Meet The Nine Muslim Women Who Have Ruled Nations

Meet The Nine Muslim Women Who Have Ruled Nations


When hearing about women’s rights in the Muslim world, the assumed story is often exclusively one of oppression, marginalisation and lack of power. However, many often forget that eight countries have had Muslim women as their head of state. This is compared to the fact that neither of the two major US parties – Democrats and Republicans – has ever nominated a female presidential candidate.

Here are the nine Muslim women who have ruled nations – how many have you heard of?

1. TANSU ÇILLER, Prime Minister of Turkey, 1993-1996


Tansu Çiller was the 30th Prime Minister of Turkey, and lead the conservative True Path Party (DYP). Her tenure as Prime Minister took place during intensified armed conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdish separatist PKK. As leader of the DYP, she went on to later serve as Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey and as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Born in Istanbul in 1946, Çiller graduated from the School of Economics at Robert College in Turkey and received her PhD from the University of Connecticut.

2. MEGAWATI SUKARNOPUTRI, President of Indonesia, 2001-2004


Megawati Sukarnoputri is the current leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), one of Indonesia’s largest political parties, and served as President from 2001 to 2004. She is also the daughter of the Indonesia’s first President, Sukamo. She is widely considered to have stabilized the overall democratization process and relationship between legislative, executive and military institutions of the country.

3. MAME MADIOR BOYE, Prime Minister of Senegal, 2001-2002


Born in 1940 and educated, along with her three brothers, as a lawyer, Mame Madior Boye is known for her strong feminist ideals, having frequently raised women’s concerns in her time in government. Upon leaving politics, she was appointed as the special representative of the African Union for the protection of civilian populations in countries with armed conflict. She also founded and was president of the Association of Senegalese Lawyers from 1975 to 1990.

4. ATIFETE JAHJAGA, President of Kosovo, 2011-present


Atifete Jahjaga is the fourth and current President of Kosovo, and is the youngest to ever be elected to the position. Born in 1975, she graduated from the faculty of law at the University of Prishtina in 2000. Before going into politics, she worked in the Kosovo police force, progressing her way up to the rank of Major General. During her presidency, Jahjaga has led many initiatives for the furthering of women’s empowerment, including hosting an international women’s summit in 2012 which was attended by 200 leaders from Europe, North America, Africa and the Middle East

5. ROZA OTUNBAYEVA, President of Kyrgyzstan, 2010-2011


Roza Otunbayeva was sworn in as President of Kyrgystan in 2010 after acting as interim leader following the 2010 April revolution that deposed President Kurmanbek Bakiyev. Born in 1950, Otunbayeva graduated from the Philosophy faculty of Moscow State University in 1972, and went on to head the philosophy department at Kyrgyz State National University for six years. Her other political and diplomatic posts include being the first ambassador from the Krygyz Republic to the United States and Canada, and the first ambassador to the United Kingdom.

6. SHEIKH HASINA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1996 – 2001; 2009 – Present


Sworn into office for the second time in 2009, Sheikh Hasina is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, having previously served in the role from 1996 to 2001. She is the eldest of five children of Shiekh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father and first President of Bangladesh. Her political career has spanned more than forty years, during which she has been both Prime Minister and leader of the opposition. She was arrested in 2007 on charges of extortion, however returned as Prime Minister in 2008 after a landslide victory.

7. BENAZIR BHUTTO, Prime Minister of Pakistan, 1988 – 1990; 1993 – 1996


In 1988, Benazir Bhutto – the daughter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – became the first woman to be elected as the head of a Muslim state. At the young age of 29, she became the chairperson of the centre-left PPP, one of the major political parties in Pakistan, and was known for her charisma and intelligence. Her feminist legacy, however, is complicated. Whilst she often spoke for the empowerment of women, many criticize what is seen as limited action – for example, her inability to repeal the controversial Hudood Ordinance, which implemented a literal form of Shari’a that limited women’s freedoms. Nonetheless, despite her controversial tenures, she was globally mourned following her tragic assassination in 2007.

