Female Politicians You Should Know

Angela Merkel, Theresa May and Hilary Clinton are three of the most recognisable women in politics, but who are the women in power that we don’t know? Despite amazing progress to dislodge the glass ceiling, in politics it remains firmly in place.  However, Angela Merkel is not the only woman currently serving in high office.  These are some of the women that are striving for better rights and equality, in countries where the glass ceiling can be more of a concrete slab, and those who are setting the bar for UK parliament to aspire to.

Fadumo Dayib


Country: Somalia
Education: Degrees in International Public Health,
MC/MPA Mason fellow at Harvard in Public Administration,
PhD fellow at the University of Helsinki: Women, Peace, and Security Issues in the Horn of Africa
Position: Presidential Nominee of Somalia

Problems Faced

Born in Kenya, Fadumo Dayib returned to Somalia due to deportation. Fleeing to Finland at seventeen because of civil war, the next twenty-six years were spent as a refugee. Despite living the majority of her life in Finland, Dayib’s aims have always been to return to Somalia with the hope of bringing skills and education to the country.

Currently, she is attempting to take on the role of President, to unify and stabilise Somalia. There are eighteen candidates (she is the only female) for the up-coming election in Somalia this month, and Dayib will oppose the current president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Accused of becoming dictatorial, Sheikh Mohamud has had a history of silencing free press ad making constitutional breaches.   Resolving Somalia’s political problems also encompass corruption in government. To do this would combat any dependence on the Al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group, which had controlled a lot of the region.

To win the election, Dayib will face other parties who can, and will, buy votes.  She flatly acknowledges this point stating that if you are not corrupt, then you cannot partake in the system.

Despite that Dayib believes she will lose, because she is not corrupt, it has prompted discussions about women’s roles in Somalia, and she has become a role model for women everywhere.  For raising these issues, Dayib has faced death threats from men in Somalia. ‘Almost nothing’, not taken seriously and just waved away are how women are considered in Somalia. Courageously, after death threats, Dayib acknowledges that men feel scared enough to make threats because they recognise her capability to instigate change.

What Does She Stand For?

Claiming a Western upbringing has established a strong work ethic and respect for the welfare system, Fadumo Dayib advocates Somalians should be treated similarly. Equality must be improved for main and minority clans, such as the Somali Bantus, restoring Somalia on a basic civil level.

Her policies would ban female genital mutilation, zero tolerance for corruption and ceasing ties with international terrorist organisations. A constitution, electoral system, national identity cards and setting up governance structures, all ensure a functional country.

To improve Somalia’s functionality, Dayib argues this is to take advantage of the country’s naturally rich resources.  With great abilities to export their products to the Middle East, Somalia is abundant in oil and gas fields with a vast sea life and a large agricultural sector.  75% of the Somalian population is under thirty-five and combined with an educated, skilled population, Somalia is asset rich. Dayib wishes to gain self-reliance using these resources, rather than relying on foreign aid. They must improve budget forecasting, strategic use of resources and increase revenue.

Tsai Ing-Wen


Country: Taiwan, Republic of China
Education: Degree in Law from the National Taiwan University,
Masters in law from Cornell University in New York,
PhD in Law from the London School of Economics.
Position: President of Taiwan Republic of China (elected May 2016), and leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)

Problems Faced

Taiwan is an island off the coast of South China and holds a complex history of being monopolised by its neighbours, without autonomy.  In the 17th Century, Taiwan belonged to China but ownership was handed to Japan after the first Sino-Japanese war, in 1895.  World War Two brought Japan’s defeat and the island returned to the Republic of China.  Essentially, China perceives Taiwan as a breakaway province, which they wish to become part of China again. In opposition, Taiwan maintains it is a provincial and sovereign state, with their own constitution and democratically elected leaders. To this day, Bejing threatens to invade if Taiwan attempts to claim independence.

