Women currently serve as the head of government in just 13 of the 193 member states of the United Nations. And fewer than a third of UN countries have ever had a woman leader, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
In nine of the 13 UN member countries that are currently led by women, the current leader is the country’s first woman head of government. This includes three women who have taken office in the last year: Peru’s Dina Boluarte, Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Borjana Krišto. Roughly half of all current women leaders (seven of 13) are in Europe.
This Pew Research Center analysis examines the number of women leaders among member states of the United Nations since the end of World War II. The data in this analysis comes primarily from the Council on Foreign Relations’ Women’s Power Index, which was last updated March 29, 2021. The Center updated these figures through March 1, 2023, using independent sources and filtered to include only women heads of government, as defined by the country’s political system or constitution. Depending on the country, “head of government” could mean president or prime minister, but not both. In limited instances, this leader may not be the one who exercises the most power in their current government. Heads of state, monarchs and interim leaders are excluded from this analysis.
Overall, 59 UN member states have ever had a woman leader. The first was Sri Lanka, where Sirimavo Bandaranaike served her first term as prime minister for nearly five years starting in 1960.
Worldwide, the number of countries that have had women heads of government has risen steadily since 1990. The biggest single-year increase occurred in 2010, when five countries – Australia, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, Slovakia and Trinidad and Tobago – saw their first women leaders.
Two notable women leaders are not included in this analysis. President Tsai Ing-wen has led Taiwan – which is excluded from the analysis since it’s not a UN member – for seven years. And, in Myanmar, also called Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi was the de facto leader as State Counsellor (a position not recognized by the military, which held national power at the time) for six years until a coup in 2021.
While the number of countries that have ever had a woman leader continues to grow, the number of women who are actively in power in any given year is increasing at a much slower rate. In fact, no more than 18 countries have had women leaders in the same calendar year, though 2023 is already close to matching that record. So far this year, 15 countries have had women leaders, including the 13 current ones, plus former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who resigned on Jan. 25, and former Moldova Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilița, who resigned on Feb. 16.
Only 14 countries have ever had more than one woman head of government. Switzerland – where the seven elected members of the Federal Council rotate as president of the confederation in one-year terms – has seen the most women in power. Five women have held this role, three of whom served a second term. Just six countries have been led by more than two women.
Even when women have made it to power, they’ve rarely led for a long time. Women have held their position as heads of government for a median of 2.5 years. There are, however, a few notable exceptions. Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former Dominican Prime Minister Dame Eugenia Charles stand out for their 16.1 and 14.9 years of consecutive leadership, respectively. Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina served for 19.1 years during her two nonconsecutive terms.
Conversely, Liz Truss’ 49-day term as Britain’s prime minister in 2022 and Anneli Jäätteenmäki’s 68 days in office as Finnish prime minister in 2003 stand out as the shortest tenures. (Related: Many countries in Europe get a new government at least every two years)
At the country level, Bangladesh has had the most years of leadership by women since 1945, at 29 years. Sri Lanka, Norway, New Zealand, Germany, India and the Philippines were each led by women for at least 15 years. Only five other countries have had a decade or more of leadership by women.
Note: This is an update of a post originally published July 30, 2015.
CORRECTION (April 6, 2023): Due to an error in data collection, a previous version of this post did not include former Prime Ministers Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Yulia Tymoshenko of Ukraine or Magdalena Andersson of Sweden. In this update, former Haitian President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, who served in a provisional role, is excluded, as are other interim women leaders. The impacted charts have been replaced and the text has been updated to reflect Bandaranaike being the first woman head of government and the newly calculated median time in office for women leaders.