The First Female Head of Government in Europe- Margaret Thatcher

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The feminist social movement’s main objective is to empower women and give them the same opportunities under the law as men. However, the 20th century was the period in which the most feminist objectives were accomplished. Some of the most drastic achievements, among others, were voting for women, access to work and education, and emancipation. At the end of this century, during the second feminist wave, the first woman occupied the position of Prime Minister. This woman was Margaret Thatcher.

Margaret Thatcher was not only the first female Prime Minister in the United Kingdom but also in Europe. In addition, after three consecutive electoral victories from 1979 to 1990, she became the British Prime Minister with the longest term in office in 150 years. As it can be noted, if today it seems, and is, very complicated for women to start such a long political career back then it was much more difficult.

Nonetheless, her strong personality and determination in front of the Ministers of her cabinet earned her the nickname “Iron Lady”. She had a great impact on diplomacy, the economy, and society. Serving as a precedent in the politics of her country and the world. Such was her influence that her policies became known as Thatcherism.

Simultaneously with the implementation of policies that involved a complete transformation of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher led a strong foreign policy. During her leadership, she was a great defender of the European Single Market, so much that she signed the Single European Act, formally establishing closer cooperation with Europe. This international treaty was signed by the twelve countries that at that time made up the European Community.  

Besides that, she was also in favour of the independence of Croatia and Slovenia. These countries were suffering a very violent war with consequences. They were struggling with poverty due to massive economic disorganization and persistent instability. The youth of the European institutions did not allow them to efficiently exercise a mediating political role. Notwithstanding, the determination of France and the United Kingdom achieved real capacity in conducting peacekeeping actions.

Internationally, she stood out for the opposition to the Communist Bloc, a fact that was influenced by coming to power in the last period of the Cold War. Furthermore, despite taking a stand against apartheid, Thatcher opposed the sanctions imposed on South Africa by the Commonwealth of Nations and the European Community. She went as far as calling them “immoral” because they would leave thousands of people out of work. 

Additionally, in 1982 Thatcher led Britain’s fight against Argentina in the Falklands War. The conflict began after the attempted occupation by Argentina of these islands. And although the United States tried to carry out mediation, the Argentinian government rejected it. In response to the attacks, the Prime Minister created and presided over a small war cabinet, ODSA, to monitor the development of the conflict. Days later, the cabinet authorized and deployed a naval strike force to defend the islands. Finally, after a tough dispute, Argentina surrendered and the operation was successfully hailed in the UK. In this way, Thatcher was considered by the British a highly capable and committed war leader. The fact that, together with the economic recovery of early 1982, contributed to its second electoral victory in the general elections of 1983. 

Her actions are also considered a milestone for feminism since she exposed that a woman is capable of reaching the highest levels of power in the western world, showing that there is no glass ceiling that cannot be broken. In 1990, when Margaret Thatcher left power, the House of Commons only had 40 women, today it has 143 women. During her legacy, she demonstrated that women, like men, are endowed with the same human and cognitive possibilities to face adverse realities. and defeat them.

María Ramos de la Flor

Human Resources Intern