Jefferson M Fish Ph.D.

Looking in the Cultural Mirror

How Much of the World Has Been Governed by a Woman?

How much of the world has chosen women leaders?

Posted Oct 14, 2015

Wikimedia Commons
President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil (right) with the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, in Rio de Janeiro, 2012
Source: Wikimedia Commons

I began with a question: What proportion of the world’s population has been governed by women? It turns out that, even if you exclude queens and empresses, who inherited their power, and limit consideration to the 20th century, or even 1950 to the present, this is not an easy question to answer.

To begin with, there are different systems of government, so the person at the top gets there through different processes, and has different titles and different powers. Also, the same title–for example, President–has different meanings in different places. Our President is elected via the Electoral College following a nation-wide vote, and is the head of the Executive branch of government. In some parliamentary democracies, the Prime Minister is the person in charge, and is chosen indirectly by a vote of the elected representatives of the largest party in the ruling coalition. If there is also a President, that person’s role may be largely ceremonial, such as greeting visiting dignitaries.

Then, since women ruled different countries at different times, the populations of those countries, and of the world, varied depending on when they were in office. We can use a shortcut, by considering the current population of each country in doing our calculations; but we have to remember that doing so will give extra weight to countries with higher birthrates. For example, India today has roughly 2.5 times its population in 1966, when Indira Gandhi first became Prime Minister; but Latvia, whose current Prime Minister is Laimdota Straujuma, has seen its population decline by about 15% over the same period of time.

Interestingly, women of all major religions and no religion have been elected as leaders of their countries. Here is a brief list:

Protestant: Margaret Thatcher—United Kingdom

Catholic: Corazon Aquino—Philippines

Jewish: Golda Meir—Israel

Muslim: Benazir Bhutto—Pakistan

Hindu: Indira Gandhi—India

Buddhist: Sirimavo Bandaranaike—Ceylon/Sri Lanka

Agnostic/Atheist: Julia Gillard—Australia

Lots of women are ruling right now, including in large countries like Brazil (population > 200 million) and Germany (population > 80 million). Here is a list of 21 Female World Leaders Currently in Power.

And here are some additional lists of large numbers of women who are heads of governments that I came across on the internet: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Considering all of the above, it would seem a conservative estimate to say that a majority of the world—probably a substantial majority—has been governed by a woman.

But not the United States.

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