We need more women running countries

The world rightly celebrates the election of a woman as Head of Government. In 2023 it was Evika Siliņa elected Prime Minister of Latvia. In 2022, it was Borjana Krišto in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dina Boluarte in Peru, and Xiomara Castro in Honduras. In 2021 it was Magdalena Andersson in Sweden, Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa in Samoa, and Kaja Kallas in Estonia. Since 2020, more women have also been appointed Heads of State in Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Slovenia, India, Hungary, Sweden, Barbados, Kosovo, and Greece.

Each year, these women join a very small group who are running a tiny subset of the world’s countries. In 2023, there were just 15 of 193 countries with women elected to lead as Prime Ministers and 13 out of 151 serving as Presidents. As powerful as these women leaders and many of their countries are, they still comprise just 8 and 9% of all Prime Ministers and Presidents respectively. In 2023, there is less than one woman for every ten politicians holding positions of the highest authority shaping nations and the way they interact on the world stage.

Most of the female Prime Ministers are concentrated in high-income countries. Ten of the 15 countries led by a female Head of State are designated high-income or upper-middle by the World Bank (Barbados, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Namibia, Serbia), while five are lower-middle and low-income (Honduras, Samoa, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Togo, Uganda). Female Heads of State too are concentrated in high-income countries (Barbados, Greece, Hungary, New Zealand, Slovakia, Slovenia, Trinidad and Tobago) with only five in middle-income countries (Dominica, Georgia, India, Peru, Moldova), and one in a low-income country (Ethiopia).

Of all regions, Europe has the most female Heads of Government and State by a wide margin (see map). Currently, the lower income countries and regions who arguably have the most to gain from the “Female Leadership Dividend” have the least opportunity to realize those gains.

If we could wave a magic wand and achieve 50% women leaders overnight, there would be 78 additional women elected to run countries, for a total of 97. We could see women running the most powerful countries in the world – the USA and China – and women running the most fragile countries in the world – South Sudan and Somalia. We could see women running oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran, and nations struggling to translate natural resource wealth into development gains, like the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa. We could see women negotiating ways out of the bloodiest conflicts of our time in Europe and the Middle East, from both sides. We could see women grappling with the greatest challenges to the future of our species – pandemics, climate change, and nuclear war.

But we don’t just lack women leaders of countries. There is also a deficit of women running corporations, universities, and an often overlooked but highly influential sector – religions. Less than 5% of the world’s leading companies have female CEOs (Fortune Global 500), just 24% of the world’s leading universities have a woman at the helm (World University Rankings), and less than 5% of the most influential religious organizations are run by women.

Unleashing a wave of female leadership on the world could unlock substantial benefits for democracy, development, governance, justice, and peace and security. But these benefits are left on the table all the while the world tolerates such low levels of female leadership. At the current rate of change it will take hundreds of years to achieve 50% female leadership. For how much longer can the world afford such a high level of unrepresentative and sub-optimal leadership?

Current women running governments, include:

Female Heads of Government (e.g., Prime Ministers)

(1) Bangladesh/Sheikh Hasina, (2) Barbados/Mia Mottley, (3) Bosnia and Herzegovina/Borjana Krišto), (4) Denmark/Mette Frederiksen, (5) Estonia/Kaja Kallas, (6) Honduras/Xiomara Castro, (7) Iceland/Katrín Jakobsdóttir, (8) Italy/Giorgia Meloni, (9) Lithuania/Ingrida Šimonytė, (10) Namibia/Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila, (11) Samoa/Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, (12) Serbia/Ana Brnabić, (13) Togo/Victoire Tomegah Dogbé, (14) Tanzania/Samia Suluhu Hassan, (15) Uganda/Robinah Nabbanja

Female Heads of State (e.g., Presidents)

(1) Barbados/Sandra Mason, (2), Dominica/Sylvanie Burton, (3) Ethiopia/Sahle-Work Zewde, (4) Georgia/Salome Zourabichvili, (5) Greece/ Katerina Sakellaropoulou, (6) Hungary/Katalin Novák, (7) India/Droupadi Murmu, (8) New Zealand/Cindy Kiro, (9) Peru/Dina Boluarte, (10) Moldova/Maia Sandu, (11) Slovakia/Zuzana Čaputová, (12) Slovenia/Nataša Pirc Musar, (13) Trinidad and Tobago/Christine Kangaloo

Updated January 2024