Meet 13 women married to the world's biggest dictators

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Behind every great man is a great woman, as they say. But who stands behind the world's biggest despots?

In good times and in bad, the ladies of the Dictators' Wives Club put up with a lot: corruption, political uprisings, and often other wives.

Some, like Rwandan first lady Jeannette Kagame, use their position to advocate for charitable causes. Others, like the president of Syria's wife, Asma al-Assad, are pros at looking the other way and smiling for official Instagram photos.

For this list, we defined a dictator as a near-absolute ruler known for human-rights abuses, restrictions on freedom of the press, and oppression of opposition.

Learn about the ladies below:

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Wives of the world biggest dictators
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Wives of the world biggest dictators

Ana Paula dos Santos, wife of Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos

The first lady: A former fashion model, Ana Paula dos Santos knew her husband from her time as a flight attendant on the Angolan version of Air Force One. She now has a degree in teaching and law and is a member of the International Steering Committee.

A diplomat once described the president and first lady as "a handsome couple, elegantly and expensively dressed, looking for all the world as though they're living in southern California."

Her husband: During President dos Santos' 37 years in office, he has consolidated all political power under his control. Countless atrocities, including torture and mass murders, occurred under his watch during a 27-year-long civil war. There are still reports of torture and repression of ethnic minorities going on in Angola today.

President dos Santos announced earlier this year he will step down in 2018.

(FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)

Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, wife of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa

The Queen Consort: Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa is the first wife of King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. Aside from being a devoted mother to their four children (one of whom is the crown prince), Ibrahim Al Khalifa is an outspoken activist for women's and children's rights, both in Bahrain and around the world, having addressed the UN General Assembly about these issues.

She serves as the head of the Higher National Committee, which works to mainstream women's needs across government and the economy and empower her gender politically. 

Her husband: The country has been run by the Al Khalifa dynasty since 1783. Hamad declared himself king in 2002, previously holding the title of Emir, meaning "commander."

After an uprising against him in 2011, Amnesty International condemned the failure of the Bahraini government amid "spiraling repression," including banning all public gatherings and rallies, revoking citizenship of those who speak out, and torturing both adults and children.

(PIERRE VERDY/AFP/GettyImages)

 Chantal Biya, wife of Cameroonian President Paul Biya

The first lady: Known as a trendsetter (there was a Tumblr devoted to her famously tall hair-do), the first lady of Cameroon is very social and has been photographed alongside Michelle Obama, Paris Hilton, and Pope Francis. Biya says her favorite European designers are Dior and Chanel, and many of the pieces in her wardrobe are custom-made.

Thirty-eight years her husband's junior, Biya is also a member of African Synergy, a club that addresses solutions to HIV and AIDS in Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso.

Her husband: President Biya has been in office for more than 30 years, and in 2008 he removed restrictions on term limits so that he could run for office indefinitely. His state security forces have been accused of executing protestors and using other means of violence and oppression to prevent political opposition. A 2015 report from Africa Review found that Biya has a salary that is nearly 229 times more than the average for his country.

REUTERS/Larry Downing

Hinda Déby, wife of Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno

The first lady: Hinda Déby is considered the "new first lady" (or thirteenth, depending on whom you ask), as her husband has been married many times.

The fashionable and highly educated Déby serves as her husband's stenographer and "helps advise me with every single decision I make," President Déby Itno is quoted as saying.

In August, she gave a rousing speech on the role of women in the battle for peace and stability that became a subject of debate in households nationwide.

Her husband: President Déby Itno, whose government is backed by the US, came into power when he led a military coup that overthrew his predecessor in 1990. He has largely run unchallenged in elections since he took office. He played a key role in escalating a bloody proxy war between Chad and Sudan throughout the 2000s.

 (Photo by Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Constancia Mangue, wife of Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo

The first lady: Constancia Mangue, the first lady of Equatorial Guinea, has been honored for her advocacy of women's and children's rights through the NGO she founded, the Equatorial Guinean Child Aid Committee.

Mangue is the mother of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the president's oldest son, who has been named his successor.

Her husband: President Mbasogo served as head of the National Guard under the last dictator's bloody reign, and took power in a coup . He has been accused of cannibalism, eating parts of his opponents to gain power and sexual prowess. After more than 35 years in office, he is Africa's longest-serving leader.

 ( BALLESTEROS/AFP/Getty Images)

 Zeinab Suma, wife of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh

The first lady: Most reports about Zeinab Suma, the "official" first lady of Gambia, are shockingly negative. Many call her a "gold digger" and a "hustler" and, in one report, a "devil" who "enjoys seeing Gambians suffer."

Despite the backlash, she appears to run a popular public Facebook page about her life that has over 14,000 followers. Suma publishes behind-the-scenes photos from her philanthropic activities, as well as professionally taken photos of herself on the beach or at a gala.

Her husband: President Jammeh achieved stability in Gambia but only at the cost of human rights and freedom of the press. According to Reuters, his rule has been characterized by paranoia and superstition, and he has reportedly jailed a number of people in his inner circle for allegedly plotting to overthrow him.

REUTERS/Larry Downing 

Sara Nazarbayeva, wife of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev

The first lady: A trained economics engineer, Sara Nazarbayeva is the founder and chair of Bobek, an international children's charity fund, which won her the Ihsan Doğramacı Family Health Foundation Prize from the World Health Organization in 1997.

