Following the recent change in British leadership when Theresa May took over as the Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation, we look at one of the most famous and successful woman heads of states all over the world. These leaders, in many cases, were the first to make their mark in the male-dominated order and left a lasting impression on their respective countries. Here we give you the first five names in the 10-name list to help you realise the role woman heads have played in shaping the world politics.
10. Sirimavo Raatwatte Dias Bandaranaike, Ceylon/Sri Lanka
(April 17, 1916 - October 10, 2000)
Prime Ministerial Terms: 1960-65, 1970-77, 1994-2000
Sirimavo Bandaranaike took the throne after the murder of her husband and Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike. She became world’s first woman Prime Minister when she took over post in 1960. She continued her husband’s socio-economical parties, exerted greater state control over industries and maintained international neutrality. Her pro-Sinhalese stance however alienated the large Tamil minority and it was proved decisive as she was later soundly defeated by the opposition.
Bandaranaike was instrumental in shaping the new constitution that created an executive presidency and made Ceylon into a republic named Sri Lanka. She was known to rule with a decisive mindset and applied the same when it came to raising her own family. She raised her family into perhaps the most powerful political family of the island, from which her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga went on to become the President of Sri Lanka in 1994. She returned for two more terms but resigned at the end of her third citing health issues. She died shortly after using her voting rights in the parliament.
9. Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, India
(November 19, 1917 - October 31, 1984)
Prime Ministerial Terms: 1966-77, 1980-84
Indira Gandhi, only child of one of the chief pioneers of the Indian independence movement Jawaharlal Nehru, rose to prominence after she was named as information and Broadcast Minister by Prime Minister Lal bahadur Shastri in 1964. After Shastri’s sudden death in the plane crash in 1966, she became the Prime Minister and held the post till ‘77 and later returned for a second term. She was instrumental in providing a stable leadership in the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war and establishing a Treaty of Friendship and Peace with the Soviet Union. She was charged with violation of election laws in 1971 and in 1975 the Supreme Court gave a verdict against her.
Gandhi decided to take matters in her own hands and declared emergency, capturing opposition leaders and announcing widespread reforms. This move proved to be suicidal as she was ousted from the office when she lost soundly against Janata Party (predecessor of Bharatiya Janata Party). Her second term was began with her new party named Congress (i) Party (i for Indira). She was often criticised for her dictator-like approach which was evident in her handling of Sikh riots when she employed the Indian Army against the Sikhs of Punjab. That move proved fatal for her as she was later murdered by her Sikh bodyguard in retaliation for what she did in Amritsar.
8. Golda Meir, Israel
(3 May, 1898 - 8 December 1978)
Prime Ministerial Term: 1969-74
The Ukraine-born Goldie Mabovitch (original name) was one the founders and the fourth Prime Minister of State of Israel. She joined the Zionist party after her education and later, along with her husband Morris Myerson, emigrated to Palestine and joined the Merẖavya kibbutz, an Israeli community. She rose through the ranks in politics vehemently opposed to British oppression. She was one of the signatories of the Israel’s independence declaration and that year was appointed minister to Moscow. Later, as the Labour Minister, she carried out works like housing and road construction and vigorously supported the policy of unrestricted Jewish immigration to Israel.She later Hebraized her name to Golda Meir as she became the Foreign Minister.
After Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s death in 1969, she became his successor and advocated for peace settlement in middle east. Fourth Arab-Israel war in 1973 was a shock to the latter for its lack of readiness. Meir’s career took a downward turn afterwards and she resigned in 1974. She died on October 8, 1978 after a 12-year long battle with Leukemia.
7. Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Great Britain
(October 13, 1925 - April 8, 2013)
Prime Ministerial Term: 1979-90
Margaret Thatcher, or better known as the Iron Lady, was Britain’s first woman Prime Minister and the first to be elected three times into the office. She showed interest in politics very early in her life and became one of the first woman presidents of the Oxford University Conservative Association. Thatcher got elected into the office shortly after she took over the Conservative Party leadership in 1974. She became the Prime Minister in 1975 and went on to serve three consecutive terms, becoming longest serving Prime Minister since 1827.
Thatcher was as decisive as she was divisive. Ruling with an iron hand, her initial period was marred with increasing unemployment and rising inflation. She privatised a number of industries like aerospace, gas and electricity, water, the state airline, and British Steel and lessened the emphasis on healthcare, education and housing. One of her major achievements was defeating Argentina in a war over the Falkland Islands. Following the war, she won a landslide victory gaining over 42 pc votes. Her single-mindedness and forceful determination was evident till the end when she stepped down in 1990. Regardless of her faults, she was credited for revolutionising the British economy by making it more liberal. Thatcher breathed her last on April 8, 2013, prompting an outpouring of tributes from friends and enemies alike.
6. Mary Eugenia Charles, Dominica
(May 15, 1919 - September 6, 2005)
Prime Ministerial Term: 1980-95
Known just as Eugenia Charles, the first woman Prime Minister of Dominica (not to be confused with Dominican Republic). She was the granddaughter of slaves but her family became rich due to the success of her father’s fruit export business. After completing her education, she went on to get a law degree from London school of Economic and Political Science. After returning to Dominca, she started her law practice, becoming the first woman to do so. She helped found Domincan Freedom Party, comprising of diverse groups that voiced dissents against the then British controlled Domincan government.
Charles rose to the rank of leader of the opposition and after her party won the elections in 1980, became the Prime Minister (Dominica became independent in 1978). She fought government corruption, tax evasion, refused to legalize casino gambling on the island. She sought close relations with the United States of America and supported the latter in their invasion of Grenada in 1983. She won two more terms and finally retired in 1995 after her party lost the elections. In her last term she was made Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE). She returned to her law practice after retiring from politics and also went on to give many speeches abroad. Called the ‘Iron Lady of the Caribbean’ Charles died on September 6, 2005 due to Pulmonary Embolism.
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