Women make up fewer than 8 per cent of the world’s country leaders. But with Julia Gillard’s election to prime minister of Australia things seem to be improving. She brings the tally of simultaneous female premiers to a record 16.
Four female leaders, including Gillard, have taken the highest office in countries around the world so far this year. In 2009, female leaders were elected in Iceland, Croatia and Lithuania.
Elsewhere, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Liberia's president, and the only elected a female leader on the African continent. Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, is a major player on the European political stage. While Iceland’s president, Johanna Sigurdardottir, is not only the country’s first female leader, but is also the world’s first openly gay head of state.
Despite Britain's progressive approach to most things, this country seems to have been stilted by Margeret Thatcher’s somewhat dubious legacy. The UK's first and only female prime minister came to power over 30-years ago, and yet, just one female Labour MP, Dianne Abbot, is willing to stand for party leader in 2010. Even with 'Blair's babes' and an affirmative action approach for women in politics, there are still only 143 women in parliament out of a total 650 MPs.
So, in an effort to highlight the rarity, as well as the achievements, of female heads of state, The Independent Online has compiled a brief guide to the 16 women taking over the world.