Female National Leaders around the World Part 3

It is time to continue our 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 would be 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.

This time we travel to the Southern-Asia, to a country with more than 160 million people: Bangladesh.

Sheikh Hasina

Bangladesh, formerly known as East Pakistan or Bengal, became independent from Pakistan in 1971. Before that, it was separated from newly independent India as a part of Muslim state of Pakistan in 1947. It had been an official British colony from 1858 as a province of British India. The Bengals, who populate Bangladesh, differ from Indians and Pakistanis by their religion and distinctive culture, respectively.

Legally defined, Bangladesh is a representative democracy. However, since the elections in 2014, Bangladesh has been increasingly on its way towards “empty democracy” – a state that is practically ruled by one party only. The leftist Awami League is led by politician Sheikh Hasina Wazed, who, being the leader of the largest party, is also the Prime Minister.  The Prime Minister is the head of government and de facto leader of the state. Sheikh Hasina is daughter to the first president of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and is a prime example of the dynastic pattern of political rule in South Asia. Sheikh Hasina is actually the second female prime minister in the country, since the main opponent party, BNP, during the democratic period of 1991-2014 was led by Khaleda Zia, a widow to a former president. (Read more about Bangladesh’ political situation here.)

Sheikh Hasina has gone through a lot. Her parents and three brothers were assassinated during the liberation war of Bangladesh in the 70’s. She has also spent time in captivity, exile and under arrest. During the military rule of Bangladesh in the 80’s, she was a prominent advocate of democracy. In 2004, she survived a grenade attack that resulted in the death of 24 party supporters. She has served as the Prime Minister from 1996 to 2001, and currently from 2009. She has been re-elected in 2014 and 2018 and is the most long-standing Prime Minister in the history of Bangladesh. Although the elections have been criticized world-wide for being rigged, Sheikh Hasina has also received praise for contributing to the economic growth of her country. Her government has also assisted more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from the neighboring country of Myanmar, despite the fact that Bangladesh as a country is rather poor and definitely overpopulated. In 2018, she was number 26 in the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women. She is also a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, founded in 1996.

Bangladesh is a poor country that suffers greatly from annual floods, and the most important export items include clothes and knitwear. However, Bangladesh culture is a rich and distinctive mix of cultural influences. Even though the percentage of the tenures of female Prime Ministers in independent Bangladesh is respectable, it does not automatically follow that the society is equal. Patriarchal norms, such as the traditions of dowry, child marriage and preserving ‘purity’ maintain the subordinate role of women in the society, albeit there has been some positive progress lately.



Picture of the globe: Addicted04 on Wikimedia Commons. Licenced under the CC BY-SA 3.0.

Hero Image licence: Open Government License.