Where Have Women Served as Heads of State?


As Hillary Clinton begins her campaign for the U.S. presidency, we take a look at where women have served as heads-of-state in the 20th century. (Huffington Post)

Map where women have led nations with today’s MapMaker Interactive map. Any of these women would be a great subjects for a biography book report!

Teachers, scroll down for a very quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Check out today's MapMaker Interactive map, which shows where—and when—women served as presidents or prime ministers.
Check out today’s MapMaker Interactive map, which shows where—and when—women served as presidents or prime ministers.

Discussion Ideas

  • The Huffington Post article outlines when women served as heads of state. What is a head of state? What are some titles associated with heads of state?
    • A head of state is the highest office in a nation. A head of state serves as a public representative of a nation, and is sometimes the leader of that nation’s government.
    • A head of state may be a president, prime minister, monarch, or military leader.
    • In nations that distinguish between a head of state and head of government, the head of state is usually the less-powerful, more symbolic role. For instance, Queen Elizabeth II is the symbolic head of state in the United Kingdom, but Prime Minister David Cameron is the head of government.



  • How have some of the women in the Huffington Post timeline become heads of state? Take a look through the bookmarks in today’s MapMaker Interactive map for some help.
    • Personal election. Many heads of state are directly or indirectly elected to office. For example:
      • President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil campaigned for the presidency in 2010, and Brazilians re-elected her after another campaign in 2014.
      • Isabel Peron, the world’s first female president, was elected as her husband’s vice president and assumed the role of president of Argentina upon his death in 1974.
    • Party election. In many nations, citizens vote for slates of candidates from different parties, not individuals. Parties sometimes change leadership while still in power.
      • The first modern female head of state, Ceylon’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike, was elected as part of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party in 1960. (Ceylon is now Sri Lanka.)
      • The Australian Labor Party elected Julia Gillard to replace a fellow party member as prime minister of Australia in 2010.
    • Appointment. A parliament, monarch, outgoing leader, or rebel/revolutionary group may appoint a person to office.
      • Elisabeth Domitien was appointed as the Central African Republic’s first prime minister by fellow independence leaders in 1975.
      • Roza Otunbayeva was appointed interim president of Kyrgyzstan following a series of riots and protests that led to the fall of the government in 2010.


  • Look through today’s MapMaker Interactive map. During what time period did many nations first elect or appoint female heads of state? Why?
    • Women began acting as heads of state largely during the 1990s and 2000s.
    • Women who participated and led civil rights and independence movements of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s were increasingly representing their nations in new governments during the 1990s and 2000s.
    • Today, women’s political roles are becoming more prominent as women who were girls at the time of civil rights movements begin to reap the benefits of those movements and participate in public office.



Huffington Post: Here’s When The Rest Of The World Elected Their First Female Leaders

Nat Geo: Where Have Women Served as Heads of State? map

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