Defence and Security

India's Sitharaman joins powerful sisterhood of women defence ministers

Sep 4, 2017
By Arul Louis
India's Nirmala Sitharaman is now the member of a powerful sisterhood of 16 defence ministers, eight of them from the NATO countries, in a sign of rising female empowerment in an overwhelmingly male-dominated arena.
Sitharaman heads the world's third largest defence force of 1.4 million personnel. It is also the strongest of those headed by women defence ministers. She and Florence Parly of France are only two women to head the defence ministry of nuclear-armed nations.
France has a defence force of 204,00 active duty personnel, including reservists, according to Global Fire Power (GFP), which tracks military statistics from around the world.
In Bangladesh with 160,000 active duty military personnel, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed holds the defence portfolio.
The other important women defence ministers are (with the size of their active duty military personnel according to GPF in parenthesis): Italy's Roberta Pinotti (247,000), Germany's Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (180,000), Spain's Maria Dolores Cospedel (124,100), South Africa's Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (78,050), Australia's Marise Payne, (60,000).
Africa has another woman holding the defence portfolio, Raychelle Omama of Kenya. Her position is uncertain now because Kenya's Supreme Court has annulled the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta and called for fresh elections.
Three small countries formed after the break-up of Yugoslavia in a region that was wracked by wars, civil wars and insurgencies in the 1990s have women defence ministers: Marina Pendes in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Radmila Sekerinska in Macedonia and Andreja Katic in Slovenia.
The other European defence ministers are Norway's Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, Netherlands's Hennis-Plasschaert and Albania's Mimi Kodheli.
Latin America has only one woman defence minister, Martha Elena Ruiz Sevilla of Nicaragua, a country that has seen prolonged civil ward and insurgency. North America has none.
In 1960, Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandarnaike of Sri Lanka became the first woman to hold the defence portfolio and she was followed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in India.
Marta Elisabeth Rehn of Finland became in 1990 the first woman who was not a prime minister or president to head a defence ministry.
The first woman in Asia to hold the portfolio solely as minister was Japan's Yuriko Koike. She held the job for less than two months in 2007 and resigned after revelations that navy personnel leaked classified information about the high-tech AEGIS radar systems.
(Arul Louis can be contacted at

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