First female leader of Sri Lanka

The history of women in power has been a somewhat checkered one. Britain, for example, had a female (co-) ruler from the days of William and Mary in the closing years of the 17th century, but for centuries women were still legally barred from owning property or participating in politics. Asia, too, maintained its patriarchal society well into the 1900s, and remnants are still seen today. Still some headway has been made, starting with the election of the first female prime minister in Sri Lanka.

On this day, July 20, in 1960, after the untimely death of her husband, Sirimavo Bandaranaike led her party to an election victory and became both Sri Lanka’s and the modern world’s first female prime minister.

Close to fifty different countries have since elected their own female heads of states: Indira Ghandi came to power in India six years after; Golda Meir was elected in Israel in 1969. Margaret Thatcher of England served for eleven years starting in 1979. Sri Lanka had another female head of state from 1994 to 2005, but the overall role of women in Sri Lankan politics still shows how far they have yet to go: less than 5% of the Parliament members and even a smaller representation on the local councils.