Sep 26, 2022 | Historical Data
Number of countries with women in highest position of executive power 1960-2022
The highest position of executive power has been held by a woman in just 63 countries since 1960. The first democratically elected female Prime Minister was Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, who took over the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party when her husband was assassinated in 1959. Bandaranaike successfully led her party to victory in three elections, in 1960, 1970 and 1994, however constitutional changes in the 1980s meant that her final term as Prime Minister was spent in a more ceremonial role, while the President now held the real executive power (although the President at this time was also a woman; Bandaranaike's daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga). Sri Lanka is one of just 14 countries that has had more than one woman in the highest position of executive power, and most of these countries can be found either in the Indian sub-continent or in Northern Europe. Of these thirteen, Finland, Moldova, New Zealand, and the UK are the only countries to have had three female leaders, including their current Prime Ministers.
Longest-serving female leaders
The women who have served the longest consecutive terms in these positions are Angela Merkel of Germany (16 years, 16 days), Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica (14 years, 328 days), and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia (12 years, 6 days). The longest combined non-consecutive terms were held by Indira Gandhi of India (16 years, 15 days) and the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina (over 18 years in total).
Since 1960, 77 women have held the most powerful positions of executive power in their respective countries. Since Bandaranaike was first elected in 1960, the number of women in power has grown slowly, with the fastest growth coming in the past twelve years. At the beginning of 2022, there were 14 countries led by women - these have been joined by Honduras and the UK since the year started, and Italy is set to elect its first female president in the coming weeks. Despite growing numbers of female leaders in recent years, there has never been more than 18 women in these positions of power in a single year, which is less than 10% of the number of men who have held these positions (as today, there are 193 UN member states).