Leading Ladies: A Celebration of Women in Politics Around the World

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of women's right to vote in the UK and leading up to International Women's Day on 8th March, this post looks at the history of women's ongoing battle to be recognised in society as equal to men. Through a series of info-graphics and commemorative images, we illustrate some of the most decisive moments (and most prominent women) in the fight for equal rights around the world, with Cuba being one of the pioneering nations in Latin America to give females a deciding voice.

Leading Ladies: A Celebration of Women in Politics Around the World

6th February 2018 marked 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote. This right was limited to women who met certain conditions – over 30, university graduates or property owners – however, this was still a momentous occasion for women's rights.

In light of this momentous day we have researched what year women won the right to vote around the world and have mapped our findings.

March 8th is also International Women's Day, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world and the month of March is Women's History Month. So right now is a key time for commemorating the influential and inspirational women who have shaped our world through history.

In honour of this we have created illustrations of iconic female leaders and influencers in politics from around the world.

Women's Suffrage Mapped

It has been 100 years since the first women in the UK won the right to vote in 1918, but the first country which granted women the right to vote was New Zealand, where women have had the right to vote since 1893.

Other countries that were one of the first to grant women the right to vote include Australia in 1902, Finland in 1906, and Norway in 1907. Although both Australia and Norway were subject to certain conditions; in Australia this did not include aboriginal women, with both aborigine men and women not able to vote until 1962, while in Norway this right was subject to special conditions related to property and income.

Through the 1910s a large number of countries saw women win the right to vote, including in Canada, Germany and Russia. The spread of countries where women gained the right to vote continued to grow through the 1920s to 1970s, with the majority of countries having granted women the right to vote before 1980. In Cuba women won the right to vote in 1934.

However, there are some countries where women had still not been given the right to vote through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, with Saudi Arabia being the most recent country to grant women the right to vote in 2011.

Have a look at our full findings in the map below.

Women's Suffrage Mapped

Female Movers and Shakers

With International Women's Day on the horizon, we wanted to celebrate some of the inspirational women who have contributed to and inspired women's progress in politics and women's rights around the world.

It was extremely difficult to narrow down our list to just 10 incredible ladies, but after sifting through the outstanding achievements of a myriad of women through history we have picked out our top 10 most influential women in politics through time.

Have a look through our Leading Ladies illustrations and bios below and be inspired by the contributions of these amazing women from around the world, some of whom you may not even be aware of.

  • Mariana Grajales

    Mariana Grajales

    Known as "the Mother of Cuba", Mariana Grajales was a Cuban icon of the fight for women's rights and a Cuba free from slavery.

    During the war of independence, she set up and ran a hospital for wounded soldiers. Mariana lost her husband and some of her sons in battle, but her continued commitment towards supporting an independent Cuba was viewed as an inspiration for other Cuban women.

    Mariana was born in Santiago de Cuba in 1851, and passed away aged 85 in 1893. Posthumously Mariana was officially declared the "Mother of Cuba" in 1957 by the Mayor of Havana. Other commemorations of Mariana include the Mariana Grajales Women's Squad all-female platoon which was created by Fidel Castro in 1958, and the Mariana Grajales Airport.

  • Susan B. Anthony

    Susan B. Anthony

    Susan B. Anthony was an American women's rights activist who played a key role in women's suffrage in the US. Susan was committed to social reform from a young age, and collected anti-slavery petitions aged just 17. In 1851, Susan met Elizabeth Cady Stanton who became her lifelong co-worker in the promotion of women's rights and social reform.

    The pair founded numerous associations and campaigns including the Women's Loyal National League, the American Equal Rights Association, the women's rights newspaper The Revolution and the National Woman Suffrage Association – which went on to merge with the American Woman Suffrage Association.

    In 1872 Susan was arrested for voting in a widely publicised trial, before presenting congress with an amendment giving women the right to vote in 1878. The amendment was known colloquially as the Susan B. Anthony Agreement and later became the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920, giving women the right to vote in the US.

    Susan was the first woman to appear on US coinage and her 80th birthday was celebrated in the White House.

  • Millicent Fawcett

    Millicent Fawcett

    British-born Millicent Fawcett was a major player in winning women the right to vote in the UK 100 years ago.

    Millicent was a feminist, political leader and writer. She was the leader of the biggest UK suffrage movement, the suffragists – a separate women's suffrage movement from the suffragettes – between 1897-1919. Millicent and the suffragists took a non-violent approach to their activist movement, and were tireless campaigners who played a pivotal part in ultimately winning women the right to vote.

    In 1901 Millicent led the British government's commission to South Africa where she investigated the conditions of concentration camps in the wake of the South African War. This was a first for a British woman to be given this level of responsibility during wartime.

    Millicent supported many causes through her lifetime including preventing child marriage and repealing the Contagious Diseases Act. In honour of Millicent's campaigning for women's suffrage a statue is being constructed in honour of her in London's Parliament Square, which is set to be unveiled in April 2018.

  • Nellie McClung

    Nellie McClung

    Nellie McClung played an important role in the social and moral reforms that were prevalent in Western Canada during the early 1900s. Specifically, Nellie was part of "The Famous Five", along with Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby. The five woman launched the "Persons Case" which fought to give women the right to sit in the Senate. The case was won upon appeal to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council.

    Nellie was a feminist and social activist who was committed to supporting equal rights. She fought for women's suffrage between 1911 and 1915, and in both 1914 and 1915 she campaigned for the Liberal Party on the issue of votes for women. Nellie also assisted in setting up the Women's Political Equality League and she also played a role in the mock parliament which aimed to expose the absurdity of those who opposed women's suffrage. As well as her activism, Nellie was known for her sense of humour and was a respected public speaker.