Despite not being born into a political family, Tsai Ing-Wen established an impressive university education in Law.  Leading her into teaching, Ing-Wen, taught Law at the School of Law Soochow University and National Chengchi University.  Later, she progressed to high-profile government positions, including advising Taiwan’s entry to the World Trade Organisation.  This eventually led to her leadership of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and she now holds the position of the President of Taiwan, Republic of China.  Winning her election in January, this year, Tsai Ing-Wen has become the first female leader of Taiwan.

What Does She Stand For?

Endorsing democracy and freedom, Tsai Ing-Wen leads a party that historically promotes independence from China. In doing so, Tsai places herself in a dangerous position, straining economic relationships with China attempting to honour independence.  Reservations are held against Tsai and her party, by Beijing, even after her insistence over peace. The largest economy in Asia had cut off communication mechanisms with Taiwan in June as the ruling Democratic Progressive Party declined to recognise the “one-China” policy.

Ing-Wen’s policies include expanding public housing, reducing poverty, and supporting economic and trade agreements with China.  However, Ing-Wen aims to diversify Taiwan’s economic partners in the future.  Endorsing policies for aboriginal and LGBT rights, including same-sex, marriage equality rights, are stand out policies for Ing-Wen. On her Facebook page, Ing-Wen stated: “When it comes to love, everyone is equal […] every person should be able to look for love freely, and freely seek their own happiness.”

38% of legislators are female in Taiwan, much above the international average of 22%. Despite Taiwan having a large, female contribution to politics (with not much focus placed upon it) in the UK this ratio remains unusual and makes it aspirational.  Crucially, Tsai Ing-Wen sets precedence as a politician who is not afraid to stand up for the vulnerable, or her country’s independence, even in opposition to the Republic. Incidentally, this includes displaying love publicly for her two cats.  Tsai Ing-Wen is an example to women everywhere, whereby she came from an ordinary Taiwanese background and now is the first female to run the country.

Renho Murata

Education: Degree in Mandarin from Peking University
Position: Elected Leader of Japan’s largest opposition, the Democratic Party, in September 2016.

Problems Faced

Renho Murata began her career as a model and television journalist.  The collapse of the Japanese economy in the 1990s and a reduction in television budgets meant Renho could no longer report on social and political issues.  Switching from TV journalism to politics, Renho made the move to Parliament, in 2004, as an elected member of the Democratic Part of Japan (DPJ). Twelve years later, she is leading the party.

Opposing Renho is the deeply conservative Liberal Democrat Part, holding office for the most part of sixty-one years. Rebuilding the centre-left Democratic Party could be an uphill battle.Renho Murata was not the first woman in political high office within Japan, but they are incredibly under-represented in parliament.  Women make up less than 15% of MPs in the lower house of parliament and 20% of those in the upper house.

Renho holds Taiwanese and Japanese citizenship, however, Japanese law requires a person to renounce one before they reach the age of twenty-two. Not punishable by law, but considerably frowned upon, not relinquishing dual-nationality proves ‘disloyalty’ to the country. Due to a long history of conflict, Japan holds reservations on Chinese and Taiwanese nationals. The remnants of problems with bi-culturalism still exist. In some cases, people often keep their dual nationality secret, for example, Japanese people born overseas, in a bid to keep their citizenships. Though she has since conceded to relinquish her Taiwanese citizenship, Renho advocates opening discussions on diversity and how Japan can promote these values and future coexistence, rather than maintaining the homogeneous state.

What Does She Stand For?

Representing and supporting ideas that benefit women, policies also include opposition to nuclear power and the controversial trans-pacific partnership. In previous work, she has served as Minister for Administrative Reforms in 2010 and State Minister of Government Revitalisation in 2011, with gender equality, civil service reform and addressing Japan’s declining birth rate among her responsibilities in the latter position.  Japanese women often struggle to maintain a family and a full-time job. Supporting young family initiatives and vowing to provide free pre-school to aid childcare are some of Renho’s primary policies. Certain laws penalise dual-income families, and Renho’s policies include revising the income tax laws. Criticisms of the laws include that they encouraging women to limit their participation in the paid workforce.

