Catching Up With Others, U.S. and UN Look Set to Elect Female Leaders

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June 14, 2016 – Later this year, it looks likely that both the United Nations and the United States will respectively elect female leaders. What is remarkable in both these instances is not that women will head both the world body and the world’s oldest democracy but that it will have taken both so long to elect a female leader.

Since its inception in 1945 eight men have held the post of secretary-general, despite UN agencies being at the forefront of advocating for gender equality. But five of the nine current candidates for the post are women and it appears that, more out of a sense of embarrassment than real commitment to gender equality, that the P5 members of the Security Council will nominate one of the five women for the post.

In the case of the United States, all 44 presidents have been men while women have never represented more than 20 percent of elected members of congress, far less for women of color. Only 35 women have ever served in the US Senate.

If elected, Hillary Clinton will be one of some twenty women who are currently either president or prime minster of a UN member state. In total, almost 70 women have served as president or prime minister. Presidents are typically elected directly while prime ministers take office as head of a party that has won the most seats in an election.

Below is a list of current female presidents or prime minsters of UN member states followed by lists of past female presidents and prime ministers, followed by the year first elected. A number in brackets indicates the number of women to hold the post of president or prime minister for a particular country.

Current Female Leaders:

Germany – Chancellor Angela Merkel 
Liberia – President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson 
Bangladesh – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina
Lithuania – President Dalia Grybauskaite
South Korea – President Park Geun-hye
Brazil – President Dilma Rouseff
Slovenia – Prime Minister Alenka Brautsek
Norway – Prime Minister Erna Solberg
Chile – President Michelle Bachelet
Malta – President Marie-Louise Coleiro
Poland – Prime Minister Beata Szydło
Croatia – President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
Namibia – Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila
Mauritius – President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim
Nepal – President Bidhya Devi Bhandari
Marshall Islands – President
 Hilda Heine

Past Female Presidents:

Argentina 1974 (2)
Iceland 1980
Malta 1982
Philippines 1986 (2)
Nicaragua 1990
Ireland 1990 (2, only country where a woman has succeeded another as president)
Sri Lanka 1994
Guyana 1997
Switzerland 1999 (6 [one year terms])
Latvia 1999
Panama 1999
Finland 2000
Indonesia 2001
Serbia 2002
Liberia 2006
Chile 2006 (2)
Kyrgyzstan 2010
Costa Rica 2010
Malawi 2014
Central African Republic 2014 (interim)
Senegal 2014

Prime Ministers

Sri Lanka 1960 (3)
India 1966
Israel 1969
CAR 1975
UK 1979
Dominica 1980
Norway 1981 (3)
Yugoslavia 1982
Pakistan 1988
Bangladesh 1991
Poland 1992
Turkey 1992
New Zealand 1997
Senegal 2001
Sao Tome 2002
Mozambique 2004
Ukraine 2005
Jamaica 2006 (2)
South Korea 2006
Haiti 2008 (2)
Iceland 2009
Croatia 2009
Australia 2010
Finland 2010
Slovakia 2010
Thailand 2011
Slovenia 2011

Trinidad 2011
Denmark 2011
Jamaica  2006 (2)
Latvia 2014