10 Women Who Beat Hillary to the Punch
On Jan. 24, 1966, Indira Gandhi became the first female Prime Minister of India, which was at that time one of the newest democracies in the world. Mrs. Gandhi was elected Prime Minister by Congress after an assassination took out her predecessor.
This fact is all the more astounding when you realize just how massive India is. There are now over one billion people living in India and another 362 million in Pakistan and Bangladesh, making the Indian subcontinent one of the most densely populated places on the planet.
I couldn’t help but think of Hillary Clinton when I grasped the enormity of Mrs. Gandhi’s accomplishment. I don’t pay attention much to politics, especially around election season, and I couldn’t help but smirk to myself when I thought of Mrs. Clinton’s quixotic quest to become the first female president of the United States. Silly American politicians, thinking only of themselves and how they can get themselves to the front of the line. Here are 10 women who beat Hillary to the punch:
10. Indira Gandhi (1966-77 & 1980-84). The most important fact to point out here is that Mrs. Gandhi had absolutely no relation to Mahatma Gandhi, one of the leaders of the Indian rebellion against the British empire. An assassination brought her down in 1984, just as one had brought down her successor in 1966. Democracy is a fragile creature, and the fact that India has survived for so long as a democracy is nothing short of miraculous. One of Mrs. Gandhi’s bodyguards murdered her, by the way, after her heavy-handed tactics led to brutal communal violence.
9. Angela Merkel (2005-present). Mrs. Merkel is basically the uber-Hillary, and I freaking love it. If you do not know who Angela Merkel is, get out from under that rock! Our sister site, RealClearWorld, has lots of good stuff on her.
8. Julia Gillard (2010-13). Ms. Gillard was not only the first female to be elected to Prime Minister in Australia, she was the first unmarried person to accomplish the job. A lifelong leftist, Ms. Gillard had the unfortunate distinction of being elected in the midst of a global economic downturn, and her tenure as prime minister was probably cut short as a result.
7. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006-18). The first female head of state in Africa to be elected, Mrs. Sirleaf almost lost her life in the 1980 Liberian coup that was led by Samuel Doe. Mrs. Sirleaf spent much of her exile in the United States working as a banker, and finished in second place behind former warlord Charles Taylor in a 1997 presidential election. In 2005, Mrs. Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia and began the long process of healing the war-torn country.
6. Michelle Bachelet (2006-10 & 2014-18). Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria was not only the first woman to be elected to Chile’s highest office, she was also the first president to be re-elected there since 1932. Bachelet’s father was a prominent member of the regime that was overthrown by General Augusto Pinochet, and he died of a heart attack in a prison after several months of torture. Mrs. Bachelet herself was tortured and detained, but was allowed to go into exile in neighboring Argentina. A socialist and a physician, Bachelet’s long road to electoral triumph took her from Argentina to East Germany before going back to Chile again.
5. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (1980-96). Iceland’s first female president, Ms. Finnbogadóttir is still the longest-serving, democratically-elected female head of state in the world. A leftist who once protested the presence of NATO in Iceland, Ms. Finnbogadóttir hosted one of the most important American-Soviet summits of the Cold War in 1986.
4. Golda Meir (1969-74). Golda Meir needs no introduction from me. Ms. Meir guided Israel through some of its most turbulent times, foreign and domestically. RealClearHistory’s archives on Ms. Meir’s exploits can be found here. After guiding Israel to victory in the Yom Kippur War, Golda Meir stepped down from office and died from lymphoma just four years later. Ms. Meir had immigrated to what was then Palestine in 1921 and lived on a Jewish farming commune. She was a political leftist and lifelong Zionist, and compared the Nakba to the plight of Europe’s Jews.
3. Dilma Rousseff (2011-16). The first woman to be elected as president of Brazil, Ms. Rousseff’s term was mired in corruption and scandal, which is not necessarily a bad thing given Brazil’s long history of political violence (scandal and corruption are better than violent oppression; it can even be argued that the former two are features of the democratic system, rather than bugs). Ms. Rousseff was a socialist who spent roughly two years in a Brazilian prison and was systematically tortured by the military dictatorship. As a member of a violent Marxist faction, Rousseff was found with a gun when she was arrested, and Brazil’s strict gun control laws meant that the government didn’t even need to conjure up false arrest reports.
2. Khaleda Zia (1991-96 & 2001-06). The first female prime minister of Bangladesh was also the second female to be elected in a Muslim-majority country (after Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan). Zia was the wife of Bangladesh’s seventh president, who happened to be murdered during a coup d’etat in 1981. After one decade of leading an opposition coalition, Khaleda Zia was elected to lead the people of Bangladesh. A nationalist, Zia was recently (February 2018) sentenced to five years in prison for embezzlement. Bangladesh is still one of the poorest countries on the planet, proof positive that democracy without property rights is just another form of autocracy.
1. Margaret Thatcher (1979-90). The Iron Lady was a champ, and as such she doesn’t need a blurb from your correspondent. Here are RealClearHistory’s archives on Thatcher. Make yourself a cup of hot tea and snuggle up to our archives.
This list helps iron out two basic facts: one, women are just as susceptible to the temptations of power as men. Corruption, murder, ethnic cleansing (I’m looking at you Indira Gandhi), and embezzlement are just some of the many ways that these women failed their electorates. Yet there is no denying that these women were good, even great, leaders.
Second, lots of females have been running lots of countries long before Mrs. Clinton made her attempt. Corazon Aquino (1986-92), for example, was elected to replace the dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos. Aquino’s husband was murdered by Marcos’ henchmen, which drove her to lead the “People Power” revolution that ousted the anti-communist dictator. Aquino had never been elected to any sort of office prior to being elected president of the Philippines.
Notice how there were no female leaders in the socialist republics of, say the Soviet Union or China (or Vietnam or East Germany or Yugoslavia)? Since socialism requires a “strongman” to govern, a female dictator could, in theory, have ruled over a socialist country. Alas, all the dictators were men. There were several puppet heads of state in socialist regimes that were women, but in practice none of them had anywhere near the power or even influence that, say, the wives of the dictators possessed.
Have a great weekend.