Focusing on a new generation, acknowledging the glass ceiling and breaking through it are Renho’s strengths. 400,000 followers on twitter and outlining her aspirations on her website, helps remove social anxiety and focuses Japan on the future. To do this would create a societal peace of mind on issues of an ageing population and unemployment, which could then inspire economic growth.  Renho also proposes to rebuild benefits of social security and alleviating poverty.

Sheikh Hasina Wazed

Education: Degree in Bangla from University of Dhaka,
Honorary doctorate degrees in Law, including Boston, Australian National University and Waeda University in Japan, among others.
Position: Three term serving Prime minister: 1996-2001, 2009-2014, 2014-, Leader of Awami League political party.

Problems Faced

Sheikh Hasina’s father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman played an instrumental role in Bangladesh’s separation from Pakistan in 1971, later becoming the first President of Bangladesh. Strongly influencing Hasina, she served as his political liaison during his imprisonment by the Pakistani government. Hasina also found herself imprisoned by the Pakistani army, in the political upheaval.

Following the assassination of her mother, father and three brothers, by military officers, in 1975, Hasina endured six years in exile.  During this time, the largest political organisation in Bangladesh, the Awami League, elected her leader.  Returning as an outspoken advocate of democracy, in 1981, Hasina was placed under house arrest on numerous occasions.

In twenty years Bangladesh could not secure a consistent government.  Despite attempts, Hasina was unable to gain a majority in 1991 and so the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) took control. Led by Khaleda Zia, the BNP was accused of fraud. Boycotting followed as opposition parties disputed the BNP’s ability to rule parliament. Eventually, Zia gave up the office, to make way for a new election, and Hasina achieved leadership for the first time in 1996.  This, however, was not the end of conflict as Bangladesh descended into more violence when the BNP organised rallies and strikes.

Targeted with a grenade, 2004 saw an assassination attempt on Hasina.  Though she sustained minor injuries, the attempt killed twenty-one fellow Awami League members.  Both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have faced problems with military-backed interim government.  2007 brought charges and arrests of corruption coming from the military-run Defence Intelligence Agency (DGFI), for Zia and Hasina. Controversially, arresting and torturing politicians and engaging in efforts to make or break political parties were accusations against the DGFI. Winning her election in 2014, Hasina started her third term as Prime Minister.

What Does She Stand For?

‘When I have been able to establish this country as a poverty-free country, a hunger-free country, a developed country, perhaps at that time, perhaps then I may say I am proud.’

Unfortunately, Bangladesh remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with malnutrition being a prominent issue. Her goals consist of reversing the worst poverty indicators in recent years. 2009 saw half of Bangladeshi children (33 million) living in poverty. A quarter of children are deprived of at least four basic needs among food, education, health, information, shelter, water and sanitation. One of the largest successes for Hasina has been the reduction in maternal mortality, reduced by 40% between 2001 and 2010. Girls now outnumber boys in school and extreme poverty rates have been reduced by half between 1990 and 2015. Bangladesh now holds policies which include the funding of the UN and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This will give Hasina the opportunity to make feasible initiatives for developing the country.

Ending 25 years of conflict in the Gitta Hill Tracys earned Hasina the UNESCO Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize. For her contribution to promoting communal understanding, non-violent religious harmony, and growth of democracy in Bangladesh, Hasina earned the M.K. Gandhi Award.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Education: Accounting at the Madison College of Business,
Degree in Economics, University of Colorado at Boulder,
Masters of Public Administration, Harvard University.
Position: President of the Republic of Liberia

Problems Faced

Africa’s first elected female head of state and the world’s first elected female black president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s political career started within the Treasury department, in 1965.  Leaving the ministry to work for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., Johnson Sirleaf returned to Liberia in 1977, to serve as Deputy Finance Minister. During Master Sergeant Samuel Doe’s regime, she was imprisoned twice and narrowly avoided execution.  Becoming increasingly critical of the military government, Johnson Sirleaf campaigned for a seat in the senate in 1985. Instead of winning the election she was sentenced to ten years imprisonment but left the country in exile as an alternative.  Collapsing into civil war, Johnson Sirleaf left Liberia and alternated between living in the United States and Kenya.

