While some cultures suppress the rights of women, there continue to be many success stories from around the world. Given all of the challenges that women face, both politically and in the business world, it took a truly remarkable effort on behalf of these famous women leaders to achieve the political status they've reached.
We've already talked about women leading large companies, such as Meg Whitman the former CEO of eBay, and some of the likely candidates to be the first woman President such as Hillary Clinton. In this article, we're going to discuss women that have made their mark in history books by leading, or playing a pivotal role for, entire countries.
Born in 1925, Margaret Hilda Roberts worked her way to Oxford and earned two degrees there: one in chemistry and another in law. At the age of 34, she joined the English Parliament where her quick wit helped push her higher through the Tory ranks. At the age of 44, she was named Education Minister, a position that could be safely, and acceptably, held by women in Parliament.
Thatcher got lucky in 1975, when her party's candidate abandoned the contest against Edward Heath for control of the Conservative leadership. Thatcher stepped in and beat Heath. In fact, she was undefeated in the polls during the election years of 1975, 1979, 1983, and 1987. This made her the longest serving Prime Minister during the 20th century.
In foreign affairs, she built and maintained a strong relationship with the United States and in particular with Ronald Reagan. She was also responsible for changing the economic and cultural systems of Great Britain. She is credited with reducing the power of unions, increasing home ownership, and reducing the role of government in business affairs. This transformed the culture of Great Britain to one that had more of an entrepreneurial spirit.
However, the 1980's were a time marked by high unemployment and runaway inflation. At times, her policies were blamed for high unemployment rates, and an increase in the divide between the wealthy and poor. As the economy turned the corner in the mid 1980's, the followers of Thatcher were quick to credit her policies for the improvement.
Margaret's downfall in popularity is often attributed to some very unpopular taxes she introduced, including a Community Charge. At that same time, there was a crisis concerning Britain's position with respect to the European Economic and Monetary Union. Thatcher was forced to resign in 1990, but she was later named Baroness Thatcher. Through that position she continued to exert her political power as head of the Thatcher Foundation.
After suffering for several years with a variety of health conditions, Margret Thatcher suffered a stroke and died at the age of 87 in April 2013
Anna Eleanor Roosevelt was born on October 11, 1884. Eleanor was the oldest child of Elliott Roosevelt and Anna Roosevelt, and was also a favorite niece of Theodore Roosevelt. In 1905 she married Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Theodore Roosevelt stood in for his late brother at the wedding ceremony. (Eleanor and Franklin were fifth cousins, once removed.)
As First Lady, she traveled throughout the United States promoting her husband's "New Deal." She also traveled around the world, visiting the troops fighting in World War II. She was active as a Feminist, a supporter of the American Civil Rights Movement, and played a leadership role in the formation of the United Nations.
During Franklin Roosevelt's terms as President, Eleanor was vocal and supportive of the civil rights movement as well as African-American rights. Although her husband had to distance himself from these activities in order to win the support of southern Democrats, Eleanor's connection helped Franklin win many of the African American votes.
Eleanor died at the age of 78, and was buried next to Franklin at their home in Hyde Park, New York. It was there that she lived for many years, along with Val-Kill, entertaining her friends in the privacy of her estate.
Born in 1917, Indira Nehru Gandhi rose to the title of prime minister in India, despite facing many challenges along the way. Her political career started early. At age twelve, she led a children's group called the Monkey Brigade, which was responsible for alerting the residents of India prior to British searches of their homes. By participating in British political workings, these children gained access to valuable political information.
At the age of 21, Indira joined the Indian National Congress Party, something she had always wanted to do. Later in 1942, she was charged with subversion by the British government and sent to prison. In 1947, India won its independence from Great Britain and Indira's father, Jawaharlal Nehru, became prime minister. Indira traveled with her father extensively, and met many politicians along the way.
In 1959, Indira was elected president of the Indian National Congress, and was later appointed as minister of information and broadcasting. After Lal Bahadur Shastri's death in 1966, Indira served as acting prime minister. In 1967, she was elected prime minister and became the first woman ever to lead a democracy.
Indira Gandhi was re-elected in 1971, but in 1975 she was found guilty of violating India's election laws; a conviction that was later overturned. During the riots of that same year, she declared a state of emergency, ordering the arrests of many of her opponents. In 1977, she lost in her bid to once again become prime minister.
Remarkably, she was elected to the position of prime minister in 1980. She was known for improving relations with China and the Soviet Union, and her emphasis on science and technology. In 1984, she was assassinated by her own bodyguards, apparently in revenge for her ordering of the storming of the Golden Temple of Amritsar.
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