Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women World Leaders: Comparative Analysis and Gender Experiences

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women World Leaders: Comparative Analysis and Gender Experiences

Article excerpt


Research suggests that executive political office poses additional and different political challenges for women than legislative office. Yet, a few dozen women have attained their nations' highest executive office. Surprisingly little research has been devoted to the experiences of these women world leaders. This study builds profiles of the women world leaders in the modern era and analyzes their backgrounds and political experiences in an effort to both identify commonalities among the women leaders and assess the challenges they faced on account of their sex.

Keywords: Women leaders, world leaders, gender and politics


Over time countless women have led governments, empires, tribes, and even armies. They have started and ended wars, governed nobly as well as savagely, and, as has been the case with male leaders, some female leaders have been successful while others were not so successful. Some women leaders from history remain largely unknown and debate continues as to whether or not they actually lived or whether they were the product of myth and legend. Yet, feats of female rulers and heads of government date to the dawn of recorded history and are chronicled on all habitable continents, and in numerous cultures and countries. (Jackson 1998; Liswood 1996) At the same time, it must be said that women rulers have been the exception both in terms of humanity's collective experience with governance and our widespread perceptions about leadership, governance, and gender, which have always favored men and have been pervasive across time and cultures.

A study of women leaders might begin in Ancient Egypt, which dominated the continent for a period of time unparalleled in recorded history. From possibly the first recorded evidence of a woman ruler Meryet-Nit in the thirty-first century B.C. to the reign of the Cleopatras in the second century B.C., women in Egypt occupied positions of influence and a few governed. (Chauveau, 1997) Queens in ancient Egypt were typically revered as wives of God and these wives of pharaohs not only had esteem and influence but some governed in the capacity of official woman or Avice ruler. (Chauveau 2000) The impact on Egyptian culture of some of these women leaders was considerable, such as was the case for Ahhotep, Queen of Thebes in the fifteenth century B.C., who both ruled and bore three future Egyptian rulers, one of whom, Ahmose-Nofretari, was a daughter. Elsewhere on the continent, in sub-Saharan Africa, rulers' spouses as well as their queen mothers often shared a sort of joint rule in previous centuries. Historically, many tribes and kingdoms in eastern and eastern and central Africa were matrilineal, and an occasional woman governed. (Jackson 1998)

The same history of women rulers is found on other continents. Although the practice of Islam in the Middle East has generally oppressed women, history notes the existence of Arabian queens who governed. (Jackson 1998) Similarly, even though women were second-class citizens in ancient China, in Confucian times records speak of both unofficial rule by concubines of emperors and a few women who were legitimate rulers. We find further examples in Europe, where women not only ruled but fought in the Crusades, governed in place of husbands who were off at the Crusades, and contributed to the Renaissance. Catherine the Great, for example, led a life full of accomplishments and remains as one of the longest reigning and most celebrated leaders of Russian, European, and even world history. (Alexander 1989) Although no written record exists, oral history tells of women rulers in Polynesia and the Americas.

At present, numerous women occupy thrones across the world, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, who has an impressive tenure as ruler dating to 1952, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, and the Maori Queen Kuini. This study does not, however, include queens, empresses, or monarchs, because in modern times they do not govern in the contemporary sense of the term. …

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