Six Women Presidents and Their Fall From the Top

A curse of male-dominated politics?

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In recent political history, six of the most promising and high-profile female leaders have been victims of a military coup, parliamentary removals or assassination: Maria Estela Martinez de Peron of Argentina, South Korea’s Park Geun-hye, Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Elena Ceaușescu of Romania, and India’s Indira Gandhi.

Over the last 40 years, ten women have ruled Latin American countries, showing that gender barriers are falling, as competent women leaders emerge in the spotlight of political life — a world traditionally dominated by men. However deceiving this veneer of wholesale gender equality may be, there are still many battles to fight, such as discrimination and the equal pay gap that handsomely rewards men over their women peers with an equal skillset, training, and experience.

Among the pioneering nations with women leaders in recent history, we have Sri Lanka (Sirimavo Bandaranaike), India (Indira Gandhi) and Israel (Golda Meir, the Iron Lady), who elected women in their top positions during the 1960s.

This reflection continued with the Philippines ruled by Corazon Aquino in 1986 and in the England of Margaret Thatcher — who also shared the title of Iron Lady — and brings us to today’s Germany under Angela Merkel, who has been called the, “Leader of the Free World.”

Latin America and the world in general are making great strides in gender policy and women’s leadership in the international political arena. Take 2013, for example. Four Latin American nations were simultaneously led by women presidents: Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez, Costa Rican Laura Chinchilla, Brazilian Dilma Rouseff and Chilean Michelle Bachelet.

According to a World Economic Forum study conducted 2014-2016, 56 (38 percent) of the 146 nations analyzed have had a head of government or a female head of state for at least a year in the last half century. However, the study points out that most of these women did not serve out their terms.

Nevertheless, here we are today in 2017 with 16 women directing the destinies of their nations, namely: Theresa May of the United Kingdom, Beata Maria Szydlo of Poland, Erna Solberg of Norway, Bidhya Devi Bhandari of Nepal, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius, Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca of Malta, Doris Leuthard of Switzerland, Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Angela Merkel of Germany, Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic of Croatia, Michelle Bachelet of Chile, Sahara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila of Namibia, and Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh.

However, not all of these stories have had a happy ending.

Let’s take a look at why many women have not served out the full length of their term as president or prime minister.

The following are five women presidents  and one shadow president behind the rule of her husband, who have been victims of a military coup d’état, parliamentary dismissals or assassination:

1Maria Estela Martínez de Perón, Argentina

Maria Estela Martínez de Perón commonly knonw as Isabelita Perón

2Park Geun-hye, South Korea

Park Geun Hye

3Dilma Rousseff, Brazil

Before becoming President, Dilma was best known as a passionate opponent of Brazil’s military dictatorship from 1964-1985 who was imprisoned for three years in 1970 for being part of a guerrilla movement. In 2010, Dilma became the first woman president of Brazil, one of the largest economies in the world. She was allegedly involved in the “Lava Jato (carwash)” case, as well as poor management of the country’s economy, resulting in her parliamentary dismissal before finishing her second term in 2016.

While there has yet to surface clear evidence of Dilma’s participation in these scandals, one thing is certain: many of the lawmakers who removed her from office profited from the same corruption scandal.  Those same lawmakers recently voted to save President Michel Temer from a similar situation that Dilma had endured. Did the woman take the fall for the men, or is everyone just out for their own political survival?

4Indira Gandhi, India

Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (1917-1984) declared India to be in a state of emergency, allowing her to jail her political opponents in 1975.

5Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan

Benazir Bhutto; a fight against extremism

6Elena Ceaușescu, Romania

Elena Ceausescu, wife of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu

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While these women each had what it took to get to the top, they did not have the support they needed to stay there. Is there something inherently evil in a woman who yields the power of a nation that causes political detractors to find fault with their actions?

In each case, there were forces acting against their respective mandates in power, cutting short the time democratically allotted to each leader. All politicians face similar challenges, but the struggles of these six women are notable. What policies could help bridge the gender equality gap in the political sphere?

Although today many of the same barriers of the past continue, it will take more political to drive a noticeable paradigm shift toward a more inclusive world from top to bottom.


Geovanny Vicente Romero is the founder of the Dominican Republic Center of Public Policy, Leadership and Development (CPDL-RD). He is a political analyst, international consultant and lecturer based in Washington, D.C. He writes a column for El Diario La Prensa (N.Y.), La Opinion (L.A.) and El Nuevo Día.