On May 1, Penny Mordaunt became the UK’s first female defense secretary, managing a department with a yearly budget of about $47 billion. Her appointment means that, right now, the six biggest military budgets in Europe are overseen by women.
France is the largest, with a defense spend of over $59 billion in 2018, as measured by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks global military spending. The UK is second, followed by Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands. Switzerland’s military spending, the 10th-highest in western Europe, is also managed by a woman: Viola Amherd, who took over at the start of this year.
In fact, a roster of all the defense positions held by women globally shows that many countries have given that responsibility to women in the past: Norway, for example, had a string of female defense ministers from 1999-2017, with the post only passing into male hands relatively recently. Spain has had three, the first being Carme Chacón, who famously took on the job while pregnant in 2008 (Chacón died in 2017 from a heart condition at the age of 46.)
The US, which has a defense budget of around $600 billion, and China, with its $250 billion annual spend, have never appointed a woman to run the department.