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The 16 women taking over the world

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<b>Julia Gillard - Prime Minister of Australia</b><br/> 
The 27th Australian PM, who ousted incumbent leader Kevin Rudd today, is the first female prime minister in the country's history. The Labor Party leader, who previously served as Deputy PM under Rudd, is only the second foreign-born ruler since Billy Hughes (1915-1923). Gillard's place of birth is Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, the seaside resort made famous in BBC's Gavin and Stacey.

<b>Julia Gillard - Prime Minister of Australia</b><br/> The 27th Australian PM, who ousted incumbent leader Kevin Rudd today, is the first female prime minister in the country's history. The Labor Party leader, who previously served as Deputy PM under Rudd, is only the second foreign-born ruler since Billy Hughes (1915-1923). Gillard's place of birth is Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, the seaside resort made famous in BBC's Gavin and Stacey.

&lt;b&gt;Angela Merkel - Chancellor of Germany &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Germany's first female Chancellor Angela Merkel is the loudest and most influential female voice on Europe's political stage. Since being elected to lead a coalition between the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, in 2005, she has held the post of President of the European Council and chaired the G8 summit. Her gender and centre-right stance have led to comparisons with Britain's former prime minister Margeret Thatcher

<b>Angela Merkel - Chancellor of Germany </b><br/> Germany's first female Chancellor Angela Merkel is the loudest and most influential female voice on Europe's political stage. Since being elected to lead a coalition between the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, in 2005, she has held the post of President of the European Council and chaired the G8 summit. Her gender and centre-right stance have led to comparisons with Britain's former prime minister Margeret Thatcher

&lt;b&gt;Johanna Sigurdardottir - Prime Minister of Iceland &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Iceland's president Johanna Sigurdardottir is not just the country's first female head of state, she is also the first openly gay world leader of either gender. The Social Democrat is Iceland's longest serving member of Parliament, having won re-election to her constituencies for eight successive terms. She was elected PM in February 2009.

<b>Johanna Sigurdardottir - Prime Minister of Iceland </b><br/> Iceland's president Johanna Sigurdardottir is not just the country's first female head of state, she is also the first openly gay world leader of either gender. The Social Democrat is Iceland's longest serving member of Parliament, having won re-election to her constituencies for eight successive terms. She was elected PM in February 2009.

&lt;b&gt;Sheikh Hasina Wajed - Prime Minister of Bangladesh &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Sheikh Hasina Wajed has twice been elected prime minister of Bangladesh. Having first held the office between 1996 and 2001, she and the Bangladesh Awami League regained power in the 2008 parliamentary elections. Her early life was shattered by the massacre of her mother, brothers and other family members by the Bangladesh Army during a coup in 1975, after which she took refuge in Britain and later New Delhi. She returned to Bangladesh from exile in 1981, having been elected president of the Awami League while still abroad. While Bangladesh's president is technically head of state, it is largely a ceremonial role and, as prime minister, Wajed is responsible for the day-to-day running of the country.

<b>Sheikh Hasina Wajed - Prime Minister of Bangladesh </b><br/> Sheikh Hasina Wajed has twice been elected prime minister of Bangladesh. Having first held the office between 1996 and 2001, she and the Bangladesh Awami League regained power in the 2008 parliamentary elections. Her early life was shattered by the massacre of her mother, brothers and other family members by the Bangladesh Army during a coup in 1975, after which she took refuge in Britain and later New Delhi. She returned to Bangladesh from exile in 1981, having been elected president of the Awami League while still abroad. While Bangladesh's president is technically head of state, it is largely a ceremonial role and, as prime minister, Wajed is responsible for the day-to-day running of the country.

&lt;b&gt;Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - President of Liberia &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Liberia is the first African nation to have a female president. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected in a runoff vote in 2005, having led a peace movement called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. She formally took office in January 2006 and her inauguration was attended by the then United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush. Since coming to power she has established a Truth and Reconciliation Comission to investigate 20 years of civil war in the country and to promote national peace and unity.

<b>Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf - President of Liberia </b><br/> Liberia is the first African nation to have a female president. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected in a runoff vote in 2005, having led a peace movement called Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace. She formally took office in January 2006 and her inauguration was attended by the then United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and First Lady Laura Bush. Since coming to power she has established a Truth and Reconciliation Comission to investigate 20 years of civil war in the country and to promote national peace and unity.