During her exile, Johnson Sirleaf became the economist for World Bank, Citibank, and other international financial institutions. She later became the Director of Regional Bureau for Africa, in the United Nation’s Development programme. In 1997, returning to Liberia during a truce in conflict, Johnson Sirleaf ran for president.  Ten years after her first exile, Johnson Sirleaf came second in the polls, later charged with treason, exiled for the second time.  In 2003, Johnson Sirleaf chaired the Commission on Good Governance, which prepared democratic elections and this later led Johnson Sirleaf to run for President once again.  Finally, she was elected President in 2005, coming first in a run-off election and was re-elected in 2011.

What Does She Stand For?

Predominantly, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has worked on Liberia’s economy.  The International Monetary Fund and World Bank donated $4.6 billion in foreign investments, erasing Liberia’s debt by 2011. Similarly, African-American entrepreneur Robert Johnson invested $20 million into a programme to fund Liberian entrepreneurs and encourage future American investors.   In essence, economically Johnson Sirleaf has allowed Liberia to gain a fresh start.

The success of the country vastly relies on stimulating the economy. Employment will reduce poverty and will be the biggest aid to preventing corruption.  This is paramount when it comes to police and law enforcement. Corruption in the police is rife, as they earn very little, and are often ineffective. Similarly, bribery in government is still an issue; however, Johnson Sirleaf remains adamant to fight it.  Police wages could be increased with a healthy economy, therefore corruption could be driven out within law enforcement and government. Remaining adamant, that you cannot replace government all at once, Johnson Sirleaf wants to weed out the corrupt and replace slowly.

Stating she would make women lead all her ministries if she could find enough who were qualified, Johnson Sirleaf campaigns for female leaders. In her terms, women are more committed, honest, harder working and have fewer reasons to be corrupt in life.  Recently, in Monrovia, paving new ground for female victims of sexual assault, a new courtroom being built for the purpose of trying perpetrators.  With rape becoming an epidemic during the civil war, the new building seeks to eradicate private settlements for as little as $2.  2011 brought Ellen Sirleaf the Nobel Peace Prize for the “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

Dalia Grybauskaite

Education: Studied Political Economy at Leningrad A.A. Zhdanov State University (now St. Petersburg University).
Doctorate in Economics from the Moscow Academy of Public Sciences.
Position: President of Lithuania

Problems Faced

Grybauskaite was born in Vilnius when Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Union.  In 1990, Lithuanian independence was gained from the Soviets and Russia.  Additionally, in 2004, Lithuania became a member state of Nato and the European Union (EU), adopting the Euro as currency in 2015. Problems arose for Lithuania when it became a European Union member, as Russia opposes the EU.  Membership in the EU insinuates an eastward advancement of the union, and Nato, into the Baltic region and may oppose Russian influence.  It also implicates the Russian province) of Kaliningrad, which shares a border with Lithuania.

Threats from Russia became increasingly worrisome to the Baltic region as increasing pressures were placed on Ukraine, culminating to Russian seizure of the Crimea Peninsula.  Citing propaganda and cyber-attacks Baltic regions are fearful of conventional fighting.  Lithuania, due to their border with Kaliningrad, has noticed an increase in military activity and neighbouring countries have detected military flights without identification. Grybauskaite and the prime minister of Lithuania have enforced conscription to prepare for feared combat. In 2015, politicians decided to resume the conscription scheme for five years.  Seen as a necessary deterrent, Lithuania wanted to send a firm message to Russia that they are prepared.  The United States have also sent Nato troops to the Baltic states, and Poland, displaying unity.

