In the immortal words of Beyonce: Who run the world? Girls.
At the very least, it seems things may be moving in the right direction in terms of shared power between men and women in all walks of life. The past year has seen some more positive changes regarding the portrayal of women in both media and government. Women have fought back against sexist internet language and slander; the organization Women, Action & the Media reported its mission to address and hopefully end such cyber-attacks of misogyny. Also in 2013, the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty released a series of “body sketches,” which revealed the ways in which women’s self-perceptions are often negatively distorted. Other women in the spotlight such as Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Malala Yousafzai have shown enormous courage and leadership, providing the public with a conception of women as both intelligent and strong.
Of course, there is still a long road ahead. For example, there’s still a significant wage gap between men and women – about 77 cents to the dollar. Countries in the Middle East still experience significant gender inequality: Issues such as trafficking, social exclusion, severely limited health care access, and even blatant denial of rights are all important, even urgent, issues that continue to beg for meaningful address.
But this list celebrates the women who are just the kind of leaders to deal with these issues. While there is much work to be done, the success of these female politicians around the world is testament to the increasing political and social power of women in the 21st century. The following females demonstrate positive images of women while simultaneously working to grant women and girls around the world equal rights, and the freedom to achieve – with equal opportunity – all that these women themselves have accomplished. Without further ado, based on Forbes’ list of powerful women in the world, here are the 10 most influential female politicians of the last year.
10. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of Argentina
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is the 52nd president of Argentina and is the country’s first elected female president, as well as the first to be re-elected. She was educated in Law at the University of La Plata. Kirchner has served on the Argentine National Congress, and was inaugurated as president in October 2007. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, which works to tackle global issues regarding women’s equality.
9. Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Kathleen Sebelius has served as Secretary of the HHS since 2009, and has worked to provide human services to America’s most vulnerable populations, young children, the elderly, and citizens with disabilities. Before serving as Secretary, she was governor of Kansas, and was named one of Time Magazine’s Top Five American Governors. Currently, Sebelius leads the nation’s emergency health response; some issues she has tackled are the Gulf oil spill, the Missouri tornado, and the Haiti earthquake. The HHS has also collaborated with the Department of Education to improve the quality of childhood education programs. Looking forward, Sebelius will continue to work with international allies to combat global health concerns such as polio and HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases affecting the modern world.
8. Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives
Nancy Pelosi is a powerhouse. She was the first woman to serve as the Speaker of the House, the role she assumed from 2007-2011. Under Pelosi, the 111th Congress was “one of the most productive” in recent history. Pelosi worked with President Obama to help pass important legislation, which reduced unemployment in the US and offered tax cuts to 95% of working Americans. Pelosi has also taken initiative in the passage of a law that updates the American healthcare system, features a Patient’s Bill of Rights, and promises to provide insurance for 30 million more Americans. Under speaker Pelosi, the House focused on ethics reform that included the creation of a separate ethics panel. She is also known for her human rights advocacy, especially with respect to China and Tibet.
7. Helen Clark, Administrator of the U.N. Development Program
Helen Clark is a former Prime Minister of New Zealand and is the Administrator of the U.N. Development Program. 2013 was an important year for the UNDP as a whole: The organization has helped to aid successful elections in both Pakistan and Madagascar. It also aided the Philippines through crucial crisis response, and has dedicated much of its time to conquering problems of rising inequalities around the world. Looking forward, Clark has stated her intention to work with crises in Libya, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. While Clark has acknowledged that this is a “tough start,” she has every intention of doing all she can to be of global service.
6. Park Geun-hye , President of South Korea
Park Geun-hye is the President of South Korea, and is the first woman elected to the position – an impressive achievement in a country named as having one of the highest levels of gender inequality in the world. Her father was also South Korean President from 1961-1979. She is the first female head of state in the contemporary history of Northeast Asia, and has served an impressive 18 presidential terms. In February 2013, Park expressed her intention to be a “president for the people” and to maintain peace within South Korea in tandem with managing the ongoing threat from North Korea. Although she’s remained unmarried at the time of her election victory in 2012, Park stated that she is “married to her nation.”
5. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress
Italian-born Indian Sonia Gandhi was elected president of Congress in 1998, only seven years after her husband, former Prime Minister of India, was assassinated. She has been re-elected a record total of four times, making her the longest serving President in the National Congress. In 2004, Gandhi was selected as chairperson of the United Progressive Alliance – a coalition of leftist political parties – in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the Indian Parliament).
4. Janet Napolitano, Secretary Director of the United States Department of Homeland Security
Janet Napolitano is the first female US Secretary of Homeland Security. She’s no amateur with regard to security measures; as a U.S Attorney, she helped lead the investigation behind the Oklahoma City bombing. Napolitano is also a former governor of Arizona; in fact, she was Arizona’s 3rd female governor from 2003-2009 before she began her job as Secretary. As governor she championed the first state counter-terrorism center and also pioneered federal and state level homeland security efforts. Napolitano resigned at the end of August 2013 to complete another first: the first woman President of the University of California system.
3. Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State and U.S Senator
Hillary Clinton is no stranger to being a “first” lady, as the only First Lady to become a U.S. Senator. She also held the position of United States Secretary of State from 2009-2013. Rumor has it that she will be a Presidential Candidate for the Democratic Party in 2016. Clinton has spearheaded various government initiatives, and has served on five different Senate committees. As Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton worked to modify Pakistan’s views of the US. She played a central role in negotiation regarding both the 2011 Egyptian Protests and military intervention in Libya. In terms of feminist action, in September 2013, Clinton promised to focus on empowering women in the Clinton Global Initiative Panel. She also stated her intention to take care of the “unfinished business of the 21st century: the full and equal participation of women.”
2. Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil
Dilma Rousseff, elected in 2010, is the first female President of Brazil. Interestingly, Rousseff became a socialist in her youth and participated in Marxist guerilla activity in opposition to military dictatorship in Brazil. In 1970 she was jailed for two years, and was reportedly tortured. While Rousseff now states that her political preferences have shifted, she remains open about her former radical beliefs. At present, Rousseff has identified herself as against gay marriage but pro civil-union for same sex couples. She’s also spoken out against the death penalty. In her time, Rousseff has also promised to enhance Brazil’s social welfare network. Her approval rating has generally been quite high; in March 2013, 63% of Brazilians expressed approval of her government, while individually she earned a whopping 79% personal approval rating.
1. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
This powerful lady trained as a physicist at the University of Leipzig, and entered politics just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Merkel became Germany’s first female chancellor in 2005 – a position she still holds – and she is also one of the leading figures in the E.U. In fact, she is the first woman to be in command of Germany since 1871, when it became an official unified nation state. As a leader, Merkel has expressed her belief that Europe needs to make investments in research and development, and has also stated that Germany would favor renewable energy sources in lieu of nuclear power. Merkel has also made clear her intention to attain stability in the euro zone and to make sure that tax dollars are adequately divided between the German Central Government and the German states. In 2012, Merkel was ranked as the 2nd most powerful person in the world – the highest position ever achieved by a female on the list.
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