If America elects Hillary Clinton as its first female president on November 8, how historic is it? Compared with the rest of the world, not so much.
From Evita to the Iron Lady to Angela Merkel, more than 25 percent of the countries on the planet have been governed by female prime ministers, presidents or other heads of state. That doesn’t include nations that have appointed women as interim or acting heads of states or had dictators or governing monarchs.
A fifth of the world’s countries has elected a woman to their highest office—whether by direct vote or party election — while, in a handful of other nations, a woman has assumed the position through appointment, succession or coup.
For instance, in the Central African Republic, Elisabeth Domitian was appointed the first female prime minister of an African nation in 1975 by President Jean-Bédel Bokassa. In Indonesia, Megawati Sukarnoputri succeeded President Abdurrahman Wahid after he was removed from office in 2001.
In 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, Rosa Otunbayeva was chosen as interim president by opposition leaders following the revolution that ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Moreover, Joyce Banda served as Malawi's first female vice-president before becoming the country's first woman president after the sitting president’s death in 2012.
Some countries have had more than one female leader. Switzerland has the record with five women as president, with Micheline Calmy-Rey serving twice. This is largely due to its governmental system. Swiss presidents serve one-year terms and are selected by the country’s parliament from the seven members of the Federal Council—the country’s collective head of government. The president holds no more power than other council members but represents the country in formal settings.
The fact that Hillary Clinton is married to a former president is also not unusual. Many women who led other governments were married or otherwise related to former leaders of those countries.
There’s Evita—or Isabel Peron—who as vice president of Argentina succeeded her husband President Juan Peron after his death in 1974. The country did not see another female president until 2007 when the current President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was elected.
Then there’s the modern world's first female head of government, Sri Lanka Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who took office in 1960 and served three non-consecutive terms. She was the wife of the previous prime minister, Solomon Bandaranaike. Her daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, served as the country’s president from 1994 to 2005.
“Given our history, it’s not surprising it’s the wife of somebody who had the job first,” said columnist Gail Collins in The New York Times in September. Collins has written several books about women’s history.
In many ways, the United States is far from being a pioneer in having a woman—and former first lady—possibly lead the country.
A Hillary Clinton presidency—or whoever becomes the first female U.S. president—would break new ground. No woman has ever been the leader of the free world and stood at the helm of the most powerful country in the modern world.