&lt;b&gt;Pratibha Patil - President of the Republic of India &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Pratibha Patil is the 12th President and first woman to hold the office in India. A member of the Indian National Congress, she won a presidential election in July 2007 after being nominated by the United Progressive Alliance and Indian Left. The former governor of Rajasthan had worked as a lawyer prior to becoming a politician. She and her husband set up numerous philanthropic foundations, schools and cooperatives.

<b>Pratibha Patil - President of the Republic of India </b><br/> Pratibha Patil is the 12th President and first woman to hold the office in India. A member of the Indian National Congress, she won a presidential election in July 2007 after being nominated by the United Progressive Alliance and Indian Left. The former governor of Rajasthan had worked as a lawyer prior to becoming a politician. She and her husband set up numerous philanthropic foundations, schools and cooperatives.

&lt;b&gt;Laura Chinchilla - President of Costa Rica &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla is the first woman to hold the highest office. Having been one of Oscar Arias Sanchez's two vice-presidents, she won 47 per cent of the vote as the National Liberation Party candidate in May 2010. Her opposition to abortion and gay marriage has drawn criticism from human rights groups and she is generally considered to be a social conservative.

<b>Laura Chinchilla - President of Costa Rica </b><br/> Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla is the first woman to hold the highest office. Having been one of Oscar Arias Sanchez's two vice-presidents, she won 47 per cent of the vote as the National Liberation Party candidate in May 2010. Her opposition to abortion and gay marriage has drawn criticism from human rights groups and she is generally considered to be a social conservative.

&lt;b&gt;Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - President of the Philippines &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the Philippines' second female president after Corazon Aquino. The daughter of the former president Diosdado Macapagal, she is also a descendent of Lakandula, the last reigning Rajah of Saludong. Having been sworn in as president in January 2001 and elected to a second term in 2004, she is currently the second longest serving president in the country's history.

<b>Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo - President of the Philippines </b><br/> Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the Philippines' second female president after Corazon Aquino. The daughter of the former president Diosdado Macapagal, she is also a descendent of Lakandula, the last reigning Rajah of Saludong. Having been sworn in as president in January 2001 and elected to a second term in 2004, she is currently the second longest serving president in the country's history.

&lt;b&gt;Dalia Grybauskaite - President of Lithuania &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Lithuania's president Dalia Grybauskaite is often referred to by Thatcher's former nickname the 'Iron Lady,' for her outspoken ways and her black belt in karate. She was inaugurated as the country's first female head of state in July 2009, having won a landslide victory in May with over 68 per cent of the vote.

<b>Dalia Grybauskaite - President of Lithuania </b><br/> Lithuania's president Dalia Grybauskaite is often referred to by Thatcher's former nickname the 'Iron Lady,' for her outspoken ways and her black belt in karate. She was inaugurated as the country's first female head of state in July 2009, having won a landslide victory in May with over 68 per cent of the vote.

&lt;b&gt;Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - President of Argentina &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Justicialist Party member Kirchner took office in October 2007 after winning over 45 per cent of the vote. She gained an impressive 22 per cent lead over her nearest rival in the race, giving her the widest electoral margin since civil rule was reinstated in 1983. She is Argentina's second female president (after Isabel Martinez de Peron, 1974-1976), but is the first woman to have been elected to the post.

<b>Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner - President of Argentina </b><br/> Justicialist Party member Kirchner took office in October 2007 after winning over 45 per cent of the vote. She gained an impressive 22 per cent lead over her nearest rival in the race, giving her the widest electoral margin since civil rule was reinstated in 1983. She is Argentina's second female president (after Isabel Martinez de Peron, 1974-1976), but is the first woman to have been elected to the post.

&lt;b&gt;Tarja Halonen - President of Finland &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Finland's first female president was elected in March 2000. The Social Democrat Party Leader had been an active member of parliament since 1979 and had had an impressive career working with trade unions and non-governmental organisations. Halonen was originally elected with a narrow 46 per cent majority, but her approval ratings rose, peaking at 88 per cent in 2003, and she was re-elected for a second term in 2006 with nearly 52 per cent of the public vote.

<b>Tarja Halonen - President of Finland </b><br/> Finland's first female president was elected in March 2000. The Social Democrat Party Leader had been an active member of parliament since 1979 and had had an impressive career working with trade unions and non-governmental organisations. Halonen was originally elected with a narrow 46 per cent majority, but her approval ratings rose, peaking at 88 per cent in 2003, and she was re-elected for a second term in 2006 with nearly 52 per cent of the public vote.

