Women Prime Ministers and Presidents: 20th Century
Global Women Political Leaders
By Jone Johnson Lewis,
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.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Sri Lanka
Prime Minister, 1960-1965, 1970-1977, 1994-2000.
Indira Gandhi, India
Prime Minister, 1966-77, 1980-1984.
Golda Meir, Israel
Prime Minister, 1969-1974.
Isabel Peron, Argentina
President, 1974-1976
Elisabeth Domitien, Central African Republic
Prime Minister, 1975-1976
Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain
Prime Minister, 1979-1990.
Maria da Lourdes Pintasilgo, Portugal
Prime Minister, 1979-1980.
Lidia Gueiler Tejada, Bolivia
Prime Minister, 1979-1980.
Dame Eugenia Charles, Dominica
Prime Minister, 1980-1995.
Vigdís Finnbogadóttír, Iceland
President, 1980-96.
Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway
Prime Minister, 1981, 1986-1989, 1990-1996.
Soong Ching-Ling, Peoples’ Republic of China
Honorary President, 1981.
Milka Planinc, Yugoslavia
Federal Prime Minister, 1982-1986.
Agatha Barbara, Malta
President, 1982-1987.
Maria Liberia-Peters, Netherlands Antilles
Prime Minister, 1984-1986, 1988-1993.
Corazon Aquino, Philippines
President, 1986-92.
Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan
Prime Minister, 1988-1990, 1993-1996.
Kazimiera Danuta Prunskiena, Lithuania
Prime Minister, 1990-91.
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, Nicaragua
Prime Minister, 1990-1996.
Mary Robinson, Ireland
President, 1990-1997.
Ertha Pascal Trouillot, Haiti
Interim President, 1990-1991.
Sabine Bergmann-Pohl, German Democratic Republic
President, 1990.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar (Burma)
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.
Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh
Prime Minister, 1991-1996.
Edith Cresson, France
Prime Minister, 1991-1992.
Hanna Suchocka, Poland
Prime Minister, 1992-1993.
Kim Campbell, Canada
Prime Minister, 1993.
Sylvie Kinigi, Burundi
Prime Minister, 1993-1994.
Agathe Uwilingiyimana, Rwanda
Prime Minister, 1993-1994.
Susanne Camelia-Romer, Netherlands Antilles
Prime Minister, 1993, 1998-1999
Tansu Çiller, Turkey
Prime Minister, 1993-1995.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, Sri Lanka
Prime Minister, 1994, President, 1994-2005
Reneta Indzhova, Bulgaria
Interim Prime Minister, 1994-1995.
Claudette Werleigh, Haiti
Prime Minister, 1995-1996.
Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh
Prime Minister, 1996-2001,2009-.
Mary McAleese, Ireland
President, 1997-.
Pamela Gordon, Bermuda
Premier, 1997-1998.
Janet Jagan, Guyana
Prime Minister, 1997, President, 1997-1999.
Jenny Shipley, New Zealand
Prime Minister, 1997-1999.
Ruth Dreifuss, Switzerland
President, 1999-2000.
Jennifer Smith, Bermuda
Prime Minister, 1998-2003.
Nyam-Osoriyn Tuyaa, Mongolia
Acting Prime Minister, July 1999.
Helen Clark, New Zealand
Prime Minister, 1999-2008.
Mireya Elisa Moscoso de Arias, Panama
President, 1999-2004.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvia
President, 1999-2007.
Tarja Kaarina Halonen, Finland
President, 2000-.
I’ve included Halonen because, by most reckonings, the year 2000 is actually part of the 20th century. (The year “0” didn’t exist, so a century starts with the year “1” – or so the logic goes.) 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. Likely many others will be on a list of Women Presidents and Prime Ministers for the 21st century. I’ve limited this list, however, to the history of women heads of state for the 20th century, and will not add anyone who took office after 2001.

Text copyright 1999-2010 © Jone Johnson Lewis.