    Nellie was a member of many organisations including the Federated Women's Institutes of Canada, which she founded, and the Women's Institute of Edmonton, of which she was the first president. She was also involved in the Canadian Authors' Association, the Canadian Women's Press Club and the Calgary Women's Literary Club, and she dedicated herself to writing in her later years.

  • Sirimavo Bandaranaike

    Sirimavo Bandaranaike

    Sirimavo Bandaranaike was the modern world's first female head of government. Sirimavo was a long-term leader of the left-wing Sri Lanka Freedom Party and served as Prime Minister of Ceylon and Sri Lanka a total of three times – between 1960-65, 1970-77, and 1994-2000.

    Sirimavo's husband, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike was a member of the United National Party. Sirimavo convinced her husband to resign from his position and set up the Sri Lanka Freedom Party in 1951. When her husband was assassinated, Sirimavo took over as leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In 1960 she led her party to success and on 21st July 1960 Sirimavo became the first ever female prime minister in the world.

    Sirimavo was a socialist who nationalised key sectors of the economy including banking and schools. Sirimavo's leadership run was at times controversial and in 1964 she lost a vote of confidence. However, she was re-elected again in both 1970 and 1994.

    While not everyone may have agreed with all of Sirimavo's policies her position as prime minister was a pivotal step forward in women's representation in politics.

  • Janet Jagan

    Janet Jagan

    Janet Jagan was the first female president of Guyana, a position which she held between 1997 to 1999. Prior to this she served as the first female prime minister of the country. Janet was awarded a number of honours including Guyana's highest national award the Order of Excellence and the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Gold Medal for Women's Rights.

    Janet was a keen activist for women's rights and she founded the Women's Political and Economic Organisation in 1946, as well as co-founding the Political Affairs Committee.

    Janet first ran for a seat in the 1947 general election but was unsuccessful. In 1950 she and her husband co-founded the left-wing People's Progressive Party. She served as General Secretary for the PPP between 1950-1970. In 1953 Janet and her husband we arrested due to alleged Communist sympathies and were kept under house arrest for two years.

    She was elected to Parliament in 1973 and again in 1980, 1985 and 1992, going on to become the longest-serving member of Parliament. In 1997 Janet stood as the presidential candidate for PPP leading the party to victory and becoming the first female president of the country.

  • Corazon Aquino

    Corazon Aquino

    Corazon Aquino was the 11th President of the Philippines and the first female president in Asia.

    Corazon is widely regarded as "the Mother of Asian Democracy" and she was the leader of the People Power Revolution which restored democracy to the Philippines after the 21-year dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos. The toppling of authoritarian rule in the Philippines is the world's most successful non-violent peace revolution for democracy against a dictatorship.

    Corazon took over as the leader of the opposition party when her husband, the former leader, was assassinated. In 1985, President Marcos called a snap election and won amidst allegations of electoral fraud. This led to the People Power Revolution which ousted Marcos and secured Corazon's position as President.

    In 1986, the year of the revolution, Corazon was named Time magazine's Woman of the Year, and in 1987 she was honoured with the prestigious Prize for Freedom Award.

  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

    Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first elected female head of state in Africa. She was the 24th President of Liberia and held the position between 2006-2018.

    Ellen first ran for office in 1997 and finished in second place. In 2005 she won the election and she took office as President of Liberia in January 2006. She was re-elected in 2011, before going on to be elected as the Chair of the Economic Community of West African States in 2016. She was the first woman to hold this position.

    In 2011 Ellen was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Leymah Gboweee and Tawakkol Karman, who were recognised for "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

    In 2013 Ellen was awarded the Indira Gandhi Prize, and as of 2016 she is listed as one the top 100 most powerful women in the world.

  • Michelle Bachelet

    Michelle Bachelet

    Michelle Bachelet is the current President of Chile, holding the position for her second term. Michelle was first elected to the position of President of Chile in 2006, and is the first woman in Chile to hold this position.

    In the break between her presidential terms, where she was not eligible for re-election, Michele was appointed as the first ever Executive Director of the newly created United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

    When she stood for election again in 2015 she was re-elected with over 62% of the vote. She is the first person in Chile to be elected to president twice since 1932.

    Michelle is also a qualified physician, and previously served as Minister of Health and Minister of National Defense.

  • Benazir Bhutto

    Benazir Bhutto

    Benazir Bhutto was the first Prime Minister of Pakistan between 1988-1990, and was re-elected again between 1993-1996. In this position she was the first ever female head of a majority Muslim country.

    Benazir and her mother took over the Pakistan Peoples Party in 1977 when her father, the founder of the party, was executed. Benazir and her mother led the country's Movement for the Restoration of Democracy, which saw Benazir repeatedly arrested by the military government and exiled to Britain in 1984. She returned in 1986 and shortly after led the PPP to power in 1988.

    She was re-elected for her second term in 1993 when she focused largely on advancing women's rights. Following her self-exile in 1998 she returned to Pakistan in 2007 to stand for the 2008 elections but was assassinated during a political rally.

    Benazir was a controversial figure in many ways, but she was also a champion of democracy and women's rights. Her political leadership has been said to be the inspiration for many young activists, including Malala Yousafzai.

Jana Crowne

Jana Crowne


With passion for art of all kind both historical & contemporary, photography, design and...

13 Articles

Related blog posts in Cuba's heart