It takes guts and a lot more to step out of the home and make the world dance to your tune. Here is a list of women who proved themselves more than equal to men and reached the topmost elected or selected posts in their respective country
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth II or Elizabeth Alexandra Mary the first child of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) is Queen of the United Kingdom and 15 other Commonwealth realms. She created history as the longest-reigning monarch in September 2015, when she surpassed the previous record of 63 years and 216 days on the throne set by Queen Victoria (her great-great-grandmother). She is the longest-serving female head of state, the world’s oldest living monarch, the longest-reigning current monarch, as well as the oldest and longest-serving current head of state. She has four children: Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York; and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Interestingly she made the following broadcast to the British Commonwealth on her 21st birthday in 1947, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Kamla Harris On August 11, 2020, Kamla Harris accepted Joe Biden’s invitation to become his running mate and help unite the nation. She is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected Vice President, as was the case with other offices she has held. Harris assumed office as the first woman vice president of the United States on January 20, 2021. She is, however, determined not to be the last.
Indira Gandhi- was the first female prime minister and the second longest-serving Indian prime minister from January 1966 to March 1977 and again from January 1980 until her assassination in October 1984. When she first took over as the Prime Minister, the media and opposition parties dismissed her as ‘Goongi Gudiya’ (dumb doll/puppet) but her strong-handed policies particularly during the Indo-Pak war in 1971 that led to the liberation of Bangladesh made even opposition leaders like Atal Bihari Vajpayee hail her as ‘Goddess Durga’. Her name was included among the world’s 100 powerful women who defined last century by Time Magazine in 2020. She is amongst the first Indians whose wax statue is at Madame Tussauds, London.
Margaret Thatcher- served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990. She was the longest-serving British prime minister and the first woman to hold that office. Her uncompromising politics and leadership style as the prime minister gave rise to the term Thatcherism and made her die-hard critics call her an “Iron Lady”. Thatcher resigning by following unrest among members of her own Conservative Party. But years later she became the first living ex-prime minister in British history to be honoured with a statue — opposite a statue of Winston Churchill in the lobby of the House of Commons in 2007.
Golda Meir the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics served as the fourth Prime Minister of Israel. She was the world’s fourth and Israel’s first and only woman Prime Minister. She was often portrayed as the “strong-willed, straight-talking, grey-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people. David Ben-Gurion the first Prime Minister of Israel jokingly used to call her “the best man in the government”. Meir but resigned on April 10, 1974, to let others lead. She was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin. Her autobiography, My Life, appeared in 1975.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (Myanmar) spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010. Hailed as “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless” she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while still under house arrest in 1991. Daughter of Myanmar’s General Aung San she was only two years old when her father was assassinated just before Myanmar gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948. Despite her landslide electoral victory in 2015, the Myanmar constitution forbade her from becoming president because her husband and children are foreign nationals. Hence she assumed the newly created role of State Counselor a term coined akin to the prime minister or head of government. Aung San Suu Kyi was once again arrested by the military on 1 February 2021 after it declared the November 2020 Myanmar general election results fraudulent. Curiously her name Aung San Suu Kyi does not include any surname, just borrows the first name “Aung San” from her father, “Suu” from her paternal grandmother, and “Kyi” from her mother Khin Kyi. The Burmese refer to her as Amay Suu (meaning Mother) or Daw Aung San Suu Kyi or meaning “aunt”, or an older and revered woman.
Sheikh Hasina- is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the ‘father’ of the Bengali Nation, and the first President of Bangladesh. Her father and most of her family were assassinated during a military coup by members of the Bangladesh Army while she was out of Bangladesh on 15 August 1975. Hasina was not allowed to return until she was elected to lead the Awami League Party on 16 February 1981 while living in a self-exile in India. She has been leading the Bangladesh Awami League (AL) since 1981. She is the 10th and the longest-serving Prime Minister of Bangladesh since January 2009. One of the most powerful women in the world, she ranked 26th on Forbes Magazine’ list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2018. Even Time magazine featured her among 100 Most Influential People in the World of 2018.
