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Number of countries with women in highest position of executive power 1960-2021

The highest position of executive power has been held by a woman in just 58 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 thirteen 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 Northwestern Europe. Of these thirteen, New Zealand and Finland are the only countries to have had three female leaders, including the current Prime Ministers; Jacinda Ardern and Sanna Marin.

Longest-serving female leaders

The women who have served the longest consecutive terms in these positions are Angela Merkel of Germany (currently in her 15th year; will likely be around 15 years and 10 months at the end of her term), Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica (14 years, 328 days), and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia (12 years, 6 days). The longest non-consecutive terms were held by Indira Gandhi of India (16 years, 15 days) and the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina (almost 17 years in total).

Slow progress

Since 1960, 73 women have held the most powerful positions of executive power in their respective countries, although over one third of these women were acting in a temporary capacity, or they replaced previously-elected leaders and were never re-elected in their own right (the shortest term was held by Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, who was the Acting President of South Africa for just 14 hours in 2008). 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. The most recent addition to the list of female leaders was on March 13, 2020, when Katerina Sakellaropoulou was appointed as the first elected female President of Greece (although a number of women were elected Head of Government or more ceremonial Head of State roles throughout the year). Despite this growth in recent years, there has never been more than 19 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). Going into 2021, there are currently 12 UN member states with women in the highest position of executive power; although this number rises to 14 when Tsai Ing-Wen of the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the acting President of Kosovo, Vjosi Osmani, are included.

Number of countries where the highest position of executive power was held by a woman, in each year from 1960 to 2021*

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Sources

Release date

January 2021

Region

Worldwide

Survey time period

1960 to 2021

Supplementary notes

*As of January 04, 2020.

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 Kosovo, Taiwan or Transnistria (the first two of which currently have female leaders).

This data was compiled from various sources, mostly from The Council of Women World Leaders and Encyclopedia Britannica, but also Spiegel Online, Barbados.org, The Independent, peoplepill.com, politico.eu, publico.pt, sahistory.org.za, and The Guardian.

This data 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 (such as an executive President). For example, while Ireland has had two female Presidents, this is not included as executive power lies with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister). Similarly, Poland has had three female Prime Ministers, but is not included as executive power lies with the Polish President.

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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