The competition between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to become prime minister has been fierce, not only because it comes off the back of Boris Johnson’s controversial exit, but because both candidates have very differing views on running the country.
Truss will be the third woman to hold the title of Prime Minister of Great Britain but female leadership in world power is still a relatively modern phenomenon. To date, there have only been 63 countries since 1960 where a woman has held the highest position of executive power.
The year with the highest number of female world leaders was 2020. That year saw 18 countries out of 195 led by a woman, representing just 9% of countries worldwide. Here are the three most female-led countries in the world.
It’s important to note that the number of women to have held the highest position of power in their countries doesn’t relate to the individual women themselves, but the number of terms that they have been elected to the position.
Switzerland holds the record for the most elected women in power. Women have been elected as President of the Swiss Confederation on eight separate occasions since 1999 when Ruth Dreifuss was the first woman to hold the title. Since Dreifuss’ election, five more women were elected as President, with three of those women serving more than one term.
All the female Presidents of the Swiss Confederation:
- Ruth Dreifuss 1999
- Micheline Calmy-Rey 2007
- Doris Leuthard 2010
- Michelle Calmy-Rey 2011
- Everline Wilder-Schlumpf 2012
- Simonetta Sommaruga 2015
- Doris Leuthard 2017
- Simonetta Sommaruga 2020
Elected in 1980, one year after Margaret Thatcher came to power, Iceland’s first female president re-wrote the history books for female leadership. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was Iceland’s fourth president and the first democratically elected female president in the world.
Vigdís was first encouraged to run for president following the 1975 International Women’s Year. 90% of the Icelandic female population went on strike to demonstrate how valuable and underappreciated the work of women was in Iceland. Greatly encouraged by the women’s movement, Vigdís decided to run for president against three male counterparts.
The first election results were close, with Vigdís gaining 33.6% of the vote, narrowly beating the competition’s 32.1%, but if the Icelandic population was sceptical of Vigdís’ ability to lead, it didn’t take her long to change their mind. Four years later, Vigdís ran unopposed, and four years after that, she gained 94% of the vote over a female counterpart in 1988. For her final term, she ran unopposed again, and in 1996, she chose not to run for reelection.
As if claiming the title of first democratically elected woman to lead their country’s government, Vigdís went on to serve an impressive 16-year term making her the world’s longest-serving female head-of-state in any country to date.
Finland’s history of female leadership is unique in the makeup of its government. Finland has the position of President and Prime Minister. The President of Finland is the head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government.
Finland’s first female President, Tarja Halonen, was an unlikely candidate when she first announced her candidacy in 1999. Narrowly beating her two male opponents, Tarja’s left-wing political stance and unconventional personal life wasn’t typical of political leaders at the time. However, she quickly gained popularity with the Finnish public and served two full terms in office between 2000 and 2012. While there has only been one female president, Finland has had three female prime ministers taking charge of their government.
Anneli Tuulikki Jäätteenmäki: The first elected female prime minister, Anneli served for a short couple of months before resigning due to mounting pressures.
Mari Johanna Kiviniemi: Finland’s second female Prime Minister; Mari served one year as prime minister following the resignation of Prime Minister Vanhanen.
Sanna Marin: Finland’s current and third Prime Minister, Sanna, is the third youngest world leader. Taking office at just 34 years old, Sanna is both the youngest female world leader and the youngest person to hold office in Finnish history.
Female world leaders of note:
- In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first ever female Prime Minister in the world and was elected Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka three times.
- Khertek Anchimaa-Toka was the first non-royal female Chairwoman of Little Khural of the Tuvan People's Republic between 1940 and 1944
- Indira Gandhi was the third Prime Minister of India, and the first and only female Prime Minister to date. She was elected to the position twice and served collectively for nearly 15 years until her assassination.
- Golda Meir was the fourth Israeli President between 1969 and 1974 and the first woman to become head of government in Israel.
- Elisabeth Domitien was the first and only woman to date to serve as Prime Minister of the Central African Republic. She served for a little over a year between 1975 and 1976.