luisa Diogo ~ Prime Minister of Mozambique via Martin H on Flickr

Luisa Dias Diogo – Prime Minister of Mozambique: Luísa Dias Diogo was born on April 11, 1958. She assumed the office of Prime Minister on 17 February 2004 when she replaced Pascoal Mocumbi, who had held the post for nine years.
Luisa Diogo studied economics at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University and obtained her master’s degree in financial economics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1992. She worked for the Finance Ministry and the World Bank as program officer in Mozambique.
Before assuming her current position, Luisa was Minister of Planning and Finance. She is the first female Prime Minister of Mozambique and a representative of the dominant party in Mozambique – FRELIMO. Top members of the FRELIMO party have ruled the country since independence in 1975. Luisa is a mother of three children.

“Leadership is not manifested by coercion, even against the resented. Greatness is not manifested by unlimited pragmatism, which places such a high premium on the end justifying any means and any measures.” Margaret Chase Smith

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ~ President of Argentina

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
– President of Argentina:
Born February 19, 1953, in Tolosa, a suburb west of La Plata, Province of Buenos Aires, Cristina has lived the presidential life in two capacities; as Argentina’s First Lady and as President. She assumed her current position on December 10, 2007.
Cristina studied law at the National University of La Plata during the 1970s and met her husband, Néstor, at the university. When Nestor served as President of Argentina, Cristina was the dynamic first lady working for positive changes in Argentina.
Cristina became more politically involved later and eventually decided to ramp up her political ambitions and run for the highest office. Cristina served as a Senator for Buenos Aires Province prior to taking office. She is Argentina’s first elected female President, and the second female President after Isabel Martinez de Perón. Currently ranked 11th on Forbes Magazine’s the list of the 100 most powerful women in the world, Cristina is a married mother of two children: Máximo and Florencia.

Dalia Grybauskaite ~ President of Lithuania

Dalia Grybauskaite – President of Lithuania: Dalia Grybauskaitė was born on March 1, 1956 into a working-class family in Vilnius. As a student, she had a love for history, geography and physics and while academics were not her strongest suit, she had a competitive spirit that kept her searching for ways to be make her life better.
At age eleven, Dalia began playing sports and became a passionate basketball player. At nineteen, she worked at the Lithuanian National Philharmonic, then enrolled in Saint Petersburg State University (Zhdanov University) where she studied political economy. In 1983, Grybauskaitė graduated and returned to Vilnius where her political life took shape, leading her down the path to her current leadership role. Dalia became President on 12 July 2009. She is unmarried with no children.

Tarja Halonen ~ President of Finland

Tarja Halonen – President of Finland: ) is the 11th and current President of Finland. Born 24 December 1943, Tarja is the first female to hold the highest political office in her native country. She was a member of the parliament from 1979 to 2000 when she resigned to take on the role of the president.
Tarja is a graduate of the University of Helsinki, where she studied law. She was always active in student politics, joining the Social Democratic Party and serving in various capacities in the party. Her long and impressive political career has included trade union and NGO work. Tarja took office on March 1, 2000.

“Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.” – Marian Anderson

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ~ President of Liberia

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – President of Liberia: Ellen assumed office on 16 January 2006 and is the current President of Liberia. Ellen was born in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. She was raised in a household where education was revered and later studied economics and accounting at the College of West Africa in Monrovia. Ellen’s parents were educated and challenged her to excel academically.
A story from her birth tells of a visit from a mystery man who predicted that ‘This Child will be Great,” thus setting the foundation for a lifetime of high expectations from everyone around her. She served as Minister of Finance under the late President William Tolbert until the 1980 coup d’état forced her to leave her beloved homeland. She returned home in the mid 1990s, lost the presidential election in 1997 and channeled her energies into other work including supporting changes for women’s rights in Liberia. Ellen is Africa’s first elected female head of state and is often referred to as the “Iron Lady.” She is divorced, a mother of many children, and a beloved grandmother.

