By Marc Alexander

Have you ever imagined how tough it must be to be the female leader of a country?  How much you have to overcome? How focused you must be on your goal? How oblivious to the naysayers and the sexism you must be to even get into office?

Beginning in 1960 with Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, there have been forty women who have served as the premier, president, or chancellor of their country. Nations as large as Brazil, India, and Australia and as small as Sri Lanka and Kosovo are now following the lead of a first lady.

From this sturdy lot there are three women whose names are legendary – not only for having led and changed the lives of their citizenry – but also for the manner in which they impacted the world:  Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, and Golda Meir. But, who among this illustrious group stands head and high heels above the others? Who among them has shined the brightest feminine light on the world stage?   Which of them is the greatest female world leader of all time?

Golda Meir, originally born Golda Mabovich in the Ukraine, was known as the strong-willed, straight-talking, grey-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people. Golda spent her formative years in New York City and Milwaukee and went to college at Milwaukee State Normal School. After college, Golda worked in a kibbutz where the seeds of her deep Zionism were sown. She became Prime Minister of Israel and guided Israel through the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Indira Gandhi

Talk about tough? Golda is said to have been the person who ordered the Mossad (Israeli Secret Police) to hunt down the Black September terrorists who killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. This clandestine, yet poorly-kept-secret-mission was the basis of the Oscar-nominated Steven Spielberg movie Munich and cemented Golda’s reputation as someone not to be trifled with.

Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi was born the only child of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India. Gandhi was Prime Minister for fifteen years, making her the longest tenured female leader in history. During her time in office she led India through a decisive war over Pakistan, to a renewed focus on farming and self sufficiency, and she initiated the country’s nuclear program.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher was born in England and is a graduate of the prestigious Oxford University. She became a power in the British Conservative party and ascended to her role of Prime Minister in 1979. Thatcher’s eleven years in office were marked by a long list of achievements. Called the “Iron Lady” by the Soviet leadership at that time because of her anti-communist stance, she forged a tight military alliance with the U.S. and improved the British economy greatly by privatizing many government-run businesses.

Ironically, the woman who stands tallest in this debate is probably the shortest one in physical stature. While Indira Gandhi made strides for her country, her administration was also racked by charges of mass electoral fraud and misappropriation of state funds. She also made the dictator-esque move of trying to have all who opposed her arrested –  which I consider very un-G.O.A.T. like behavior.

Mrs. Thatcher was an unprecedented statesperson and forged many new alliances for her country; but her support of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and her close ties to South Africa’s Peter Botha were, to say the least, troubling.

Golda Meir

Unlike Gandhi and Thatcher, Golda Meir not only led a nation, she helped build it. She is one of the signers of the Israeli Declaration of Independence which makes her the Israeli equivalent of Thomas Jefferson. Meir went from Palestine to the U.S. in 1948 to raise money for the Zionist Movement with the hopes that she would raise seven to eight million dollars. Golda returned with fifty million and is credited by David Ben-Guiron, the acknowledged founder of the State of Israel, to have raised the money necessary to start the country. Creating a nation out of sand surrounded by hostile countries and forging the policy that enables that country to sustain itself for almost seventy years makes Golda Meir, the original “Iron Lady,” and my choice for the Greatest Female World Leader of All Time.

Agree? Disagree? Make an argument – I dare you.


Marc Alexander is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer and purveyor of urban culture.

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