2,832 years ago in the city of Tyre, now Lebanon, Pygmalion murdered the Queen Dido’s husband. After fearing that she would be next, she secretly ran away from the palace and from her home-land, reached Carthage and found a city. Carthage means ‘New City’. The city became prosperous. She built the best naval base of her time defending the coast line. The city withstood for more than 800 years until it was destroyed by Romans during the 3rd Punic war.
A ruler similar to Dido, Cleopatra, born in Alexandria, 2087 years ago, ruled during the country‘s worst time in history. When her father was the Pharaoh, Egypt was conquered by Romans, led by Julius Caesar. In 58 BC her father fled to Rome after a revolt broke out. She went along with him and the kingdom was given to her sister Berenice IV. But she was killed in 55 BC, the same year they both came back and he took over the kingdom. However four years later he died. After his death, Cleopatra and her brother acceded to the crown as joint rulers. Later on she had her brother killed, becoming the sole ruler of Egypt.
As her country was under Roman senate, she built good relationship with Roman politicians. She had a strong connection with Julius Caesar. The relationship went so far that she bore a child of him. Later on when Mark Antony became the Roman General, she invited him to Alexandria. She spent the winter with him and resulted bearing a twins. To maintain the relationship she gave several donations on different occasions. She gave 2000 troops for the mission of Athens, on February 32BC she signed a document authorizing tax exemption for several senators and politicians. She provided 200 naval ships for the battle of Actium and joined the battle along with Mark Antony’s army. Returning on her purple sail ship on 2nd September 31BC.
During her 21 years of rule in Egypt she successfully expanded her kingdom while keeping mind of the Roman interests. She directly involved in construction works, involved in administrative affairs, tackling crisis and distribute food during starvation period. She imposed price control, tariffs on imported goods and made exchange rate fixed for foreign currencies. She was successful in dealing with domestic affairs.
She ended her life by committing suicide. After her death, her eldest son succeeded to the throne.
Unlike Dido and Cleopatra, Theodora came from an average family. Her father was a bear trainer in a circus, and the mother was a dancer. She received the beauty of her mother and strong will of her father who died when she was four. It was recorded that in the early days she worked as a prostitute in Constantinople brothel serving low-status customers. From there she moved her way up in the entertainment industry performing on stage events.
When she reached the age of 16, she traveled to Africa along with a Syrian official. She returned after four years due to constant abuse and mistreatment by him. She stayed in Alexandria the capital of Egypt for a while before returning to Constantinople.
In 522 AD she completely settled down in Constantinople working as a wool spinner in a house near the palace of emperor. She was still blooming with beauty. She was not only beautiful, her intelligence and wit was well known. It was said that if she possessed beauty without her intelligence, she would have been raped and killed before she reach 15. It was her beauty that attracted superior men of her time. But it was her wit that let her navigate through people, making her way to the top.
At the ripe age of 20, she received attention from Prince Justinian whom she married. Two years after their marriage, Emperor, Justinian‘s father died, the couple succeeded to the crown as joint rulers. During their rule, Justinian was active in defense and military while Theodora focused on domestic affairs. The kingdom prospered. She transformed Constantinople and made it the most beautiful city. She built water supply system to provide water to houses and passed several laws relating to women‘s rights. She passed a law prohibiting forced prostitution, granted more rights to women during divorce and allowed women to own property. She died June 28, 548 AD, in Istanbul, making her empire more powerful than Persian and Roman empire.
Some see marriage as a means of gaining power while Queen Amina refused to marry for the fear of loosing power. Genghis Khan, saw it an opportunity. After conquering the city Ongud, he assigned a leader and married the leader with his daughter Alakhai, then she was 16. Soon after Genghis Khan went to battle, a mob rose against the government.
They killed several officials including the Alakhai‘s husband, the ruler. After this bloodshed they set their target to kill her. She and her stepson fled the city escaping the murder attempt.
She arrived to her father‘s camp and told the news of rebellion; he was furious. He decided to burn the city to the ground. But she said ‘They are my people now’ To this he calmed, though he killed all the rebels he could find.
After taking the city back to Alakhai, she ruled peacefully, making the people rich. After her death, her bothers led the city prospering for generations.
70 years later, in our small country, one of the wives of the ruler gave birth to a daughter who will make history. Ibn Battuta wrote praising her ‘One of the wonders of these islands is that its ruler, Sultana Khadija‘. She was also known as Rehendi Khadija.
After the death of Khadija’s father, her bother ascended to the throne. It did not last long. She assassinated him and took the throne by herself, becoming the first female ruler of Theemuge dynasty.
She married to Khatib Jamaluddin who began giving laws in the name of her. Later he dethroned her and took over the sultanate. But one year later she assassinated him and took the throne again.
