While most countries have been ruled almost entirely by men throughout their histories, more and more countries are electing women to high political offices, including heads of state. According to the United Nations' UN Women division, 26 women were serving as Heads of State and/or Government in 24 countries as of September 01, 2021. Many of these women are earning praise for their innovative and effective leadership and for offering unique and fresh perspectives on the challenges their countries face.
A sampling of female heads of state
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, is widely credited with enacting policies that minimized the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in her country. Her no-nonsense approach included quickly shutting down the country and isolating virus cases, which enabled New Zealand to become the first country to reopen safely. The small island country of Iceland also has a female prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir. Iceland has a history of electing female heads of state since becoming the first country to do so in 1980. Jakobsdottir has helped spearhead policies to make Iceland entirely carbon-neutral by 2040 and has also revamped the country’s economy following the fallout of the 2008 economic collapse.
Saara Kuugongelwa, now the prime minister of Namibia, was exiled from her home country at just 13 years old. She went on to earn a doctorate in economics. Her fight against corruption, coupled with her insistence on sound fiscal policies, has led to the country’s first budget surplus in its history. Nepal’s president, Bidhya Devi Bhandari, has emphasized the need for gender equality, especially in light of the devastating earthquake the decimated the country in 2015. In Bangladesh, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, a former political prisoner, opened her country’s doors to the Rohingya refugees fleeing genocide in their home country of Myanmar.
While the United States has yet to elect a female president, it too is making strides in the area of gender equality. In 2022, one quarter of the United States Congress is made of female representatives and senators, and Kamala Harris is currently serving as the first female vice president—as well as the first African-American and the first Asian-American vice president—in U.S. history.