Only 17 Women Lead Governments In The World

The mythical blue of the outfits worn by Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to lead the United Kingdom (1979-1990) – and a government in Western Europe – used to be the only note of color in the highest-level political summits among so many men in a dark suit If we were to take that same photograph now, more than three decades later, the female presence would be greater. But, despite the advances, politics is still a world of men.

The presence of women in politics: "Do we have to wait 107 years to overcome the gender gap?"

The presence of women in politics: “Do we have to wait 107 years to overcome the gender gap?”


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Of 196 territories analyzed by –the 193 UN Member States, in addition to Kosovo, Palestine and Taiwan–, only 16 have a woman as head of government. In other words, 9% of the world’s governments are in the hands of women. This Thursday, one more woman, Xiomara Castro will become part of this list after her inauguration as president of Honduras, bringing the total to 17.

The list includes eight European women: Ana Brnabić in Serbia, Ingrida Šimonytė in Lithuania, Kaja Kallas in Estonia, Katrín Jakobsdóttir in Iceland, Magdalena Andersson in Sweden, Mette Frederiksen in Denmark, Natalia Gavrilița in Moldova and Sanna Marin in Finland. There are also four African women: Najla Bouden Romdhane in Tunisia, Robinah Nabbanja in Uganda, Rose Christiane Raponda in Gabon and Victoire Tomegah-Dogbé in Togo.

Two women in America join the list: Mia Mottley in Barbados and Castro in Honduras; two in Oceania: Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand and Naomi Mata’afa in Samoa, and one in Asia: Sheikh Hasina, in Bangladesh.

Another 11 more women in the world hold the position of head of state, which are positions of a more representative nature than executive and, therefore, their functions are mainly ceremonial and diplomatic. This figure does not include Queens Margaret II of Denmark and Elizabeth II of England, who is currently head of state in 15 countries, after Barbados officially became a republic in November.

The British monarch continues to reign in nations such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as Caribbean and Pacific island states, although she only plays a purely ceremonial role. There is also the figure of the governors general who represent the queen. There are three women governors, in Canada, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

New president in Honduras

In most nations where there are female heads of government or state, it is the first time that a woman has held that high position. Honduras is one of them: for the first time in its history a woman will lead the Government.

Xiomara Castro, of the left-wing Libertad y Refundación (Libre) party, will become president this Thursday, putting an end to the conservative government that Juan Orlando Hernández has led for 12 years, pointed out by US prosecutors for his alleged links to drug trafficking.

Castro also comes to power in the midst of a new political crisis, after last Friday about twenty deputies from his own formation did not respect an internal pact and voted for another candidate to preside over Congress.

The new president, 62 years old and wife of former president Manuel Zelaya -who fell after a coup in 2009-, receives a country plagued by corruption, violence and organized crime, where the lack of opportunities and poverty forces in many times its population to emigrate in search of a better life.

In Honduras, a traditionally conservative country, the challenges in terms of gender equality are many. With less than 10 million inhabitants, it leads the number of femicides in the region, 4.7 per 100,000 women, according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), and every three hours a sexual assault is reported. Honduras is also one of the few nations in the world where abortion is prohibited under any circumstances.

Castro’s arrival in power could lead to advances in women’s rights, since his government plan includes measures such as “incorporating the gender perspective through equal participation in all political processes” and the decriminalization of abortion in three cases: when there is risk to the life of the mother, malformation of the fetus or rape.

“It is not just that a woman has become president, but that she established a dialogue with women’s organizations and agrees with feminist demands such as decriminalizing abortion, on at least three grounds, and that is progress,” she tells is Honduran political scientist Breny Mendoza, professor at California State University, Northridge.

Why are there so few female heads of state and government?

Castro thus becomes the only woman currently presiding over a government in the entire American continent, with the exception of the small Caribbean island of Barbados, where Mia Mottley was re-elected in the elections on January 19 as prime minister. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, Paula Mae Weekes is the head of state and has no executive power. In the rest of the continents, the number of women in power is also comparatively low.

