Mar 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Slow progress for female world leaders

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

While the U.S. has yet to break the presidential glass ceiling, 57 countries worldwide have been led by women since 1960.

The big picture: That year, former Sri Lankan prime minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the modern world's first female head of state. Finland and New Zealand have led the way in electing women since, with three women leaders each.

  • However, over a third of the 71 women leaders to take power since 1960 were "acting in a temporary capacity, or they replaced previously-elected leaders and were never re-elected in their own right," according to Statista.
  • There have never been more than 18 women heads of state in a single year, per Statista.
  • 15 women were heads of state in UN countries at the start of 2020, but that number has since dropped to 13.

Where things stand: There are few women at the top table among the world's most powerful nations. Germany's Angela Merkel is the only woman to lead a G20 country, while Ursula von der Leyen represents the EU as president of the European Commission.

  • China, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia have not had a female leader in modern times, along with the U.S.
  • Canada and France have each seen one woman take power and hand it over within a year, while Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri was briefly acting president in South Africa.
  • Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, South Korea and Turkey have each had one female leader, serving between 3 and 5 years.
  • The U.K. has been led by women twice, including 11 years under Margaret Thatcher.
  • Argentina has had two female presidents, both of whom succeeded their husbands.
  • India's only female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, served twice for a total of 16 years.
  • Angela Merkel's 14-year tenure makes her the longest-serving woman currently in office, and the longest-serving leader of any liberal democracy. She has said she'll step aside in 2021.

What to watch: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s departure from the 2020 presidential race means the U.S. won't have a woman president before 2025 at the earliest, though if a woman is elected vice president that would itself be unprecedented.

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