Benazir Bhutto the daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and firebrand leader of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in the early 1980s was the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim majority country. She served as Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. The PPP lost the election in 1997 and she was forced to seek asylum in Dubai. She was subsequently assassinated in 2007.
Khaleda Zia- the leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) founded by her late husband and President of Bangladesh Ziaur Rahman in the late 1970s served as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996, and again from 2001 to 2006. She was the first woman in Bangladesh’s history and second in the Muslim majority countries (after Benazir Bhutto) to head a democratic government as prime minister. The Forbes magazine ranked her among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 2004, 2005, 2006. However, her party was routed in the 2018 election, when managed to win only six out of 300 seats in Parliament. Khaleda Zia was sentenced to a 17-year prison term by a local court for alleged embezzling foreign donations meant for an orphanage, named after her slain husband in February 2018. However, she has been freed on humanitarian grounds with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s approval because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Significantly her conviction on “moral turpitude” charges bars her from contesting the polls in future.
Chandrika Kumaratunga was the fifth and only female President of Sri Lanka, from 12 November 1994 to 19 November 2005. Call it a rare coincidence but she happens to be the daughter of two former prime ministers. Her father S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike an Oxford-educated barrister became the Leader of the Opposition in 1952 and Prime Minister in 1956. He was assassinated in 1959 when Chandrika was just fourteen. This is when her mother Sirimavoh Bandaranaike who was described by her opponents as a “kitchen woman” – who knew all about cooking but nothing about running a country took over the reins of the SLFP party and led it to electoral victory. Sirimavoh Bandaranaike became the first female prime minister in the world in 1960.
Megawati Sukarnoputri or Dyah Permata Megawati Setiawati Sukarnoputri was the fifth president of Indonesia, Indonesia’s first female president and the sixth woman to lead a Muslim-majority country. She is the eldest daughter of Sukarno, the first president of Indonesia from 1945 to 1967 and leader of the Indonesian struggle for independence from the Dutch Empire. She is often referred to as simply Megawati or Mega, derived from Sanskrit meaning ‘cloud goddess’. She came to power following the impeachment of Abdurrahman Wahid but could not complete her full term and just lasted 3 years, 89 days. She lost the 2004 presidential election to her former cabinet minister.
Pratibha Patil – served as the 12th President of India (from 2007 to 2012) and the only woman to hold the office. Before taking over as President, she served as the 17th Governor of Rajasthan, and the first woman to hold that office. Though labelled as a pro-Congress or “low-profile” candidate, Patil made it clear from the very beginning that she had no intention of being a “rubber-stamp president”. She took office as India’s first woman president on 25 July 2007 and retired in July 2012. During her term in office, she is understood to have commuted the death sentences of 35 petitioners to life imprisonment- a record. Patil was noted for having spent more money on foreign trips and having taken a greater number of foreign trips, than any previous president. Some of the other controversies during her tenure include over a dozen foreign trips to some 22 countries with as many as 11 family members in the entourage costing Rs 205 crore (Rs 2.05 billion) and diversion of public funds to build a post-retirement mansion on a 260,000 square feet military land in Pune.
Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Bidhya Devi Bhandari- served as the 2nd President of Nepal and the first woman to hold the office in Nepal. Before this, she has served as the first woman Minister of Defence, as well as Minister for Environment. She has been an active campaigner for environmental awareness and women rights. President Bidya Devi Bhandari made news in December 2020 when she dissolved the country’s parliament amidst political turmoil.
Kersti Kaljulaid is the fifth and first female (as well as current) President of Estonia since 10 October 2016. She is the first female head of state since Estonia became independent in 1918. At 51 Kersti Kaljulaid born on 30 December 1969 also happens to be the second-youngest President. Kaljulaid became the first Estonian to be featured in the Forbes magazine’s list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women, (placed at 78th) and ranked 22nd among the most influential female political leaders.
Zuzana Čaputová – a 48-year-old lawyer and environmental activist has been President of Slovakia. Čaputová is the first woman to hold the presidency, as well as the youngest president in the history of Slovakia. She was just 45 when she was first elected President by the people for a five-year term on 15 June 2019. In Slovakia, the president is directly elected and can be elected for a maximum of two consecutive terms. The president of the Slovak Republic is the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.