Jadranka Kosor ~ Prime Minister of Croatia

Jadranka Kosor – Prime Minister of Croatia: Jadranka Kosor was born Jadranka Vlaisavljević in Pakrac on July 1, 1953 and finished elementary school in Lipik. She attended college in Zagreb, graduated in law and began working as a journalist. During the Croatian War, she worked as a radio-journalist and later as a correspondent for the BBC.
Jadranka is a highly regarded Croatian politician and former journalist who became Croatia’s first female Prime Minister on July 6, 2009, when she took office after the resignation of former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. Jadranka has published four books, two on poetry and two on the Croatian War of Independence. She has won numerous awards for her journalistic work and has a son, Lovro.

Borjana Kristo ~ President of Bosnia

Borjana Kristo – President of Bosnia (Bosnia – Herzegovina): Borjana Krišto, a Bosnian Croat politician, was born August 13, 1961 in Livno, SR Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yugoslavia. She is a member of the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Borjana assumed her role, as the incumbent president of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – one of two political entities to compose Bosnia and Herzegovina, on February 21, 2007. She is the first woman to hold this esteemed position.

“In politics if you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” Margaret Thatcher

Gloria-Macapagal-Arroyo ~ President of the Philippines

Maria Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – President of the Philippines: Born April 5, 1947, Gloria is the fourteenth and current president of the Philippines. The daughter of late former Philippine President Diosdado Macapagal,and an ancestral lineage tracing her to Don Juan Macapagal, a great-grandson of Lakandula the last reigning Rajah (King) of Saludung, Gloria assumed office January 20, 2001.
Gloria attended elementary and secondary school in the Philippines graduating valedictorian in 1964. She then moved to the USA where she spent two years at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. and was a classmate of future US President Bill Clinton. She is the second female (after Aquino) and second longest serving (after Marcos) president.

Mary McAleese ~ President of Ireland

Mary McAleese – President of Ireland: Máire Pádraigín was born 27 June 1951 in Belfast and is the eighth and current President of Ireland. She has been in office since 11 November 1997 and is Ireland’s second female president and the world’s first woman to succeed another woman as an elected head of state.
Mary, the first President to come from Northern Ireland, was elected in 1997 and won a second uncontested term in 2004. Before plunging into the political arena, she was a barrister, journalist and academic. Mary remains the longest-serving, current, elected, female Head of State following the retirement, in 2005, of Chandrika Kumaratunga, daughter of Sri Lanka’s first female leader – Srimavo Bandaranaike.

Angela Merkel ~ Chancellor of Germany

Angela Merkel – Chancellor of Germany: Angela Merkel, née Kasner, was born on July 17, 1954. Angela studied physics in Templin and at the University of Leipzig. She was elected to the German Parliament from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and has been the chairwoman of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) since 2000.
Over the years, Angela Merkel made powerful political connections particularly during her stint as Chairwoman of the CDU-CSU parliamentary party group from 2002 to 2005. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, which is an International organization made up of current and former women presidents and prime ministers whose key goal is to “mobilize the highest-level women leaders globally for collective action on issues of critical importance to women and equitable development.” Angela became Chancellor of Germany when she took office on November 22, 2005. She is married and has two step sons from a previous marriage.

“What you always do before you make a decision is consult. The best public policy is made when you are listening to people who are going to be impacted. Then, once policy is determined, you call on them to help you sell it.” Elizabeth Dole

Pratibha Patil ~ President of India

Pratibha Patil – President of India: Born December 19, 1934 in Nadgaon, Maharashtra, Pratibha Devisingh Patil is the current President of the Republic of India; the 12th person and first woman to hold this office. Pratibha spent her early school years in New Delhi, received a M.Sc. from Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore, and a law degree from the Government Law College, Mumbai (affiliated to University of Bombay).
Pratibha, an active member of the Indian National Congress (INC) and the first woman Governor of Rajasthan, won the presidential election held on July 19, 2007 defeating her closest rival by over 300,000 votes. She was sworn in as President on July 25, 2007 succeeding Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. She is married and has two children.

