The Petticoat Brigade: First Female Prime Ministers of the World

“Whether women are better than men I cannot say – but I can say they are certainly no worse.”

– Golda Meir

Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, has stated nothing but a fact. Yet, it took the world centuries to consider women to be equals to men. In fact, even today, standing in the 21st century, I can say that many still consider women to be inferior. There are people who still think women are not fit to be leaders. They have been continually thrust to the sidelines when it comes to politics. It was not until the 19th century that ladies won the right to vote. Years after that, a woman was elected to be a country’s Prime Minister for the first time in 1960. Since 1960, the highest political position has been held by a woman in only 63 countries.

Let us have a look at some of the extraordinary ladies who defied all odds and led their countries as Prime Ministers for the first time.

Sirimavo Bandaranaike

Country: Sri Lanka

Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon 1960 (cropped)

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was not only the first female Prime Minister but also the first-ever female head of government in the world. She first became elected as the Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka in 1960. It was shortly after the assassination of her husband, Prime Minister Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike in 1959. The widowed mother of three valiantly took up the role of Prime Minister and valiantly led her country till 1965. She also served as Prime Minister from 1970 to 1977 and from 1994 to 2000 till her death. Fun fact, Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga went on to be the first female Sri Lankan President. She served in office from 1994 to 2005.

Indira Gandhi

Country: India

<a title="Prime Minister's Office , GODL-India , via Wikimedia Commons” href=””&gt;Indira Gandhi official portrait

Photo credit: Prime Minister’s Office, GODL-India, via Wikimedia Commons

Indira Gandhi is India’s first and only female Prime Minister to date. Belonging to the illustrious Nehru-Gandhi family, Indira was familiar with politics from a young age. After all, she was the daughter of India’s first-ever Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Indira Gandhi was the Indian Prime Minister from 1966 to 1977 and from 1980 to 1984. The fearless lady had quite an eventful term. Throughout her 15 years in office, she adopted some bold policies. From trying to nationalize the country’s banks to warring with Pakistan resulting in the creation of Bangladesh, she did it all with her head held high. Gandhi also held a 21-month state of emergency wherein the press was muzzled and political opponents jailed. Sadly, in 1984, she was assassinated by her own two Sikh bodyguards. This led to countrywide riots and the massacre of thousands of Sikhs.

Golda Meir

Country: Israel

Golda Meir 03265u

Israel was established as a country only a short time ago in 1948. It took the Israelis only two decades to elect their first female Prime Minister. Golda Meir succeeded President Levi Eshkol and served as Israel’s Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974. Before her term as Prime Minister, she acted as the first Israeli ambassador to Moscow. Though not a very outspoken advocate of women’s rights, she undeniably plays an important role in Israel’s history.

Margaret Thatcher

Country: The United Kingdom

Margaret Thatcher stock portrait (cropped)

Photo credit: Probably Terence Donovan, Copyrighted free use, via Wikimedia Commons

Margaret Thatcher, also known as the Iron Lady, was a formidable woman. She is the United Kingdom’s first female Prime Minister. She was also the first lady to lead a political party in the UK when she became the head of her party in 1975. Thatcher remained Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Astonishingly, she was compelled to resign by her own party. In her eleven years in office, she accomplished a great many things. She implemented the right-to-buy scheme and changed the face of the UK’s business sector. Like Meir, Thatcher’s role in the feminist movement is murky. She had only appointed one woman to her cabinet throughout her term as the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, she was a strong woman who was not to be trifled with. She showed the world that females could effectively lead their countries while keeping a tight hold on foreign policies and not succumbing to political pressures. Thatcher proved that women could do anything. Being married and having children are not a hindrance in a woman’s path. Undoubtedly, the Iron Lady keeps inspiring young ladies worldwide almost a decade after her demise.

Benazir Bhutto

Country: Pakistan

Rueda de prensa de Felipe González y la primera ministra de Paquistán. Pool Moncloa. 14 de septiembre de 1994 (cropped 2)

Photo credit: Ministry of the Presidency. Government of Spain (Attribution or Attribution), via Wikimedia Commons

Benazir Bhutto was a one-of-a-kind woman. She became the first democratically elected leader of an Islamic majority country when she took over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. She was also the world’s youngest Prime Minister. Daughter of former Prime Minister Zakir Ali Bhutto, Benazir was a liberal and a secularist. After a lot of struggle, she served two terms as Prime Minister, one from 1988 to 1990 and another from 1993 to 1996. Her being a woman and an advocate of gender equality was not taken well by many of the core Islamises of the country. She was dismissed by the President during both of her terms on the grounds of corruption. Nevertheless, she trudged on. She continued her fight to establish a country where people of all genders and religions were treated equally. In 2007, she once again stood in the elections after she was allowed to return to Pakistan after her exile. Sadly, she was assassinated before the election ran its course. As the second democratically elected Prime Minister of Pakistan and a constant warrior in the upliftment of women, Bhutto will continue to be a role model, for not only Pakistani ladies but women all over the world.

Julia Gillard

Country: Australia

<a title="MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy), CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons” href=””&gt;Julia Gillard 2010

Photo credit: MystifyMe Concert Photography (Troy), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Julia Gillard was Australia’s first and only female prime minister. She became Australia’s twenty-seventh prime minister on June 24 2010. Gillard’s term as prime minister ended in June 2013. Before being appointed as the prime minister, Gillard served as the deputy prime minister. Under her administration, Australia made great strides in the economic sector, even when the world was undergoing a financial crisis. She made sure that Australia could benefit from Asia’s rise through her guiding policy paper, “Australia in the Asian Century.” Julia Gillard also had tremendous contributions in the fields of education, health, and telecommunications. She introduced policies that reformed education at every level. Gillard’s foreign policies strengthened Australia’s connections with the United States, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea. Gillard remains a prime example of stellar female leadership. Her speech in parliament in October 2012, brought worldwide attention to the treatment of women in professional and public life. Gillard is a patron of the Campaign for Female Education. CAMFED’s aim is to overcome poverty and inequality by helping girls attend school and empowering young ladies to become leaders of change. Gillard’s memoir, My Story, gives us valuable insights into her life and career. Julia Gillard is a formidable woman who continues her relentless work for people. She is indeed an inspiration for women worldwide.


Women are as capable as men and that is the truth. Once we all accept it, the world would be a much better place. When the suffragist movement started, naysayers had been warning people about petticoat governments. We have indeed come a long way from that. Women have battled sexism, discrimination, and unimaginable expectations among a million other things to reach where they are now. With 35% of the world’s countries already having women Prime Ministers, we can rightfully say that women have proved that despite all misgivings ladies can be amazing leaders.

Do vote and let us know which of these formidable ladies is your role model.

Note: All images on our site are in the public domain or are used with WordPress permission, unless stated otherwise.

2 thoughts on “The Petticoat Brigade: First Female Prime Ministers of the World

  1. Regarding Sirimavo Bandaranaike, I especially admire the courage it must have taken to be not only the first one to break the political glass ceiling but also a widowed mother. I didn’t know Australia had a female Prime Minister. That was great to learn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s great to see these women, but sadly female leaders are still in the minority. I wonder what the world would be like if most of the world leaders were women.

    Liked by 2 people

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