What Does She Stand For?

Dalia Grybauskaite has led a driven financial, political career.  In 2000, after working in the U.S. for the Lithuanian embassy, Grybauskaite was appointed deputy foreign affairs minister; later progressing to Finance Minister. Becoming a prominent figurehead in Lithuania’s joining the EU, Grybauskaite later becoming European Commissioner responsible for financial budgeting.  As European Commissioner, she reformed the Union’s budget to ensure an expedient, effective and transparent use of funds; later gaining the EU commissioner of the year award in 2005. 2009, saw her first elected into office, as president, with more than 69% of the vote.  Extensive financial experience and a history of economics procured her the job. Wishing to attract foreign investments and improve upon their living standards, citizens believed Grybauskaite could help Lithuania.

When she took office, the economy was predictably Grybauskaite’s principle priority.  Cutting public expenditures and improving exports, the economic crisis was easing off, with 2.5-3% growth of the economy. Praising the EU for improving and promoting fiscal responsibility, Grynauskaite states that they learnt many lessons of the 2009/2010 economic crash.  Now Lithuania cooperates more with other EU member states such as Germany.

Unlike a lot of ceremonial Presidents, she holds considerable power and influence.  She can appoint government ministers, judges, the central bank chief and Lithuania’s member of the European Commission.  There is little prejudice or discrimination in the Baltic region, electing female representatives including Tarja Halonen (Finland), and Vaira Vike Freiberga (Latvia). 2014 saw Grybauskaite re-elected, whereby voters felt reassured by her anti-Russia stance.

Ameenah Gurib-Fakim

Education: BSc in Chemistry from the University of Surrey, UK,
PhD from the University of Exeter,
Holds an honorary doctorate from Pierre and Marie Curie University, among others.
Position: President of Mauritius, Biodiversity Scientist

Problems Faced

Gurib-Fakim does not make headlines for simply being President, but for being a biologist. Despite not actively running, but appointed by parliament, Fakim stands as Mauritius’ first female President. When opposition parties discovered that Mauritius’ outgoing government wanted to change the constitution, to increase power, they rebelled against it and stated they wanted to appoint a female president. In continents such as Africa, Fakim taking part of the helm in office, makes a large difference.  Mauritius, like the majority of Africa, has a history of not educating women.  Few females even make it through school, only attending for part of their childhood. The 1968 constitution established the ability for any individual having the right to access schools regardless of race, creed or sex. Since 2005, education for children is compulsory and free till they turn 16.

What Does She Stand For?

As a continent, Africa remains incredibly patriarchal, and Gurib-Fakim’s appointment sends a powerful symbolic message. Not only can women succeed in science, but also in high office. Unlike countries such as Lithuania, the role of President is ceremonial. However, what the position represents is the changing female role, even in small countries like Mauritius. Increasingly women are leaving the sciences and so it remains incredibly male dominated. Seeing herself as going through the glass ceiling, Gurib Fakim is sending a message to young woman and girls: it is possible.

Mostly, Gurib-Fakim is known for her TED talk: Humble plants that hide surprising secrets. Introducing us to the rare plant species in regional Africa and surrounding islands, the talk explores the ailments that can be treated by plants, including asthma and the future of food.  However, this is simply the one of her academic accomplishments. Founder of the Centre for Phytotherapy Research, Fakim has worked hard to educate and strengthen awareness of global warming.  This includes being a consultant in meetings on environmental issues organised by the World Bank.  Campaigns for investments in science and technology secured the partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, piloting 10 PhD research grants on the island. Further accomplishments are writing and co-editing 28 books and numerous articles in the field of biodiversity, conservation and sustainable development.


6 thoughts on “Female Politicians You Should Know

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