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As the long election campaign in the United States begins to grind into motion, there is a greater chance than ever before that the country could elect its first female leader. If Hillary Clinton wins in 2016, she would end a nearly 230-year streak of men in the position, and America would join a growing group of nations that have had a woman at the helm.
There have been over 70 female prime ministers and presidents in the world since Sri Lanka elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960. The length of their tenure has varied immensely, as have the powers that they have held. Some women were in office only days or held largely ceremonial roles, while others played a defining role in their country's history. Though there has been no uniformity in their administrations, which have ranged from inspiring to deplorable, these leaders have all been part of a greater shift towards equality in a global political system that is far from representative when it comes to women.
**Note: This timeline seeks to be a comprehensive chronology of women who first held the office of prime minister or president, but there are some cases in which women briefly became acting or interim leaders that have been excluded. Also excluded are cases involving honorary titles or leaders who held power in entities not recognized as a nation state by the United Nations.
If you notice any leaders that have been omitted please email email@example.com. The timeline will be updated with any additional leaders as we are made aware of them.
Eline Gordts and Charlotte Alfred contributed to this article.
Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that Margaret Thatcher was head of state. She was head of government.