8. KHALEDA ZIA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, 1991 – 1996; 2001 – 2006


Born in 1945, Khaleda Zia was the second woman in the Muslim world to become a head of state, after Benazir Bhutto. She was the First Lady of Bangladesh during the presidency of her husband Ziaur Rahman, and is currently the chairperson and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Her more than decade-long tenure makes her the longest serving Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

And finally, the most recent addition….:

9. AMEENAH FAKIM, President of Mauritius, 2015 – Present


Sworn in on 5 June 2015, Ameenah Fakim is Mauritius’ sixth President, and the first woman to ever run the Hindu-majority country. As well as her successes in politics, Fakim is a highly distinguished biodiversity scientist, having worked in the roles of Dean of Faculty and pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Mauritius. Despite having just started in the position, Fakim has already demonstrated a strong commitment to feminist principles, particularly advocating the importance of education for young girls. She has also expressed deep environmental concerns, pinpointing climate change and sustainable development as primary focuses of her incoming tenure as President.

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  • Me

    Lol everyone is asking where are the “stereotypes”?

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  • Abu Noaman

    Consider adding Sultana Razia to this list.

  • Heidi PhD

    First, not one woman head of state exists in Arab states (and Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, and has the WORST track record in its treatment of women as subhumans).

    Second, many women in the list came to power due to family name and status, usually because a male family member previously served in political leadership. This is especially true for: Sukarnoputri, Sheikh Hasina, Benazir Bhutto, and Khaleda Zia.

    Tansu Ciller did well in trying to fight the PKK (Kurdish) insurgency in eastern Turkey at the time, but she did nothing substantive in terms of policies/laws to empower and assist women/girls. In fact, Turkey still has one of the highest rates of domestic violence and murder of females.

    Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have been absolute DISASTERS for Bangladesh. They both have focused on their own personal rivalries, rather than improving the plight of girls/women in Bangladesh, and the country has a pretty bad record in its treatment of females. Acid attacks and domestic violence are some of the chronic problems. Plus, Bangladesh has terrible poverty, and women tend to suffer the most from this abject poverty. These two women have done nothing noticeable to improve the plight of poor women in Bangladesh.

    Benazir Bhutto was from a very wealthy, politically powerful (her father used to be Prime Minister), and feudal (read: elitist and greedy and corrupt) family. She did nothing to alleviate poverty in Pakistan, and she did absolutely nothing to help girls/women in terms of policies and laws. She is also suspected of arranging the murder of her own brother, so that should tell you about her character and extreme greed for wealth and power.

    The cases of Boye, Jahjaga, Otunbayeva, and Fakim are less well known. Boye has been embroiled in scandal. Jahjaga looks promising as Kosovo’s first elected President, although she got a lot of support from the US ambassador to Kosovo.

    Otunbayeva of Kyrgyzstan is from a family that has a member of the supreme court. She served as President only from 2010 to 2011. Let’s not forget that the Central Asian Republics, including Kyrgyzstan, are former Soviet satellite republics, and she was a member of the Communist party in her country. These republics are still under Russian influence, in many respects. Later, she has seemed to embrace democracy, and has received many awards for her activism for democracy and peace. I don’t see anything specific in terms of her achievements pertaining to women’s rights/empowerment.

    Fakim seems to be very promising as a prestigious scientist and environmentalist. She should be more publicized. However, what she does for girls/women in her country remains to be seen. While Mauritius is changing policies and laws pertaining to women for the better, violence against women is still pervasive.

    The bottom line is this:

    I’m all for gender equality in political leadership worldwide, but a true, great, and ethical leader is not based on her/his gender, ethnic, or religious identities, or any other kinds of identity – she/he is a great, ethical leader based on what she/he does substantively for the public and society she/he serves SELFLESSLY. And, she/he should come to power based on her/his merits, not based purely on identity politics, or based on someone’s connections to a powerful family.

    The examples I can give of great leaders of the past that fit this criteria include Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt (although she was not holding an official political title), Nelson Mandela … the numbers are too few, and also notice that some of them came to positions of leadership and served with great personal sacrifices. Lincoln was assassinated for his stance on slavery. Mandela spent decades in prison. Think of great social leaders (as opposed to those holding official political titles and offices), like Gandhi and MLK, who selflessly mobilized society for moral causes that led to substantive changes in policies and laws for the better. And, we know what were Gandhi’s and MLK’s fates. In that regard, I would say that Dr. Wadud herself, and other feminist Muslim activists/scholars like Fatima Mernissi, are worthy of notice and praise for their substantive activism.

