In the majority of western mainstream media the narrative around Muslim women is one of oppression and marginalization. Someone who has never visited a Muslim majority country has this image in his mind of a woman covered head to toes, confined to her home with no education, no rights and under the mercy of men. This distorted image is often the result of stories they hear about some cultural practice in a country like Saudi Arabia. They then quickly generalize it to all the other 50 Muslim majority countries in the world. The reality however is far from that.
Modern times as well as old times are full of examples of Muslim women who have had a great impact on their society: Nusayba was a woman who carried sword and shield and fought alongside prophet Muhammad in the battle of Uhud (624 CE). Rabia al Adawiyya (713-801 CE) is considered as the founder of the Sufi school of “Divine Love”. Lubna of Cordoba was a 10th century poet and mathematician who created and managed a library of 500,000 books. Arwa al-Sulayhi ruled Yemen as Queen from 1067 to 1138 CE. Razia Sultan ruled of the Sultanate of Delhi from 1236 to 1240 CE. Fatima Al-Fihriya from Morocco is credited for founding in 859 CE the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding educational institution in the world. These are just a few examples; history has many more for people who care do some research.
In modern times and exactly just in the last 25 years, Many Muslim women led their countries either as president or prime minister. The US has yet to elect a woman president and neither the democrats nor the republicans have ever nominated a woman as presidential candidate.
Here are 10 Muslim women who ruled their country, ordered by the most recently in power:
1- SHEIKH HASINA WAZED: Prime Minister of Bangladesh since 2009
Sheikh Hasina is Prime Minister of Bangladesh since 2009 after a landslide elections victory, having previously served in the same role from 1996 to 2001. Her political career has spanned more than forty years, during which she has been both Prime Minister and leader of the opposition.
2- AMEENAH GURIB FAKIM: President of Mauritius since 2015
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.
3- ATIFETE JAHJAGA: President of Kosovo from 2011 to 2016
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
4- Aminata Toure: Prime Minister of Senegal 2013 - 2014
Aminata is the second female Prime Minister of Senegal, 11 years after the the first female Prime Minister of Senegal, Mame Madior Boye.
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- 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.
7- 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.
8- TANSU CILLER: Prime Minister of Turkey 1993 - 1996
Tansu Ciller 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, Ciller graduated from the School of Economics at Robert College in Turkey and received her PhD from the University of Connecticut.
9- KHALEDA ZIA: Prime Minister of Bangladesh 1991 - 1996 and 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.
10- BENAZIR BHUTTO: Prime Minister of Pakistan 1988 - 1990 and 1993 - 1996
In 1988, Benazir Bhutto - the daughter of former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto - became the first woman to be elected as 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.