Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century

Global Women Political Leaders

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Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century." ThoughtCo, Oct. 31, 2016, thoughtco.com/women-prime-ministers-presidents-20th-century-3530291. Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2016, October 31). Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/women-prime-ministers-presidents-20th-century-3530291 Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/women-prime-ministers-presidents-20th-century-3530291 (accessed October 18, 2017).
Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi, 1976
Sirimavo Bandaranaike and Indira Gandhi, 1976. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

How many women have served as Presidents or Prime Ministers in the 20th century? How many can you name?

I've listed women leaders of countries both large and small. Many names will be familiar; some will be unfamiliar to all but a few readers.

Some were highly controversial; some were compromise candidates. Some presided over peace; others over war. Some were elected; some were appointed. Some served briefly; others were elected; one, though elected, was prevented from serving.

Many followed into office their fathers or husbands; others were elected or appointed on their own reputations and political contributions. One even followed her mother into politics, and her mother served a third term as prime minister, filling the office left vacant when the daughter took office as president!

Follow the links on the names below, to find biographies, news articles, speeches and background information to learn more about these pioneer women leaders.

  1. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka
    Her daughter became president of Sri Lanka in 1994, and appointed her mother to the more ceremonial office of prime minister. The office of president was created in 1988 and given many of the powers the prime minister had had when Sirimavo Bandaranaike held the office.
    Prime Minister, 1960-1965, 1970-1977, 1994-2000.
  2. Indira Gandhi, India
    Prime Minister, 1966-77, 1980-1984.
  3. Golda Meir, Israel
    Prime Minister, 1969-1974.
  1. Isabel Peron, Argentina
    President, 1974-1976
  2. Elisabeth Domitien, Central African Republic
    Prime Minister, 1975-1976
  3. Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain
    Prime Minister, 1979-1990.
  4. Maria da Lourdes Pintasilgo, Portugal
    Prime Minister, 1979-1980.
  5. Lidia Gueiler Tejada, Bolivia
    Prime Minister, 1979-1980.
  6. Dame Eugenia Charles, Dominica
    Prime Minister, 1980-1995.
  1. Vigdís Finnbogadóttír, Iceland
    President, 1980-96.
  2. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway
    Prime Minister, 1981, 1986-1989, 1990-1996.
  3. Soong Ching-Ling, Peoples' Republic of China
    Honorary President, 1981.
  4. Milka Planinc, Yugoslavia
    Federal Prime Minister, 1982-1986.
  5. Agatha Barbara, Malta
    President, 1982-1987.
  6. Maria Liberia-Peters, Netherlands Antilles
    Prime Minister, 1984-1986, 1988-1993.
  7. Corazon Aquino, Philippines
    President, 1986-92.
  8. Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan
    Prime Minister, 1988-1990, 1993-1996.
  9. Kazimiera Danuta Prunskiena, Lithuania
    Prime Minister, 1990-91.
  10. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Nicaragua
    Prime Minister, 1990-1996.
  11. Mary Robinson, Ireland
    President, 1990-1997.
  12. Ertha Pascal Trouillot, Haiti
    Interim President, 1990-1991.
  13. Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, German Democratic Republic
    President, 1990.
  14. Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma (Myanmar )
    Her party won 80% of the seats in a democratic election in 1990, but the military government refused to recognize the results. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
  15. Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh
    Prime Minister, 1991-1996.
  16. Edith Cresson, France
    Prime Minister, 1991-1992.
  17. Hanna Suchocka, Poland
    Prime Minister, 1992-1993.
  18. Kim Campbell, Canada
    Prime Minister, 1993.
  19. Sylvie Kinigi, Burundi
    Prime Minister, 1993-1994.
  1. Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Rwanda
    Prime Minister, 1993-1994.
  2. Susanne Camelia-Romer, Netherlands Antilles
    Prime Minister, 1993, 1998-1999
  3. Tansu Çiller, Turkey
    Prime Minister, 1993-1995.
  4. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, Sri Lanka
    Prime Minister, 1994, President, 1994-2005
  5. Reneta Indzhova, Bulgaria
    Interim Prime Minister, 1994-1995.
  6. Claudette Werleigh, Haiti
    Prime Minister, 1995-1996.
  7. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh
    Prime Minister, 1996-2001,2009-.
  8. Mary McAleese, Ireland
    President, 1997-.
  9. Pamela Gordon, Bermuda
    Premier, 1997-1998.
  10. Janet Jagan, Guyana
    Prime Minister, 1997, President, 1997-1999.
  11. Jenny Shipley, New Zealand
    Prime Minister, 1997-1999.
  12. Ruth Dreifuss, Switzerland
    President, 1999-2000.
  13. Jennifer Smith, Bermuda
    Prime Minister, 1998-2003.
  14. Nyam-Osoriyn Tuyaa, Mongolia
    Acting Prime Minister, July 1999.
  1. Helen Clark, New Zealand
    Prime Minister, 1999-2008.
  2. Mireya Elisa Moscoso de Arias, Panama
    President, 1999-2004.
  3. Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvia
    President, 1999-2007.
  4. Tarja Kaarina Halonen, Finland
    President, 2000-.

I've included Halonen because the year 2000 is part of the 20th century. (The year "0" didn't exist, so a century starts with the year "1.")

As the 21st century arrived, yet another was added: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - President of the Philippines, sworn in on January 20, 2001. Mame Madior Boye became Prime Minister in Senegal in March of 2001. Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of founding head of state Sukarno, was selected as Indonesia's fifth president in 2001 after losing in 1999. I've limited the list above, however, to the history of women heads of state for the 20th century, and will not add anyone who took office after 2001 began.

Text © Jone Johnson Lewis.

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