Women in politics: 60 years of milestones

Published: 04:54 PM, 17 Jul, 2020
Women in politics: 60 years of milestones
Caption: On July 21, 1960 in Sri Lanka, Sirima Bandaranaike became the world's first democratically elected female head of government.
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On July 21, 1960 in Sri Lanka, Sirima Bandaranaike became the world's first democratically elected female head of government.

Here is a look back at sixty years of milestones for women in politics:

First head of government

Sirima Bandaranaike followed in the footsteps of her husband when she took the post of prime minister of Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, on July 21, 1960. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike had become the country's leader in 1956 but three years later he was assassinated by an extremist Buddhist priest.

She remained at the helm till 1965, and would serve another two mandates, from 1970 to 1977, and then when her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga was president, from 1994 to 2000. In her last term the role of prime minister in the country had become ceremonial.

Not long after Bandaranaike, in neighbouring India in 1966, Indira Gandhi became the country's first female prime minister. The daughter of Indian independence icon Jawahrlal Nehru remained in power till 1977 and was then elected again in 1980. Four years later she was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards following a deadly confrontation between Indian security forces and Sikh separatist militants at the Golden Temple in Punjab state.

First elected president

In 1980 Iceland became the first country to democratically elect a woman as president, Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Six years earlier in Argentina Isabel Peron had been named president of the country, but without an election.

Finnbogadottir was re-elected three times, serving until 1996, and faced no opposition in the elections of 1984 and 1992. The role of president in Iceland is mostly ceremonial and Finnbogadottir focused on raising the country's profile internationally.

First gender parity government

In 1995 Sweden became the world's first gender parity government, made up of eleven women and ten men.

Twenty years later Sweden became the first country in the world to describe itself officially as "feminist", meaning "gender equality is central to the Government's priorities -– in decision-making and resource allocation", according to its website.

Since then Spain and Canada have made similar moves.

First female majority parliament

In the period following the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, the population was majority female and in 2003 the government pledged to give women a more prominent position in politics. The country's constitution that year included the requirement that at least 30 percent of positions of responsiblity in government should be occupied by women.

In 2008 Rwanda went beyond this quota, becoming the first country in the world to have a majority female parliament.

Universal suffrage everywhere

In 2015, Saudi Arabia became the last country in the world to give its female citizens the right to vote, some 118 years after New Zealand was the first to do so in 1893.

While there have been some reforms, including the lifting of bans on female drivers, women's rights in the country continue to be among the most restricted in the world.

Progress and glass ceilings

In 2020 Germany was the only country in the G7 group to have a woman at its helm, with its Chancellor Angela Merkel. The first woman to head a G7 country was Britain's Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

For the most part however the major powers are still led by men. The United States, Russia, China and Japan have never been led by a woman.


Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.