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11 countries with women leaders before America

Clockwise from top left: Michelle Bachelet, Margaret Thatcher, Dilma Rousseff,  Angela Merkel, Indira Gandhi, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Clockwise from top left: Michelle Bachelet, Margaret Thatcher, Dilma Rousseff, Angela Merkel, Indira Gandhi, and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.Wire photos

Hillary Clinton reached a milestone in American politics this week by becoming the first woman to secure a major party’s presidential nomination. But many other countries have already had women at the helm of their governments — and some as long as decades ago. From Margaret Thatcher to Dilma Rousseff, here are some of the world’s women leaders.

Indira Gandhi, prime minister of India 1966-1977, 1980-1984

Tim Graham/Getty Images/Getty Images

The daughter of India’s first prime minister, Indira Gandhi faced challenges within her party and was eventually expelled from it, leading her to form her own faction. Under her leadership, India won the the war with Pakistan in 1971, resulting in the formation of an independent Bangladesh. She was assassinated in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards in revenge for the Indian army’s attack on a Sikh shrine.


Golda Meir, prime minister of Israel 1969-1974

American Jewish Historical Society, New England Archives/American Jewish Historical Socie

As prime minister, Golda Meir sought peace with Arab states but waged war against Egypt and Syria when they attacked in 1973. She resigned from her position following the war, after some criticized Israel’s lack of preparedness.

Margaret Thatcher, prime minister of the United Kingdom, 1979-1990

Hulton Archive/Getty Images/Getty

Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady,” is one of the most well-known British politicians since Winston Churchill. She supported conservative economic policies and, was propelled to a second term with the success of the Falklands War against Argentina. In late 1990, facing pressure from members of her own party, Thatcher announced she would resign.

Mary Robinson, president of Ireland 1990-1997

Mary Robinson was a professor of law at Trinity College of Dublin before becoming president. She focused her time in office on human rights, visiting an embattled Somalia and Rwanda, which had suffered genocide, in 1994. Later, as the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, she criticized capital punishment in the United States and helped improve monitoring of human rights in Kosovo.

Kim Campbell, prime minister of Canada, June 1993-November 1993

In her four months as Canadian prime minister, Kim Campbell, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, created three new ministries — Health, Canadian Heritage, and Public Security. While she enjoyed a brief period of popularity, she was unseated soon after and her party suffered a major defeat.


Tarja Halonen, president of Finland, 2000-2012

Mark Baker/Associated Press

Tarja Halonen was an unconventional presidential candidate; aside from her being a woman, she was a single parent and had left the national church. She is known for her support of international human rights and sustainable development in Finland both in office and after.

Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, 2005-present


Angela Merkel, ranked the world’s most powerful woman by Forbes and often described as the de facto leader of the European Union, is known for her emphasis on practicality, rather than ideology, in politics. World leaders have applauded her for her policies on immigrant asylum within Germany, but she faced criticism for her handling of the eurozone debt crisis.

Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile 2006-2010, 2014-present


Michelle Bachelet became one of Chile’s most popular presidents after her economic policies saved the country from the worst of the 2008 financial downturn, which allowed the country to fund pension reforms and stimulus packages for job creation. Years later, in her second term (Chile does not allow consecutive terms), Bachelet has been plagued by a corruption scandal involving her son and a general lack of confidence in the government.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia, 2006-present


Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was the first woman to be elected as a head of state in an African country and was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize for her work in women’s rights. Before becoming president, she was imprisoned by military dictator Samuel Doe for criticizing his government. She came to power as the country was transitioning from a prolonged period of civil war, and as president she established a truth and reconciliation committee to investigate political corruption in the country.


Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, prime minister of Iceland, 2009-2013

Formerly a flight attendant and active in labor unions, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was a minister of social affairs for Iceland. Sigurðardóttir was the modern world’s first openly gay prime minister and focused her time in office on equality for women. She also pushed for Iceland to become a member of the European Union, though she did not succeed.

Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil 2011-2016 (currently suspended)

Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

Dilma Rousseff was politically active for most of her life, becoming involved in an urban guerilla group in her teenage years and eventually rising to power as former Brazilian president Lula da Silva’s minister of mines and energy. Her second term was marred by an impeachment trial as politicians accused her of corruption and the country experienced a downturn in its economy.

Meg Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.