After staying single for a while, she married again. This time she married to Abdullah I who brought her same fate as her first husband. She was deposed again and he took the throne. Two years later she took the throne. Again by assassinating him. Even though she was deposed twice by her husbands, her hope didn’t fade. She remarried and ruled the country for over 30 years maintaining peace and harmony within the nation. After her death, she was succeeded by Raadhafathi in the year 1380.
Another queen, green eyed, iron willed was born in Spain in 1451. A German declared that “This queen of Spain, called Isabella, has had no equal on this earth for 500 years.” The whole Europe have never seen a female monarch achieved so much in so little time. After taking over the country while it was in a complete chaos, she imposed order and justice. A delicate looking young woman, she was easily underestimated. But those who know her, however, were fully aware of her single mindedness and stubbornness. This was first shown when she was 18 by choosing her own husband, Ferdinand who was 17. Her stubbornness cost her several opportunities, although historians agree that without it she couldn’t achieve such greatness.
1492 a remarkable year after defeating several enemies, a famous sailor was frequently going in and out of her court. It was Christopher Columbus who was planning a trip to an unknown land. She ruled the country for 30 years, after her death, she was succeeded by Joanna.
Three Queens, Mary I, Elizabeth I and Victoria were successful rulers who were loved by their subjects. They spent more time dealing with internal problems, feeding people, building homes, clothing the poor, finding ways to get medicine, while male British rulers spent more time collecting weapons, looking for ways to get more lands and building armies. In general, female rulers prefer peace more than war, with an exception of Catherine of Russia and Empress Cixi from China.
During Indian revolution 13 year old Indira Gandhi was at home with her mother who was bedridden by tuberculosis. Her father put into prison. She kept writing letters to her father, most of it surviving to this day. Priyanka Chopra, an actress mentioned that the letters were deeply touching. After her mother’s death she moved to Oxford and enrolled college but failed on the first time but on the second time she passed.
After graduation she came back to India. At that time her father was the prime minister. She worked as an unofficial assistant to her father. Until 1966 election, she served different positions. Same year she won election and began her service as prime minister for 11 years. During this time she dealt with two wars, separation attempts, religious discrimination and making the country unite.
During the separation attempts, India fell into lawlessness, the president had to declare state of emergency twice and called for election. The opposition was fierce, she was defeated.
Though she lost in the election, her will was not defeated. She ran for the second term. This time she won. She remained as prime minister until, 31 October 1984, morning, two of her bodyguards shot her with their service weapons in her residence.
During the same year, another woman was showing courage and paving her way into the male dominated government of Pakistan. A secular woman struggling in a conservative society, Bhutto was born in Karachi, studied at Harvard, after that in Oxford. Meanwhile back at home her father was elected as prime minister. From then on, she begin her struggle.
Soon after she came back, her father was ousted by a military coup and assassinated. The coup ended with a military government. Bhutto and her mother, Nusrat took control of her father‘s PP party. They led the restoration of democracy. During this time she was imprisoned several times by the military government and was exiled to Britain in 1984.
Two years later she returned to Pakistan. Once she entered the country, she was forbidden to leave due to criminal charges. However she began struggle and campaign for 1988 election, she won, thus becoming the first female prime minister of Pakistan. During her office she haven‘t achieved much. When she was elected, Pakistan was the world’s largest heroin producer. She promised to tackle it. At the same time she was dealing and failing the fights with the status quo and opposition. This is understandable because in a male dominated government, taking orders from a woman make them feel uncomfortable. It will take time to get adjusted. She don‘t have the time. On August 1990, Khan dissolved her government. She was defeated.
Nawaz Sharif won the election and became the next Prime Minister.
But again after defeating Nawaz Sharif, she won 1993 election. During the second term she made several progress. First was advancing women‘s rights. Again there was a coup d’etat in 1995. Though it was failed, in 1997 the president dismissed her government again. She left the country and went into a self exile in Dubai.
In 2007 again she returned to Pakistan and began the political movement to compete in 2008 election. She gained support from all over the country, organized rally and protests against the government. After one of these political rally, she was assassinated. Later Al Qaeda claimed responsibility of the murder.
The same year another woman, in Germany rose to power. Angela Merkel. Forbes listed her as the most powerful woman in the world. This is not without a reason.
Not long ago Helle took charge of leading Denmark, a country that is already rich and prosperous. But we can see a different picture in Thailand.
After 28 failed prime ministers, curruption, several coup attempts, murder and exile, for the first time Thai people decided to put their trust on the hand of a woman. In 2011 Yingluck Shinawatra sworn to office. First thing she focused was to maintain peace and harmony within the society. A Thai friend told me that she didn’t follow the corrupted footsteps of her brother.
In Bangladesh, though she made little progress, people love Sheikh Hasina. She might not have a modern thinking. She may not be Julia Gillard. But she is able to look after her people better than the former prime ministers.
These are few people compare to the total number of female rulers who lived. It will no give a enough justice to women by judging anything based on these few rulers – not to mention judging whether women are fit to rule or not. However, I will leave it to the reader.