    The likes of Bhutto, Hasina, etc., never come close to these criteria and characters from history. It’s ludicrous to even tout them as “good women leaders.”

    I hope that gives some insight into this somewhat lame attempt to glorify some Muslim women leaders. Most on the list have nothing to be proud of, while a few remain to be something to talk about in a positive way.

    • justice for all

      You should remember most females in Westren countries also came to power because of their male relatives. De Kirtsner in Argentina and many others. What did they do for woman, also next to nothing. The issue of woman is a red herring for many westreners. It is important that Muslims reform their societies where it is anti woman ,but this is also true for non muslim socities. Look ate many south american,afrcan and asian non Muslim countries,the abuse and discrimination is equal or worse than in Muslim countries.

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  • Sarah

    Tired old rubbish by Anthonykeyes the problem is any kind of fictitious nonsense can be made up re Muslims as on your post. While women did not have inheritance right or rights to education, a millennia before then Islam had already given those rights. Muslim women were opening some of the first universities in the world

  • anthonykeyes

    This was nice, but I could hardly see these nine women through the billions of women oppressed, beaten, stoned, acid washed faces, or merely so covered with cloth that one could only guess they were human…all because people stopped asking “why” when told they were Muslim, and always had to be Muslim, and thereby slowly lost their humanity…not to become closer to the divine…but more like the lower animals. It is the same with Christianity, but not as much.

    • Amjad

      You read extreme cases and generalize. Muslim women have rights beyond your imagination, for example, muslim women do not have to work unless they chose to, women have equal rights in marriage and divorce, and women are entitled to their monetary rights without having any monetary obligations whatsoever.

      The veil you see in some areas is influenced by local cultures, however, women are expected to dress modestly in public. I consider this more dignified compared to beach bikinis, legal prostitution, and obligating women to equally provide.

      • Brian Hull

        In many places Muslim women cannot go anywhere without male escort, and cannot seek divorce without the husband’s permission. The truth is the more religion has a hand in government the worse it is for women. This has been historically true for all religions.

        • James

          “in many places” list any country beside Saudi Arabia? do you know how many Muslim countries there are? and I agree with the separation of state and religion, merely because every country have multiple religions.

        • Mary

          I am a Muslim woman living in america and I can tell you the men hear cat call more than in Lebanon. Bad people are bad people regardless of their religion or ethnicity you guys are forgetting one simple thing. We humans are in total control of ourselves this is proven and a known fact so we cannot blame religion for our actions its our choice to do what we do using religion to back it up doesn’t change it. Every human has a different perspective in life so if we both read the Quran we both will read it differently and that goes to say for anything whether a book, the food we eat, the music we like and so on. We have more control over ourselves than we’d like to think so to simply blame religion and culture for the actions of HUMANS shows how simple minded we are as a society.

        • NH

          You people continue to mistake Arab culture with Muslim culture. Stop. That crap about male escort is an Arab thing. Arab is not synonymous with Islam. Get that through your thick CNN washed brains.

    • NANS

      acid washed faces?? where did u see that? i am sure that happen in the US. more women get rapped and harassed everyday in the USA and Europe more than any Arab or muslim country. women in the westerns world treated very bad like a toy or a sex object westerns men have no respect to women. i lived more than 6 years in the westerns world and i saw it in my own eyes. but you ignorant westerns talk shit and most of u didnt even left his beloved city. i am sick of the lies that you people spread in the ,news,tv and internet. go fix yourself and you country first before you try and fix other countries. you go to countries and destroy it like you did to Iraq and Afghanistan or Vietnam. is that how you treat human?? you said Iraq have chemical weapons you were lying!1 you try to justify all the bad things you do and come up with excuses !!

      • Moose

        Very concise reply of a long essay. The US of A has ‘more cases of rape’ because of their excellent policing force that left no cases of rape unreported. Rape cases are classified as Acquaintance rape, Date rape, Gray rape, Marital rape, Statutory rape, Prison rape, Gang rape, Serial rape, Campus rape, Corrective rape, Genocidal rape, Unacknowledged rape,Rape by deception etc etc.

