Welcome to the Party, America! 11 Muslim women who have been PM or President

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Hillary Clinton gave a victory speech Tuesday night positioning herself as the logical conclusion of the first women’s rights meeting at Seneca Falls in 1848. Along the way, other milestones have included women gaining the right to vote, in 1919 and the first woman elected to the Senate, in 1932.

But the US was late. Australia, Denmark and Iceland preceded us in granting the vote to women in national, parliamentary elections. The republic of Azerbaijan, a Muslim-majority country, granted the franchise to women in 1918.

Women gained the vote in the Muslim-majority Republic of Turkey in 1934, well before they did in France (1945).

Women in British India, including the eighth of the population comprising Muslim women, gained the right to vote in 1935, though of course the ultimate power lay with the appointed British viceroy until 1947. Still, the legislatures in British India in this period were hardly powerless and the elections were consequential. British India had about 300 million people then, so Muslims were some 75 million, though of course not all were voting age. Still, Muslim women in India were as regards suffrage ahead of women in many European countries.

Not only did the US lag behind some other countries, including a Muslim country like Azerbaijan, in granting women the vote, but it has lagged behind in electing a woman head of state.

Here are 11 Muslim women who served as prime minister or president of their countries. In some instances they were head of state, in others, head of government. Many were commander in chief of the armed forces. So it’s nice that a major US party now seems likely to put forward a woman as standard bearer. But there isn’t any doubt that the US has lagged behind the rest of the world on gender equality in politics (Scandinavia typically has a bigger proportion of women in its legislatures than we have in Congress and some Muslim countries, such as Tunisia and Pakistan, have a form of quota for women’s seats in parliament). The US, where pundits often wax supercilious toward the Muslim world, assuming women everywhere there are of low status, is actually behind some parts of the Muslim world on this measure.

Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, 1988 – 1990; 1993 – 1996

Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1991 – 1996; 2001 – 2006

Tansu Ciller of Turkey, prime minister 1993-1996

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1996 – 2001; 2009 – Present

Megawati Sukarnoputri, President of Indonesia, 2001-2004

Mame Madior Boye, Prime Minister of Senegal, 2001-2002

Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo, 2011-present

Roza Otunbayeva, President of Kyrgyzstan, 2010-2011

Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé, prime minister of Mali 2011-2012

Aminata Toure, Prime Minister of Senegal, 2013-2014

Ameena Gurib-Fakim, President of Mauritius, 2015 – Present

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Related video:

ABC News: “Hillary Clinton FULL Speech: Ready to Move Forward, Unite Party”

14 Responses

  1. New Zealand women won the right to vote 1893, 26 years before their American counterparts — and before Australia, Denmark and Iceland too.

  2. All quotations from wikipedia:

    Benazir Bhutto, Prime Minister of Pakistan, 1988 – 1990; 1993 – 1996
    “A scion of the politically powerful Bhutto family, she was the eldest daughter of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former prime minister […]”

    Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1991 – 1996; 2001 – 2006
    “Zia was the First Lady of Bangladesh during the presidency of her husband Ziaur Rahman [1977-1981]”

    Tansu Ciller of Turkey, prime minister 1993-1996
    “Her premiership preceded over the intensifying armed conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdish separatist PKK, resulting in Çiller enacting numerous reforms to national defence and implementing the Castle Plan. With a better equipped military, Çiller’s government was able to persuade the United States to register the PKK as a terrorist organisation, while controversially enlisting the help of informal organisations (known as the Deep state) to fight against Kurdish separatists and the Armenian nationalist group ASALA” [and with record weapon sales by the Clinton administration, link to Federation of American Scientists.]

    Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1996 – 2001; 2009 – Present
    “She is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, first president of Bangladesh”

    To be fair, some of these figures, especially from the 2nd half of the list have taken personal risks and even were resistance figures to dictatorship.

    However, taking up the position one is entitled to following in the footsteps of one’s father or husband, or playing a man’s role in a man’s world by embracing war even more enthusiastically (“Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir) clearly is a kind of freedom that should not be denied selectively on the basis of gender.

    Nevertheless, historically the women’s rights movement has been about so much more than having token figures in positions of power.

    • Hilary Rodham Clinton – all quotations from Wikipedia :

      “First Lady of the United States during the presidency of Bill Clinton from 1993 to 2001, and First Lady of Arkansas for twelve years.”

