For a long time, gender equality has been something the world has strived for. In the U.S., the fight for gender equality erupted during the Women’s Rights Movement more than a century and a half ago.
With that in mind, as well as the bad rap Asian countries often receive for female oppression (foot binding and geishas, anyone?), it may be a surprise to some that Asian countries seemed to have made more progress in terms of female leadership than Western countries. In fact, nine Asian countries (South Korea, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines, and Mongolia) are currently or were led by a female, democratically elected head of government.
Needless to say, the U.S. has yet to have a female president.
While the reasons for this political difference give rise to a whole ‘nother article, in this one, I’d like to highlight a few of these – inspirational? controversial? certainly always interesting – Asian female leaders.
Pratibha Patil – 12th President of India (2007-2012)
Born in 1934, Patil had a long political career prior to becoming president, holding roles such as parliament member and governor. After winning the presidency with nearly 2/3 of the votes, her time in office saw a few controversies. For instance, she commuted the death sentences of 35 people, and embarked on more foreign trips than any other president.
Corazon Aquino – 11th President of the Philippines (1986-1992)
Born in 1933, Aquino was the first female president not only of the Philippines, but in all of Asia. Without holding any past political experience, she was the most prominent figure in the 1986 People Power Revolution and oversaw the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution. As president, she emphasized human rights and peaceful negotiations. Additionally, she focused on molding a market-oriented and healthy economy in the Philippines.
Yingluck Shinawatra – 28th Prime Minister of Thailand
Born in 1967, Shinawatra is a businesswoman, politician, and the first (and current) Prime Minister of Thailand. After election to office in 2011, she invoked the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act in response to the 2011 Thailand floods; reshuffled her cabinet in 2012, and dissolved the Parliament, calling for early elections due to the 2013 anti-government protests. She is currently facing corruption investigations.
Chandrika Kumaratunga – 5th President of Sri Lanka
Born in 1945, Kumaratunga was elected Prime Minister of the People’s Alliance and was the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party until 2006. She spent much of her presidency trying to negotiate and make peace with opposing national political parties. She is also a member of the Council of Women World Leaders.
Megawati Sukarnoputri – 5th President of Indonesia
Born in 1947, Sukarnoputri was the country’s only female president and is also leader of the Indonesian opposition party. While her presidency was characterized by slow progress, reforms, and resolutions, it also brought about the stabilization of democracy and more solid relationships amongst the legislative, executive, and military branches of government.