        Whereas in Muslim countries and especially in hudud/shariah compliant countries, rapes are not or under reported, that the rape victims are killed or kills herself before her rape can be reported, some are killed to protect their family ‘honour. In a majority of rape cases she charged with zina and zina too when she gives birth because of rape, she is incarcerated and whipped an insane number of times, the rapist go scot free. Plus Muslim countries have a patriarchal social system, a system where men are in authority over women in all aspects of society. Any wonder then in Muslim countries there are no reportage of rapes or any sign of rapes or victims.

  • Ibrahim B Syed

    What about the Forgotten Queens of Islam listed by Fatima Mernissi?

  • Ibrahim B Syed

    Correction: She is already listed as No.2.

  • Ibrahim B Syed

    10th is missing. i.e., Sukarno Putri who was President of Indonesia in 2004?

  • Admiral_Shackleford

    None of them are Arab countries. So basically every Mideast culture has had Female leaders except the Arab world, I guess.

    • Dave

      In Jordan, an Arab country, full equality between the sexes is written into the constitution. The US has so far failed to muster enough support to add the Equal Rights Amendment to our own constitution. And none of the women on this list are Middle Eastern, unless you include Turkey as a Middle Eastern country. But Turkey is generally considered a European nation.

    • Al Andalus Ibn Qahtaan

      Remember sir, Islam is no longer an Arab religion nor is the majority of Christianity Jews in the mountains of a Jewish community like it was when it first came to be.If we look at both Islam and Christianity the are both religions started by middle easterners but yet inspired by God and have majority followers of different nations in every corner of the globe who aren’t necessarily Arab or their Jewish cousins .

    • yasser osman

      Arab Muslims are just 30% percent of world Muslim population. Before last year America never had a female nominees for president, and so many other countries. western female wouldn’t even thought about it until half century ago. Everything starts with one step. besides, if you look deeply you’ll see that the Arab women were leaders long before. NO OFFENSE.

  • misr2013

    Where are the Arabs?

    • Iqrar Ahmad Mansouri

      so what? islam is not an ‘exclusive’ arab club. because first they shout
      Islam being anti-women, and then they say where are the arab women, go
      and ask the arabs, not Islam.

      • misr2013

        You discuss the two as if they are mutually exclusive. Unfortunately for islam, the most widely seen trends tend to emerge from the backwardness of the middle East (specifically Saudi Arabia) and spread from there. So yes, you may very well find that with the growing influence of wahabism globally women leaders in other parts of the Muslim world could become just as rare.

        • Salim Mez (privé)

          Sayyida al-Hurra (d. 1542) queen of tetouane (arab)
          Shajar al-Durr (d. 1257) ( sultana) Queen of Egypt (arab)
          Al-Malika al-Ḥurra Arwa al-Sulayhi (d. 1138) Queen of Yemen
          Aisha sultana kingdom of Touggourt (algeria)
          Parī Khān Khānum (d. 1578). iranian Princess,

          Shifa’ Bint Abdullah first female minister at time of califat umar
          first police women Samra Bint Nuhaik at time of prophet
          first teacher Aisha wife of prophet,

          today there are many female ministers in arabs world ,

    • Al Andalus Ibn Qahtaan

      The aren’t the majority of Muslims any more but their still part of Abraham’s lineage and are considered by many scholars as your cousins, so you should know exactly where your cousins are,I bet Arabs are asking where are the Jews . Both of you need to start acting like cousins and get along .

    • justice for all

      Arabs will never have a woman leader.Their societies are deeply anti woman ,misogyny and racism is endemic to Arab culture and hypocracy and brutality is their way of life.

  • Commander_Chico

    Tansu was quite cute.

    A better picture of Benazir Bhutto:


    • Roels Major

      Atjeh Woman Leader, Cut Nyak Dhien, Cut Nyak Meutia, added. 1900.


Dalia is an Egyptian writer and journalist. Currently, she is particularly interested in raising awareness about the historical and current labour and feminist movements in the Arab world.

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