Number of countries with women in highest position of executive power 1960-2020

The highest position of executive power has been held by a woman in just 57 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 twelve, 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 Dame Eugenia Charles of Dominica (14 years, 328 days), Angela Merkel of Germany (currently in her 14th year, but could be around 15 years and 10 months at the end of her term), 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 (just over 16 years in total).

Slow progress

Since 1960, 71 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 December 08. 2019, when Sanna Marin was appointed as the third female Prime Minister of Finland. Despite this growth 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). At the beginning of 2020 there were 15 UN member states with female leaders, although this number dropped to just 13 in the first three weeks of 2020.

Number of countries where the highest position of executive power was held by a woman, in each year from 1960 to 2020*

Number of countries
202015
201918
201814
201714
201614
201514
201417
201317
201215
201115
201014
200910
20086
20077
20067
20056
20047
20037
20026
20016
20004
19995
19984
19977
19967
19958
19949
19938
19926
19916
19906
19895
19885
19874
19865
19853
19845
19834
19824
19814
19805
19793
19780
19772
19764
19754
19744
19733
19723
19713
19703
19692
19681
19671
19661
19651
19641
19631
19621
19611
19601
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Sources

Release date

January 2020

Region

Worldwide

Survey time period

1960-2020

Supplementary notes

*As of January 20, 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 (all three of which have had 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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