South Asia includes countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, etc.

As we all know, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh are countries of fundamental religion and male dominance where female population is placed at a low status than male, but they have produced woman leaders (Prime Minister) like Indira Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi (India), Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda Zia (Bangladesh), Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan).

Compared with South Asia, the US that is supposed to have equality of men and women up to now has produced none woman leaders, with Hilary Clinton nearly breaking the glass roof.

Why is so?

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    Well, the fact that there are many South Asian countries and only one USA makes the comparation difficult. To put an example, if it was just a random issue and the probability of a female leader was 0.2, it would mean that probably there would always be a few SA countries with female leaders while in the USA it would happen only 1 out of each 5 times. Maybe you could compare it with the ratio of USA state governors, to get a bigger sample. Or, even better for the sampling, MPs in all those countries by sex.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 9:32
  • "equality of men and women" - Things are improving, but the gender gap still exists. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 9:57
  • I can't speak for all Americans, but I wouldn't want to be ANY of the countries you list. Also, China doesn't have female leaders and they are dominating the world right now. Why doesn't China have any? As the USA loses power, I expect to see more female leaders and remember, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.
    – FalseHooHa
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 13:40
  • 1
    Was going to suggest it being a matter of not just any woman, but needing one that was more qualified than the other options, but, you know, Trump. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 16:02
  • The premise of the question makes no sense. There is no comparing. Isn't this an opinion question? I will translate: Why is America so unfair when even the 3rd world elevates women. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 19:46

2 Answers 2


First off, let's examine what is in common between all the leaders you listed.

Most of those female leaders in South Asia rose to power due in large part to political nepotism[1] - they were political and in most cases literal heirs to popular prior politicians. All quotes from Wikipedia:

  • Indira Gandhi belonged to the Nehru-Gandhi political family and was the daughter of India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

  • Sonia Gandhi ... is the widow of former Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi who belonged to the Nehru–Gandhi family.

  • Sheikh Hasina ... is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, first president of Bangladesh

  • Khaleda Zia was the First Lady of Bangladesh during the presidency of her husband Ziaur Rahman. She is the chairperson and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which was founded by Rahman in the late 1970s.

  • Bhutto was born in Karachi to a politically important, aristocratic family; her father, the PPP leader Zulfikar, was elected Prime Minister on a socialist platform in 1973.

    (to add to ironies of nepotism, in the reverse direction, Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari rose to prominence as a consequence of being married to her and later served as the 11th President of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013). It works for both men and women. Another example is Rahul Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi's son.

[1] - side note: I use the term "nepotism" here but it's more nuanced than typical nepotism - it's more of a dynastic power inheritance thing than pure "daddy got me this post" regular nepotism which among other things often implies incompetence, while these female leaders presumably were competent enough to get their party's support. I simply can't think of a better more fitting term at the moment.

This political nepotism has not been a major[2] feature of US politics until much later in 20th century (but has since risen its head with a veneheance starting with Kenneddy clan and going on to Bushes and Clintons. Mitt Romney was also a son of a powerful politician. As you can see with Hillary Clinton, such nepotism almost netted USA a female President. I wouldn't have been surprised, had GHWB had a daughter, to see that daughter rising high in Republican party. There's already a talk about getting Chelsea Clinton a congress seat - I will leave it to the reader to research what special qualities she possesses aside from who the parents are.

[2] - yes, I'm aware of John Quincy Adams. From my basic knowledge, he likely would have risen just as high even if his father wasn't a President before

As to why such a difference between US and the SEA countries; please note that in US there's no Prime Minister, so I would assume this is likely a factor.

PM doesn't get elected as a person but rather, wins the post because their party wins the elections. As such, if nepotism got you to lead a major party under parlamentary system (like most SEA countries), you automatically become the PM; you do not need to win an election as an individual politician.

Whereas, in USA, you don't necessarily get to be elected President just because your party is on top - Presidential elections are not about who has majority in Congress (heck, much of the time, President is not from the Majority-congress party); and thus; while being a personal and political heir of a personal politician doesn't hurt, it does not guarantee election victory for either gender; in either primaries (Jeb Bush) or general election (Hillary Clinton).

One thing worth noting - if you go one step down, US has female governors and congresscritters (and at least 2 recent VP candidates, Ferraro and Palin) who did NOT get elected/selected largely due to family influence.

  • 3
    I'm not very happy with the assumption that being a daughter/wife/husband of a (former) politician alone is already proof for nepotism (apart from the fact that coming from a high social class benefits you in various ways). It may be an indication, but for nepotism you need more than that.
    – Thern
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 11:55
  • 6
    @BradC What has she done with that PhD, aside from managing the family charity and a hollow job with NBC? Logical fallacy for appealing to the authority of her PhD. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 14:48
  • 5
    @DrunkCynic - not to mention a PhD in a soft subject like that isn't really proof of much other than ability to regurgitate what your teachers want to hear. It's not like any "research" in "International Relations" can be done in a falsifiable way to actually test between something useful vs not.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 17:03
  • 3
    @BradC the Bush family gets as much criticizm for pushing through their male descendants. Commented Oct 6, 2017 at 18:47
  • 3
    @BradC Chelsea Clinton's incompetence is not due to her gender or her parentage. It is due to the latter that her incompetence is so evident. All the privileges, yet none of the outcome. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 0:02

It should be noted that it is not completely uncommon even in very patriarchalic cultures that women can sometime rise to power, especially if the system is undemocratic. In monarchies, this happened from time to time, think of Queen Elizabeth I., Queen Victoria, or Catherine The Great.

So women that rise to power are not a suitable gauge for gender equality, if you only focus on single events. There may be a multitude of reasons why a specific woman could have acquired so much power, making it a notable exception, but not more.

The more interesting part is the question why the USA still never had a female president. There may be many reasons; that voters still are reluctant to vote for a woman, even in the presence of a candidate like Donald Trump; that you need large amounts of money for becoming president and women on average own less money than men; that president is a male role model, so far more men want to become president than women; or that it is just a coincidence (a few voters more for Hillary Clinton, and we wouldn't have this discussion now). But how could one prove this? From here on, it seems to be largely opinion-based, and I would like to refrain from speculations. The sample size is simply too small to really draw a solid conclusion from it.

  • I think part of the answer is that women who rise to positions (e.g. senators & governors) where they might be considered viable candidates for President generally have taken political positions that are popular enough in their state, but which make them unlikely to be elected. Hillary Clinton is an obvious case, but one could include names like Diane Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren, &c.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 4:48
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    @jamesqf -- Men who rise to be senators and governors also take political positions that are more popular in their state than nationally. Are women more likely to be de facto disqualified by this phenomenon than men?
    – Jasper
    Commented Jun 22, 2019 at 16:36

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