Tuesday, January 01, 2008


Women Leaders in Muslim & Christian States

In the wake of her recent assassination, Benazir Bhutto is being touted in the West as the first woman to lead a predominantly Muslim country and so on. Typical is the remark of Joe Pascal on the US N&WR web site: "the first woman leader in the Muslim world" or at feministing.com: "Bhutto was the first woman to lead a Muslim country." The only problem is that it's not true.

Long before Bhutto came on the scene there was Shagrat al-Durr, who became the Sultan of Egypt in 1250 AD and I'm sure that more knowledgable people could cite other early female leaders of predominantly Muslim countries. A'isha, the wife of the Prophet Mohammed, was an amazing leader of Muslim people although she never had formal authority like Shagrat al-Durr or Benazir Bhutto. To learn more about A'isha, I recommend The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam by Fatima Mernissi.

Bhutto was, of course, the first elected female national executive of a modern Muslim-majority nation-state. And it is interesting to me that, arguably, Muslim countries have a rather better track record in this regard than Christian-majority countries. See the table below. This is my original research and I welcome corrections.

Elected Female National Executives in the Five Most Populous Christian and Muslim Majority Nation-States
PopulationName of Female Executive
Year Elected
United States+301,139,947NANA
Indonesia*234,693,997Megawati Sukarnoputri2001
Pakistan* 164,741,924Benazir Bhutto
1988, 1993
150,448,339Khaleda Zia
Sheikh Hasina Wazed
1991, 2001
Russia+ 141,377,752NANA
The Philippines+91,077,287Corazon Aquino
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Egypt* 80,335,036NANA
Turkey*71,158,647Tansu Çiller1993
1. The plus sumbol (+) indicates that the country has a Christian majority population while the asterisk (*) indicates a Muslim-majority.
2. All population figures are from the CIA's World Factbook.

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Sheikh Hasina was Prime Minister of Bangladesh between from 1996-2001.
Thank you, I had already included information about Sheikh Hasina at the bottom of thr table in note 2.
Oops, my apologies for overlooking that. In a listing of Women Prime Ministers, the description of the former Prime Minister of Turkey keeps harping over the fact that "She belongs to the reduced but notable group of women rulers in muslim countries, along with Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto, Bangladesh' Hasina Wajed and Khaleda Zia, and Indonesia's Megawati Sukarnoputri."

Curious why there's no mention of religion of the first three female heads of government--all in the Sixties--Sirimavo Bandaranaike (Buddhist), Indira Gandhi (Hindu), or Golda Meir (Jewish) in their descriptions, or whether any other co-religionist woman followed in their footstep.
No apology necessary. Thanks for the women prime ministers link.
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