Her daughter, Aliya, launched a jewelry line in 2011 named after the first lady.

Her husband: The president of 25 years has been accused of widespread human-rights abuses, including limits on political and speech freedoms, pervasive corruption, and violence against women. Kazakhstan has "never held an election that met international standards," with President Nazarbayev taking home 97% of the vote in his most recent election in 2015.

REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov 

Ri Sol Ju, wife of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un

The first lady: Called "the Kate Middleton of North Korea," Ri Sol Ju first became known as the supreme leader's wife when she stood for photos with him in 2012. Little is known about her other than that she's around 30 and comes from a well-to-do North Korean family.

Sol Ju has not been seen in public since the spring, leading conspiracists to churn out rumorsregarding her whereabouts. Some speculate she's pregnant, while others worry she has been executed by her husband's regime.

Her husband: Kim Jong Un took on the role of Supreme Leader as the country experienced soaring poverty and starvation rates. Still, Jong Un lives a "seven-star party lifestyle."

Since taking power, he has replaced many of the nation's top military leaders and other officials who served under his father in order to show that he is a secure enough leader that he can shed his closest support, The Wall Street Journal reported.

REUTERS/KCNA 

Jeannette Kagame, wife of Rwandan President Paul Kagame

The first lady: Jeannette Kagame returned to her native Rwanda after the genocide of 1994 and has since championed issues related to women's rights and children.

Her work as first lady has focused on ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic and improving the lives of its victims. Thanks to the collective efforts of Kagame and global leaders, new HIV infections have been cut in half and testing among young women has increased sixfold in the last decade.

Her husband: President Kagame is credited with leading Rwanda's remarkable recovery from war and genocide, but his government made these gains through tight restrictions on freedom of expression and association. He plans to run for an unprecedented third term in 2017.

In the last general election, authorities barred most opposing political parties from registering to vote, closed many independent newspapers, and were accused of killing journalists and exiled officials — efforts that helped Kagame garner a suspicious 93% of the vote.

REUTERS/Molly Riley MR

Inkhosikati LaMbikiza, wife of Swazi King Mswati III

The first lady: Queen Inkhosikati LaMbikiza stands out as the "senior wife" among King Mswati III's 15 brides. She dropped out of school at age 16 to marry him, becoming the first wife he chose for himself. (The first two were ceremonial brides picked by the royal family.)

Queen LaMbikiza defied Swazi tradition by earning a law degree after her marriage, though she's not allowed to practice as it could create pressure on judges to rule in her favor. She influences culture in other ways, becoming the first Swazi queen to record a gospel album.

Her husband: The 45-year-old king is said to use nearly $50 million of Swaziland's annual budget to sustain his family. As many as four wives have abandoned the king's harem, citing physical and emotional abuse, according to The Daily Mail.

He enjoys total power over his 1.2 million subjects in one of the world's last absolute monarchies. The system of government bans political parties from involvement in elections.

(Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Asma al-Assad, wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

The first lady: British beauty Asma al-Assad has stood by President Assad as civil war rages on in Syria.

The Assads met in London, where she worked as an investment banker at J.P. Morgan and Assad was studying to be an eye surgeon. 

The mother of three has become controversial for extravagant shopping sprees, disingenuous photos of her charitable work on the president's official Instagram account, as well as an overly positive profile that ran in Vogue just before the start of the civil war.

Her husband: The ongoing civil war in Syria, where President Assad inherited leadership from his dictator-father, has killed 400,000 people since its start in 2011, according to some estimates. Western governments have accused Assad's administration of imprisoning dissidents, censoring the media and internet, and using chemical weapons against its people.

 (Photo credit should read MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty Images)

Cilia Flores, wife of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

The first lady: Flores and Maduro met 19 years ago through a mutual friend, Hugo Chavez. Maduro was his bodyguard and Flores, a feisty lawyer who rose up from poverty, was a member of Chavez's defense team that won his freedom after a failed coup attempt.

Flores, nicknamed the "First Fighter," succeeded her husband as the first female president of the National Assembly and also served as attorney general. She has denied accusations of nepotism, despite putting roughly 40 family members in positions of public administration.

Her husband: President Maduro, who came into power in 2013, has fanned the flames of Venezuela's economic crisis. In October, the Supreme Court further consolidated Maduro's power, ruling that he would not need congressional approval to pass a new budget.

Venezuelan lawmakers are rallying to remove him from office.

 (Photo credit should read FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Grace Mugabe, wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe

The first lady: Grace Mugabe, 41 years his junior, was President Mugabe's secretary when they began having an affair in the '80s. Two of their three children were born while the president was still married to his late wife, and the lovers tied the knot in an extravagant Catholic mass a few years after she died.

Reports of the first lady's lavish lifestyle and international shopping sprees have prompted the president's opponents to call her "Disgrace." She prefers the moniker "mother of the nation."

Her husband: President Robert Mugabe, 92, has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980, and he maintains an iron grip on the country's security apparatus. He has been accused of vote rigging and setting up "torture camps" where opposition activists are beaten and intimidated into silence.

(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

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