Which Country Was the First to Elect a Female Prime Minister?

Sri Lanka was the first nation to elect a female head of government, with Sirimavo Bandaranaike's election in 1960.
Sri Lanka was the first nation to elect a female head of government, with Sirimavo Bandaranaike's election in 1960.

You might not have heard of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, but the women of Sri Lanka certainly have. In 1960, Bandaranaike became the world's first elected female head of government. The landmark occurrence was especially notable because most of the women in the South Asian nation didn't have much of a voice in politics. Even now, six decades after Bandaranaike's election, only 5.3 percent of Members of Parliament in Sri Lanka are women.

"I wouldn’t necessarily say we broke the glass ceiling with Sirimavo and Chandrika," said Sathya Karunarathne, a research executive at Advocata Institute, referring also to Chandrika Kumaratunga, Bandaranaike's daughter, who was elected as Sri Lanka's only female president as of 2021. According to Karunarathne, "they had strong pedigree politics. Their families, their husbands, fathers, the men in their lives, were deep-rooted in politics."

Bandaranaike, who was elected a year after her husband was assassinated while also serving as prime minister, held the post from 1960 to 1965 and again from 1970 to 1977. She then returned to the position in 1994, although it had become a ceremonial post by then, and remained until 2000. Bandaranaike died two months after leaving, at the age of 84.

Inside Sri Lanka:

  • Sri Lanka might be the only country where you can see the largest land and sea animals: the elephant and the blue whale.

  • More than one million of Sri Lanka's 22 million residents work in the tea industry.

  • Sri Lanka's Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi is the world's oldest surviving human-planted tree.

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    • Sri Lanka was the first nation to elect a female head of government, with Sirimavo Bandaranaike's election in 1960.
      Sri Lanka was the first nation to elect a female head of government, with Sirimavo Bandaranaike's election in 1960.