Another Presidents Day without a U.S. Woman President

Tawakkul Karman, Leymah Gbowee, and Liberian President Ellen Johson Sirleaf (right) accepting 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Photo courtesy of Harrywad, via Wikimedia Commons

February 20, 2012

To many Americans, Presidents Day is just another Monday off to take advantage of department store sales. However, as we commemorate the birthdays of two of our most significant presidents, we also should look beyond our borders to the countries that have women heads of state. Even though the United States is lagging behind, many other countries are making great strides with women in leadership roles. There are currently 19 women who are heads of governments and six women reigning as queens or viceregals. The club may be relatively small, but each woman is remarkable in her own way — there is a chemist, a Muslim, a lesbian, a former student body vice president, and a black belt in karate, to name a few.

President of Kosovo Atifete Jahjaga met with Secretary Clinton in December 2011.

Atifete Jahjaga was elected as president of Kosovo on April 7, 2011. At age 36, she is the youngest current female head of state. She is Kosovo’s fourth president since their separation from Serbia in 2008 and the first female head of state in the Balkan region. Before being elected president, Jahjaga served as deputy director of the Kosovo police force. She was relatively unknown in the political realm, but she has pledged to work toward securing Kosovo’s much-desired membership in the European Union.

When Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became prime minister of Iceland in 2009, she made history — not only for being the first woman to hold that position but also for being the first openly gay head of state in the world. Sigurðardóttir and her partner, Jónína Leósdóttir, were one of the first couples to marry when Iceland passed a law allowing gay marriage in June 2010.

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the first elected female head of state in Africa. In October 2011, she was one of three women jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her “nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Sirleaf has paved the way for Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé, the recently appointed prime minister of Mali and the second female head of state in Africa.

Angela Merkel was elected chancellor of Germany in 2005, making her the first woman and the first East German to hold that office. In 2011, Merkel was ranked first on Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and fourth on the list of the World’s Most Powerful People. Joining Merkel on the list of powerful women at third is Dilma Rousseff, the first woman president of Brazil.

We can’t forget about some of the remarkable women who have paved the way for these 19 women — Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, the first female head of state of the Republic of Tannu Tuva; Isabel Martínez de Perón of Argentina, the first female head of state in the Western hemisphere; and of course Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister.

I look forward to the day when we can add an American woman to this list and celebrate a Presidents Day with a woman as our commander in chief.



Shirley Chisholm

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  1. SBG says:

    14 years before Isabel Perón assumed office after her husbands death, Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka was the the modern world’s first democratically elected female Prime Minister. Talk about a country ahead of it’s time! The U.S. could stand to learn a lot from Sri Lanka.

  2. Noemi says:

    What about Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet? She is in charge of UN Women now… Great example for all of us.

  3. brenda says:

    Not to mention the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher!!

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