Female National Leaders around the World Part 1

It is time for a long-contemplated exploration around the political world to meet some presidents, chancellors, prime ministers, governors-general and even royals, who are also women.

I want to emphasize that I am talking about national leaders here, heads of state and heads of government, who just happen to be female by association. The reason I am highlighting them is not to propose that there is some kind of crucial difference between them and their male counterparts. The motives behind the series are curiosity and social conscience – female leaders are still rare around the world, and this fact exposes some fundamental defects in our social systems.

Now that we have made that clear, we can dive into our quest around the world and encounter the female leaders – both liberal and conservative – we are currently able to find. Our first stop would be the German speaking neighbors in the heart of Europe.

 

Chancellors of Germany and Austria

  EU2016 SK. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Angela Merkel

I am positive that we all know Angela Merkel – or at least have heard about her. Germany is a representative democratic republic and a federation, consisting of states and a central government.  The Chancellor is elected by the national Parliament and is equivalent of a prime minister. In principle, the chancellor is only the third-highest official in the state but effectively holds the most power. Blatantly dubbed the most powerful woman of the world, “de facto leader of the continent” and the person of the year in 2015 by TIME, Angela Merkel assumed her office already in September 2005. She was the first woman to assume the post of the Chancellor of Germany, as well as the first East German.

Merkel’s background is that of East German and Polish descent (Merkel’s paternal grandfather was Polish). In the 1970s she studied physics. Her political career started after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when she got involved with an East German democratic movement. In the first German federal elections after the reunification of the state in 1990, she was elected to the Bundestag, the German parliament.

At the time of Federal elections that led to her being appointed she was the incumbent leader of the Christian Democratic Union, in office between April 2000 and December 2018. Her successor Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer is also a possible candidate to follow Merkel as the Chancellor when ‘Mutti’ resigns in 2021.

Large part of Merkel’s prestige stems from the fact that Germany is considered the leading country in the European Union, chiefly due to its size and leverage in economy. Merkel is known for her calm and collected appearance and modest style in public. Her political views are that of political center. During the latest political crises in Europe she has been known for her support of fiscal austerity and opening borders to refugees. Random trivia about her includes her excellent skills in Russian and soccer enthusiasm. Read TIME’s illustrated article about Angela Merkel here.

 

Franz Johann Morgenbesser. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

 

Brigitte Bierlein

While Merkel is dubbed the unofficial leader of Europe, we should not forget about another European Chancellor: Brigitte Bierlein of Austria. Austria, like Germany, is a representative democratic republic and a federation. The chancellor of Austria is the head of government and in effect leads the cabinet and shares executive leadership with the president. However, in Austria the president holds a considerable amount of power, and they elect both the cabinet and the chancellor. Most of the power of the office derives from the fact that the chancellor is typically the leader of the biggest party in the National Council.

The interesting point, however, is the fact that Bierlein is holding the position temporarily after the collapse of the previous ruling coalition and the resignation of the chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the right-wing populist party FPÖ. The next election is called on September 29, 2019. Bierlein is a jurist and an Independent (not affiliated with any political party), and she has previously served as the President of the Constitutional Court (a first woman in this position).  According to the Austrian Constitutional Court website, she passed the judge’s exam at 26 years old. Although she assumed her current post as a member of a caretaker government, she will forever hold the title of the first female chancellor of Austria. CNN tells more about her and the current political situation in Austria here.