Johanna Sigurdardottir ~ Prime Minister of Iceland

Jóhanna Sigurdardottir
– Prime Minister of Iceland:
Jóhanna, an Icelandic politician, was born on 4 October 1942 and is the current Prime Minister of Iceland. She was Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security for many years and has been a member of the Althing (Iceland’s parliament) for Reykjavík constituencies since 1978.
Jóhanna grew up in Reykjavík, studied at the Commercial College of Iceland, and worked as a flight attendant with Loftleiðir before launching her political career. She was active in the trade union movement early in her professional life and this became her springboard into a very successful political career. Jóhanna became Iceland’s first female Prime Minister on 1 February 2009 and the world’s first openly gay head of government. She has a son from a previous marriage as does her partner, an author and playwright.

“The only safe ship in a storm is leadership.” – Faye Wattleton

Yulia Tymoshenko Collier ~ Prime Minister of the Ukraine

Yulia Tymoshenko – Prime Minister of the Ukraine: Julia Volodymyrivna Tymošenko; née Hryhyan was born November 27, 1960 in Dnipropetrovsk, and is the current Prime Minister of Ukraine. Yulia earned her degree from the Economic Department of Dnipropetrovsk State University and worked as an engineer-economist in a machine-building plant till 1988.
Before her present role as Ukraine’s first female Prime Minister, Yulia was a successful businesswoman in the gas industry and a key leader of the Orange Revolution. She also had a brief stint as Prime Minister in 2005. Yulia, a Ukrainian politician, became Prime Minister on December 18, 2007 and remains the effervescent leader of the All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland” party and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc. She is married and has a daughter Eugenia (Zhenya).

Sheikh Hasina Wajed ~ Prime Minister of Bangladesh

Sheikh Hasina Wajed – Prime Minister of Bangladesh: Sheikh Hasina, a Bangladeshi politician, was born September 28, 1947 and is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She assumed the office of Prime Minister on 6 January 2009 and is well known as the eldest child of Bangladesh’s first president and founding father; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and wife/widow of the internationally reputed nuclear scientist, the late M. A. Wazed Miah.
Sheikh Hasina’s political career started through student activism at Eden College in the 1960s and continued at Government Intermediate College where she was elected vice president of the College Students Union. At the University of Dhaka, Sheikh Hasina was a member of the Chhatra League and secretary of the Rokeya Hall unit. This is the second time Sheikh Hasina has held this office; she was prime minister from 1996 to 2001.. She is the loving mother of two children who live in the US.

Kamla Persad-Bissessar Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago, 2010-present

Laura Chinchilla Miranda President, Costa Rica, 2010-present

Julia Gillard Prime Minister, Australia, 2010-2013

Iveta Radičová Prime Minister, Slovakia, 2010-2012

“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” Jim Rohn

The Unfettered Power of Mother Nature: Amphitheater - Bryce Canyon National Park by Jean-Christophe Benoist

The Unfettered Power of Mother Nature: Amphitheater – Bryce Canyon National Park by Jean-Christophe Benoist

As Angela Merkel once said, “We must never forget our responsibilities as politicians to our country and its citizens. We must always remain humble before our people.” All great leaders serve humbly and at the behest of Mother Nature. When we witness her grace and glory in nature, we realize that it takes balance, care for all, and great wisdom to lead. May all leaders remember her divine hand in all things.

To Be Continued…


Queen Elizabeth II Queen of GB

Queen Elizabeth II – Queen of England:

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State

Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State ~ via Wikipedia

Michèle Pierre-Louis Prime Minister, Haiti, 2008-09

Portia Simpson Miller Prime Minister, Jamaica 2006-07, 2011-present

Dilma Rousseff President, Brazil, 2011–present

Mari Kiviniemi Prime Minister, Finland, 2010-2011

Doris Leuthard President, Federal Council of Switzerland, 2010-present

Margarita Cedeño de Fernández Vice president, Dominican Republic, 2012-present

Dora Bakoyannis Foreign Affairs Minister Greece

Dora Bakoyannis – Foreign Affairs Minister of Greece:

Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan

Queen Rania Al Abdullah – Queen of Jordan:

Tzipora Livni Vice Prime Minister/Minister of Foreign Affairs Israel

Tzipora Livni – Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Israel:

While there are more women today joining the league of influential women in the corridors of power, these thought leaders stand tall, leading their nations under both challenging and changing global climates. What do you think of the list? Who would you add and why? Share your thoughts and views below.

