Mdm Halimah Yacob aside, Southeast Asia has had more than its fair share of leaders of the fairer sex.
- Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia
Mdm Megawati served as president from 2001 to 2004. She was the first female president and the first Indonesian leader born after independence. She is the daughter of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno. She has run against Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the leader before the incumbent Joko Widodo, twice but has lost both times.
Mdm Megawati faced a number of problems, including a failing economy, a separatist movement in the province of Aceh, and terrorist attacks.
Mdm Megawati has achieved some successes notably in improving political stability. She also won international acclaim when she attended a ceremony in East Timor in 2002, to mark its independence from Indonesia.
But she has failed to make any lasting progress in the fight against corruption, and has remained largely silent on her efforts to combat terrorism and regional militancy, a stance she was criticised for in the aftermath of the Bali bomb attacks in 2002.
2. Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar
72-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San. Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King and India’s Mahatma Gandhi, she organised rallies and travelled around the country, calling for peaceful democratic reform and free elections.
She is the first State Counsellor of Myanmar, first woman to serve as Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, Minister of the President’s Office, Minister of Electric Power and Energy, and Minister of Education. Although the Myanmar constitution forbids her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign nationals, Ms Suu Kyi is widely seen as the de facto leader.
Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years in November 2015.
- Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand
Ms Yingluck Shinawatra was the first female prime minister of Thailand. Formally, Ms Yingluck ruled in the name of the late king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. But she was widely believed to have been a proxy for her ousted brother, Thaksin’s interests.
She was in office from 2011 to 2014, when she was ousted for allegedly abusing her power.
On 23 January, the military-picked legislative assembly voted to impeach Ms Yingluck for dereliction of duty over a controversial subsidy scheme which paid farmers above market rates for rice. She is facing a criminal charge over the scheme. She has since escaped from the country with her whereabouts unknown.
- Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysia
She is currently serving as the Leader of the Opposition in the Dewan Rakyat after having been elected as Member of Parliament for Permatang Pauh from 2015. She is also the president of People’s Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) and elected Selangor state legislative assembly member for Kajang.
Azizah was thrust into a new role as opposition political leader following the arrest of her husband, Anwar Ibrahim, the PKR leader, on sodomy charges. Underneath her soft-spoken, meek demeanor lies nerves of steel as she goes head-to-head with Malaysia’s power elite over the alleged abuses of her husband. This story has been written in the published book Struggle for Justice.
- Corazon Aquino, Phillipines
Corazon Aquino (1933-2009) was the first female president of the Philippines, and is also famous for leading the People Power Revolution in 1986 which restored democracy to the country. She was named TIME’s Woman of the Year in 1986.
She was the widow of Benigno Aquino (nicknamed “Ninoy”). She supported her husband’s career as he was elected senator, raising five children at home.
Ninoy Aquino became a popular, outspoken opponent of Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator who held the presidency from 1965. In 1972, Ninoy was imprisoned for eight years, and then exiled to the United States. He was finally allowed to return to his homeland in 1983, only to be assassinated the moment he arrived.
Cory was an amazing woman who had a huge impact on the freedom and welfare of millions of people. She won the hearts of people through her endless effort in transitioning Philippines from dictatorship to democracy.
6. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Philippines
She served as the 14th president of the Philippines between 2001 and 2010. She is the daughter of ninth president Diosdado Macapagal.
After serving as president for 10 years, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won a seat in the House of Representatives. However, she was accused of electoral fraud and jailed in 2011.