      “Following her husband’s November 1978 election as Governor of Arkansas, Rodham became First Lady of Arkansas in January 1979, her title for twelve years (1979–1981, 1983–1992). Clinton appointed her chair of the Rural Health Advisory Committee the same year,”

      “When Bill Clinton took office as president in January 1993, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the First Lady of the United States,”

      “Bill Clinton said that in electing him, the nation would “get two for the price of one”, referring to the prominent role his wife would assume.”

    • Exactly, and unfortunately Hillary fits the same bill. She’s the wife of a former president, whose only real claim to power came from being the wife of a president, and who has gotten to where she is now by embracing the status quo and trying to be even “more macho” than the guys.

      She’s been more pro-war than just about any Democrat in the past 30 years, she’s very pro-corporate, pro-elite.

      The reason she is the nominee today is because she has consorted with all of the richest and most powerful people in America and let them know that she’s on their side,and so, with their blessing, she has been ushered into power.

      It is an unfortunately reality that in most cases where members of outside groups gain power, they do so by actually embracing the status-quo and cowing to those in power even more than their opponents.

  3. Small correction —
    Atifete Jahjaga served as President of Kosovo from 7 April 2011 until 7 April 2016, when she was succeeded by the newly-elected president, Hashim Thaçi.

  4. Too bad for the US the first woman presidential candidate has to be Billary, who couldn’t be where she is today without her faithless husband. Too bad the first woman to be a candidate for president of the United States is not a woman who could rise to the job on her own merits and not thanks to a crooked political machine and corrupt corporate media.

    • I agree. It’s like the worst faults of affirmative action. She has done nothing constructive in her official roles and been on wrong side of history as Sec. of State.

    • Graduate of Yale Law School, Legal Aid attorney, staff member of a congressional committee, elected and re-elected US senator, Secretary of State. Compare this to some recent candidates like George W. Bush who was nothing before trading in on his name to become governor of Texas, Donald Trump, even Obama who was a senator for a shorter time than Clinton. When her husband ran for and won his first public office as Arkansas Attorney General, it can be argued that Hillary was just as qualified as he was to hold the position. If Hillary Clinton were a man, this would not be an issue.

      • Please, how can you seriously charge George W. Bush with cashing in on his family name to become Governor of Texas, and not Hillary cashing in on Bill’s fame to run for the Senate?

        • Mrs. Clinton lived in the White House as First Lady for eight years and is “famous” in her own right.

          Before the shrub became Governor of Texas BASED ON THE FAMILY NAME, here are the accomplishments –

          • Deuce FANG washout
          • AWOL
          • Yale Skull&Bones
          • Snotty-nosed powerful man’s son phase
          • Cokehead
          • Alcoholic

      • Graduate of Yale Law School, Legal Aid attorney…….

        President Harry Truman had basically a high school education and his secretary of state, James Byrnes, had an 8th grade education and each were considered to be near great in their respective offices.

      • If she were a man, she would be Joe Lieberman. She’ll get the left’s support because, whereas she’ll be a disaster, Trump will be an extinction-level-event. But let’s end the charade that she is anything but a corporatist and imperialist who represents the ruling class, whose entire career is based on her husbands success.

  5. link to en.wikipedia.org

    1940 Gracie Allen (Surprise Party)
    1972 Linda Jeness (Socialist Workers Party)
    1976 Margaret Wright (People’s Party)
    1980 Ellen McCormack (Right To Life Party)
    1984 Sonia Johnson (Citizens Party)
    1988 Lenora Fulani (New Alliance Party)
    1992 Lenora Fulani (New Alliance Party)
    2008 Cynthia McKinney (Green Party)
    2012 Jill Stein (Green Party)
    2012 Roseanne Barr (Peace and Freedom Party)
    2016 Hillary Clinton (Democratic Party)

    1872, 1884, and 1888 all had female tickets, but I listed some of the 1940 till present tickets as examples.

    Obviously, the major factor behind America’s lack of elected female politicians is the two party system. Lots and lots of female politicians have run for office in America, but automatically get ignored due to not belonging to a major party. All those other countries with more female representation than America are multi party systems. Lots of elected female polticians in those countries belong to parties other than the two biggest ones.

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