Begum Khaleda Zia

Born:August 15, 1945 (age 78)
Career:Prime minister of Bangladesh, 1991-1996 and 2001-2006
Party:Bangladesh Nationalist Party; Four Party Alliance

Begum Khaleda Zia served as Prime Minister of Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996 and again from 2001 to 2006. She was the first woman in Bangladesh's history and second in the Muslim world (after Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan) to head a democratic government as prime minister.

Khaleda Zia was born in the Dinajpur district in northwestern Bangladesh in 1945. In 1960, she married Ziaur Rahman. Her husband, one of the prominent heroes of the country's liberation war, later became President of the Republic and formed the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in April 1977. After the assassination of President Rahman on May 30, 1981, his vice-president, Justice Abdus Sattar, took over as the acting president and also the chairman of the BNP. In 1981, Justice Sattar was overthrown by H.M. Ershad, who declared martial law on March 24, 1982.

In March 1983, Sattar appointed Khaleda Zia as a vice-chairperson of the BNP. In August 1984, the party elected her the chairperson. In September 1983, BNP formed a seven-party alliance to increase movement against the autocratic regime of General Ershad. Khaleda Zia was detained seven times during the almost nine years of Ershad's autocratic rule.

In the face of mass upsurge (spearheaded, in part, by a Khaleda Zia-led seven-party alliance), President Ershad resigned on December 6, 1990. He handed over power to a neutral caretaker government, bringing an end to his nine-year autocratic rule. In 1991, Khaleda Zia became the country's first woman prime minister through a free and fair general election on February 27, 1991.

Khaleda Zia became the prime minister for a second consecutive term in 1996 after the BNP had a landslide victory, but due to strikes and protests, she resigned after a month. Aiming to return to power, the BNP formed a four-party opposition alliance in 1999 with the Jatiya Party, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Islami Oikya Jote and launched several agitation programs against the ruling Awami League. Khaleda Zia was re-elected in 2001, regaining power by promising to eliminate corruption and terrorism. In 2006, she stepped down from office, passing power to a caretaker administration. In September 2007, Khaleda Zia was arrested for corruption.

When in power, the government of Khaleda Zia made considerable progress in the education sector by introducing compulsory free primary education, free education for girls up to 10th grade, an education "stipend" for girl students, and food for education programs. Her government also increased the age-limit for entry into government services from 27 years to 30 years and made its highest budgetary allocation to the education sector.


Council of Women World Leaders (n.d.). “BEGUM KHALEDA ZIA” Council of Women World Leaders. Retrieved December 5, 2022.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2003, March 6). “Khaleda Zia” Britannica. Retrieved December 5, 2022.