Former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, standing with female Afghan politicians in Kabul, Afghanistan by S.K. Vemmer (U.S. Department of State) via Wikipedia
Empress Wu Zetian of Tang Dynasty via Wikipedia
POWERFUL Nature: Amphitheatre at Bryce Canyon National Park by Jean-Christophe Benoist ~ via Wikipedia
Queen Hatshepsut ~ via Wikipedia
1. Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile ~ via Google Images
2. Emily deJongh Elhage, Prime Minister of the Netherlands Antilles ~ via Google Images
3. Luisa Dias Diogo, Prime Minister of Mozambique ~ via Martin H on Flickr
4. Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina ~ via Google Images
5. Dalia Grybauskaite, President of Lithuania ~ via Now Public Images on Google
6. Tarja Halonen, President of Finland ~ via TP_kasvokuva
7. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia by L Healing ~ via AFP Getty
8. Jadranka Kosor, Prime Minister of Croatia ~ via Avala Wikipedia
9. Borjana Kristo, President of Bosnia ~ via episcore on Google
10. Gloria-Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Phillippines ~ via Google Images
11. Mary McAleese, President of Ireland ~ via Google Images
12. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany by H. Kowoloski ~ via AP
13. Pratibha Patil, President of India ~ via Google Images
14. Johanna Sigurdardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland ~ courtesy Govt of Iceland
15. Yulia Tymoshenko Collier, Prime Minister of the Ukraine ~ via Google Images
16. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Prime Minister of Bangladesh ~ via Getty Photos





Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State ~ via Wikipedia
Dora Bakoyannis, Foreign Affairs Minister Greece-by Osman Orsal ~ via AP
Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of England/GB by C Jackson ~ via Getty Photos
Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan by P Le Segretain ~ via Getty Photos
Tzipora Livni, Vice Prime Minister/Minister of Foreign Affairs Israel ~ via UPI

Until Next Time…
Ask. Believe. Receive. ©
Elizabeth Obih-Frank

12 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/12/2009 2:54 am

    very informative… if these women lead the countries that keep putting us in the precarious position of warfare, environmental hazard, and increasingly skewed distribution of resources- we’d be in a lot better shape… and great pic of Zion National Park… maybe that’s where they should relocate the U.S. Congress…would be a very positive,enlightening spot from which to operate– change the whole tone of the discussion!

    • 08/12/2009 1:29 pm

      I concur. The road to environmental recovery, peaceful co-existence, and an end to world hunger would be feasible if our leaders could set aside petty hatreds and work on collaborative endeavors. Yes, the world is complex and things aren’t always distributed equitably/fairly; but I’d like to see more compassion, more kindness…
      Yes, I love that powerful shot of Zion National Park; a reminder of nature’s effortless beauty and power. It’s an example of constructive power that benefits all; that is what we need. Thanks again for your feedback! 😉

  2. goz permalink
    08/12/2009 5:44 am

    Great always.. The hands that rock the cradle?

    • 08/12/2009 1:20 pm

      I totally get the analogy here… I admire the work all of these female leaders make daily. It is never easy being at the helm of government, making tough decision that could potentially affect a nation for years to come and particularly during these trying times globally. Thank you for your feedback!

  3. 20/12/2010 12:06 pm

    A lot has changed since this post and I have learned plenty about this medium too… Overhaul due. Thanks fr the support! 🙂

  4. 24/01/2012 4:57 am

    wonderful article!
    Tymoshenko is in prison now …

  5. 24/01/2012 10:59 am

    This looks like a very interesting post. I have to come back to it when I have more time to look at it in detail.


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