Mar 10, 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.

Go deeper: Female protesters often lead to effective mass movements

Go deeper

International Women's Day and the glass ceiling

Data: Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Women running for national and state office may be on track to break the record-setting runs and gains of 2018, as Republicans try to catch up with their Democratic counterparts.

Yes, but: The Super Tuesday results, and Elizabeth Warren's withdrawal, effectively ended any chance that this will be the year a woman wins the presidency. On International Women's Day this weekend, it's worth remembering that the struggle to reach the White House masks a lot of real progress at lower levels.

In mayors' offices, men far outnumber women

Data: Axios research; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Out of the 50 largest U.S. cities, only 15 have female mayors. That proportion stays the same when looking at the largest 100 cities: 70% of mayors are men.

The big picture: Women are running for office at every level of government. Although Elizabeth Warren's withdrawal effectively ended the chance of electing a woman to the presidency this year, there's progress elsewhere.

Female protesters often lead to effective mass movements

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images, Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images, and ANWAR AMRO/AFP via Getty Images

Gender-based violence, WhatsApp message taxes and the rising cost of bread have set off some of the largest protests in the past year, and women were among the first in the streets, often risking their personal safety.

Driving the news: Women in Mexico have organized "A Day Without Us," a national strike on March 9, to coincide with International Women's Day. Women are encouraged to "disappear": to stay at home, away from work, out of stores and off the streets to highlight their vital role, The New York Times writes.

Go deeperArrowMar 9, 2020 - World