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, and New Zealand 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, 76 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, with Honduras' first female president set to take office on January 27. 2021 saw the end of womens' reigns in Germany, Myanmar, and Norway, but the first time ascent of women in Estonia, Samoa, Sweden and Tanzania. 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).
Number of countries where the de facto highest position of executive power was held by a woman from 1960 to 2022*
Number of countries to have had a female leader in the calendar year
*January 17, 2022. Has been adjusted to include Xiomara Castro, who will become the President of Honduras on January 27.
This data refers to all countries that are current (or defunct, i.e. Yugoslavia) United Nations member states. This list does not include non-member states, such as Taiwan (which currently has a female leader).
This data was compiled from various sources, mostly from The Council of Women World Leaders and Encyclopedia Britannica, but also the official website of the Austrian, Barbadian, and Nepalese governments, as well as news outlets such as the BBC, RNZ, and peoplepill.
This data deals with the de facto leaders of countries, and does not include women who have held the title of President or Prime Minister who served in either a ceremonial role, or as deputy to another leader. For example, while Ireland has had two female Presidents, this is not included as executive power lies with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister).
This data shows the number of countries with women in the highest position of executive power at any point in that year, not how many women held these roles simultaneously.
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Statista. (January 17, 2022). Number of countries where the de facto highest position of executive power was held by a woman from 1960 to 2022* [Graph]. In Statista. Retrieved January 19, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1058345/countries-with-women-highest-position-executive-power-since-1960/
Statista. "Number of countries where the de facto highest position of executive power was held by a woman from 1960 to 2022*." Chart. January 17, 2022. Statista. Accessed January 19, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1058345/countries-with-women-highest-position-executive-power-since-1960/
Statista. (2022). Number of countries where the de facto highest position of executive power was held by a woman from 1960 to 2022*. Statista. Statista Inc.. Accessed: January 19, 2022. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1058345/countries-with-women-highest-position-executive-power-since-1960/
Statista. "Number of Countries Where The De Facto Highest Position of Executive Power Was Held by a Woman from 1960 to 2022*." Statista, Statista Inc., 17 Jan 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1058345/countries-with-women-highest-position-executive-power-since-1960/
Statista, Number of countries where the de facto highest position of executive power was held by a woman from 1960 to 2022* Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1058345/countries-with-women-highest-position-executive-power-since-1960/ (last visited January 19, 2022)