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Until the 20th century, the few women with political ambitions had to operate in the background as the "power behind the throne", backing up their husbands or lovers. As women got the vote in more and more countries, they began to climb the ladder. Many women that have gotten to the top in politics have been tougher, more decisive, and more practical than male leaders.

Female political leader Dates of office Position Comments
Sirimavo Bandaranaike 1960-65, 1970-77 & 1994-2000 Prime Minister of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka The first female head of government in modern times. Paved the way for Gandhi, Meir and the "Iron Lady" herself.
Indira Gandhi 1966-77 & 1980-84 Prime Minister of India India's aging power-brokers thought that Nehru's daughter would be a push-over. They got a dreadful shock...
Golda Meir 1969-74 Prime Minister of Israel This strong-willed "grandmother of the Jewish people" won a magnificent victory over Arab aggression.
Margaret Thatcher 1979-90 Prime Minister of the UK The "Iron Lady" struck fear into the hearts of trade unionists, the Soviet gerontocracy and enemies of freedom everywhere.
Benazir Bhutto 1988-90 & 1993-96 Prime Minister of Pakistan The first female head of government in a Muslim country.
Edith Cresson 1991-92 Prime Minister of France Included because female leaders can sometimes be just as rubbish as male ones. When someone as useless as Cresson becomes PM, you know that women are starting to achieve equality with men.
Angela Merkel 2005-present Chancellor of Germany "The Second Iron Lady", "The Second Iron Chancellor"... She talks a lot of sense to irresponsible governments of other European countries.
Nicola Sturgeon 2014-present First Minister of Scotland A straight-talking, no-nonsense lady with a reputation for competence but not compromise.