&lt;b&gt;Jadranka Kosor - Prime Minister of Croatia &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Former journalist Jadranka Kosor took office as Croatia's first female prime minister in July 2009 after the incumbent PM Ivo Sanader resigned. She took over as head of the Croatian Democratic Union having received 83 out of 153 parliamentary votes, and after being personally recommended as his replacement by Sanader.

<b>Jadranka Kosor - Prime Minister of Croatia </b><br/> Former journalist Jadranka Kosor took office as Croatia's first female prime minister in July 2009 after the incumbent PM Ivo Sanader resigned. She took over as head of the Croatian Democratic Union having received 83 out of 153 parliamentary votes, and after being personally recommended as his replacement by Sanader.

&lt;b&gt;Roza Otunbayeva - Interim President of Kyrgyzstan &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
After the April 2010 'Tulip revolution,' when widespread rioting in Bishtek ousted Kygyzstan's incumbent president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva was selected to head an interim government. She will hold office until an election (which she is prohibited from running in) is called in 2011.

<b>Roza Otunbayeva - Interim President of Kyrgyzstan </b><br/> After the April 2010 'Tulip revolution,' when widespread rioting in Bishtek ousted Kygyzstan's incumbent president Kurmanbek Bakiyev, former foreign minister Roza Otunbayeva was selected to head an interim government. She will hold office until an election (which she is prohibited from running in) is called in 2011.

&lt;b&gt;Doris Leuthard - President of Switzerland &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Politician and lawyer Doris Leuthard was elected president of the Swiss federal council for 2010, of which she has been a member since 2006. The council (sometimes referred to as the 'confederation') is made up for seven executive council members. No one president is considered head of state, but the council acts collectively as one. Each year a member is appointed to lead the council and this year it was Leuthard's turn. She is only the fifth woman to be elected to the federal council.

<b>Doris Leuthard - President of Switzerland </b><br/> Politician and lawyer Doris Leuthard was elected president of the Swiss federal council for 2010, of which she has been a member since 2006. The council (sometimes referred to as the 'confederation') is made up for seven executive council members. No one president is considered head of state, but the council acts collectively as one. Each year a member is appointed to lead the council and this year it was Leuthard's turn. She is only the fifth woman to be elected to the federal council.

&lt;b&gt;Kamla Persad-Bissessar - Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt; 
Trinidad and Tobago's first female prime minister was sworn in in May 2010. As leader of the United National Congress she runs a coalition of five parties. She began her political career in 1995 serving as an MP and Attorney General and later, when the UNC formed a government, as the minister for education. She became leader of the United National Congress Opposition 2006 emerged victorious over the party's founder Basedo Panday in the electoral race four years later.

<b>Kamla Persad-Bissessar - Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago</b><br/> Trinidad and Tobago's first female prime minister was sworn in in May 2010. As leader of the United National Congress she runs a coalition of five parties. She began her political career in 1995 serving as an MP and Attorney General and later, when the UNC formed a government, as the minister for education. She became leader of the United National Congress Opposition 2006 emerged victorious over the party's founder Basedo Panday in the electoral race four years later.

&lt;b&gt;Mary McAleese - President of the Republic of Ireland &lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Mary McAleese is Ireland's second female president and the world's first woman to be elected to succeed another woman as head of state. She became president in 1997 and easily won a second term in 2004 having been the only validly-nominated candidate. The former barrister is also the first Irish president to have been born in Northern Ireland.

<b>Mary McAleese - President of the Republic of Ireland </b><br/> Mary McAleese is Ireland's second female president and the world's first woman to be elected to succeed another woman as head of state. She became president in 1997 and easily won a second term in 2004 having been the only validly-nominated candidate. The former barrister is also the first Irish president to have been born in Northern Ireland.

<b>Julia Gillard - Prime Minister of Australia</b><br/> The 27th Australian PM, who ousted incumbent leader Kevin Rudd today, is the first female prime minister in the country's history. The Labor Party leader, who previously served as Deputy PM under Rudd, is only the second foreign-born ruler since Billy Hughes (1915-1923). Gillard's place of birth is Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, the seaside resort made famous in BBC's Gavin and Stacey.

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 Belfast Telegraph has compiled a brief guide to the 16 women taking over the world.

>> Click on the image to launch our guide

Belfast Telegraph