The fact that a woman or several women reach the highest leadership positions “does not guarantee that the statistics on the current world map of women in politics will change, nor will the gender or feminist agendas advance, but it does a great symbolic value and it is something to celebrate,” says Virginia García Beaudoux, researcher and professor at the University of Buenos Aires.

Margaret Thatcher herself was a pioneer in politics, but during the 11 years that she occupied the head of the British Government she surrounded herself mainly with men and did not exercise power by encouraging women to run for public office. His presence, however, paved the way for other policies.

Historically, power has been a male prerogative. Women, relegated to the domestic-private space, have had to fight first for their right to vote and then for gender quotas and parity in decision-making spaces. Despite the fact that there are currently advanced regulatory frameworks that protect women’s rights, there are still legislative and practical barriers.

One of the main obstacles, according to the experts from the #NoSinMujeres Network of Political Scientists consulted by, are gender stereotypes, since prejudice towards female leaders occurs above all in highly masculinized contexts such as politics. “In them, an inconsistency arises between the expected social roles for the female gender and the expected role of a leader,” says García Beaudoux.

“The lack of correspondence between the characteristics that are culturally associated with leadership –competitiveness, rationality, assertiveness and strength–, and the traits that are stereotypically considered feminine –emotionality, submission and weakness–, feeds erroneous perceptions and the false belief that a woman is not capable of performing leadership as well as a man”, says the Argentine researcher. On the other hand, “politics is power” and that power has historically been in the hands of men “and it is difficult for them to feel happy to give it up or share it,” he adds.

Another of the great obstacles has to do with the structure of the political formations themselves. “It is not a problem of supply or demand. The main problem is the political parties. It is very difficult for women to be appointed (to be candidates), and if there are, it is because there was legislation that forced the parties to promote and appoint eligible women and give them the necessary contributions to carry out their campaigns”, says Julieta Suárez-Cao, professor of Political Science at the Catholic University of Chile.

Domestic and care work, an unpaid job that falls mainly on women, also makes it difficult for them to access political positions, especially those of leadership. In addition, as women have increased their participation in politics, violence against them has also increased. “Women suffer more physical attacks, threats, harassment on social networks and in parliaments themselves, and that is also an obstacle. These institutions are hostile to women and they must be changed,” says Suárez-Cao.

More women in parliament

Although the number of female heads of government and state around the world is around thirty, which represents about 9% of all countries and territories, the global proportion of women in parliament has increased in the last year to reach 25.9%, according to the latest data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) corresponding to November 2021.

This increase is due “to the (gender) quota laws and to the positive actions that have been incorporated to get women into politics,” says Arantxa Elizondo, professor of Political Science at the University of the Basque Country and also a member of the Network of Political Scientists. This is proof, in his opinion, that “if we left things at the dawn of the spontaneity of social change, we would have a negligible percentage of women in all areas of decision-making.”

According to these latest data from the IPU, in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and North America (USA and Canada), women occupy around 30% of parliamentary seats, while in North Africa they occupy 20%, in Western Asia 16% and Oceania 12% of those charges.

The IPU also points out that electoral gender quotas were applied in 25 of the 57 countries in which parliament was renewed in 2020. On average, parliaments with quotas elected 11.8% more women to single and lower houses and 7.4% more women to upper houses.

Although parity laws are necessary tools to promote these changes, they are insufficient, as they must be accompanied by cultural changes, according to the experts. “It is urgent not only to modify the policies and formal processes for the equal incorporation of women in decision-making spaces, but also to modify the daily practices in the exercise of politics, and the cultural prejudices about the roles that women and men are expected to perform in society,” says García Beaudoux.

Although the data shows that there is still a long way to go to achieve parity between men and women in the political field, there are also examples such as Chile, whose president-elect, the leftist Gabriel Boric, has elected a ministerial cabinet that marks a historic milestone : the first majority-female government in the country’s history. As of March 11, a total of 14 women and 10 men will lead the country.



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