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Women have ruled for thousands of years. There’s Neithhotep, who became the first queen of Egypt roughly 5,000 years ago, followed a few centuries later by Kubaba, who became queen of Sumer in present-day Iraq. Through the millennia, the balance has wavered, but female leaders are making their mark in the modern world, too. Since 1960, at least 59 countries have elected their first female head of state—a milestone that the United States notoriously dodged in 2016, and could potentially meet in 2020. (Read more: Who was the most powerful woman in ancient history?)
Yuriko Koike became Tokyo’s first female governor in 2016. Right now, she’s busy getting the Japanese capital ready for the 2020 Olympics, the first Olympic Games to take place in Tokyo since 1964. She says she wants to use the opportunity to improve the city’s accessibility for all people.
PHOTOGRAPH BY NORIKO HAYASHI, PANOS PICTURES/REDUX
Clearly, there’s still a long way to go towards women’s equal representation in government and society. This year on March 8, International Women’s Day is highlighting the problem of gender imbalance with the theme #BalanceforBetter.
In these photos, we highlight countries, cities, and communities around the world where women hold important political and social positions. Add a few to your travel bucket list—and see how you can get involved at home, too.