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20 Women Changing the World

Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany

Angela Merkel has been called “the decider” and “the de facto leader of the European Union” for her prominent role in managing the European debt crisis. Her hardline prescriptions of austerity to stabilize debt-ridden European economies have earned her both praise and organized protests from different political corners, but have ultimately helped to hold the 17-member European Union (EU) together through a period of intense financial and political turmoil.

Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil
Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil

The first female president of Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, Dilma Rousseff was previously a career civil servant who had never run for an elected office. She participated in the left-wing resistance movement in the 1970s against Brazil’s then-military dictatorship, eventually being thrown in jail and reportedly tortured; today, for her tough stance on government corruption is widely respected. Known for her brusque and effective management style, Rousseff has democratized Brazil’s electricity sector through the Luz Para Todos (Light for All) program, making electricity widely available in both cities and rural areas.

Hillary Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton, Former U.S. Secretary of State

Few public figures are as widely known—or as widely respected—as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. First coming to national attention in 1992 as U.S. first lady, she immediately transformed the position by taking an active role in several policy initiatives. Narrowly missing the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Clinton was promptly appointed secretary of state by President Barack Obama. As the top U.S. diplomat, she helped to craft the nation’s response to the Arab Spring, while overseeing the State Department’s “Asia pivot.”

Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF

The straight-talking managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, is the first woman in history to lead the hugely influential 188-country organization. She was the first female finance minister of a G8 economy (France, 2007-2011). The Financial Times voted her Europe’s best finance minister in 2009, after she won international respect for advancing France’s negotiating clout in the G20 and other major economic forums. A noted antitrust and labor lawyer, Lagarde is also recognized for the instrumental role she played in approving a bail-out mechanism to aid struggling members of the Eurozone in May 2010.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Pro-Democracy Leader
Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s Pro-Democracy Leader

A modern icon for democracy and nonviolent resistance, Aung San Suu Kyi recently emerged from a 25-year period of intermittent house arrest and continuous political repression to win a seat in the lower house of the Burmese parliament. Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988, and was quickly placed under house arrest by the ruling military junta. Suu Kyi was released in November 2010, after which she and her NLD counterparts went on to win 43 of the 45 available lower house seats in Burma’s 2012 by-elections. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in 2012.

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, President of Argentina

Argentinian President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner has presided over an extended period of raising the country’s GDP, increasing pension and child welfare benefits, and a steadily falling poverty rate. Assuming presidential office when her husband and former president, Nestor Kirchner, unexpectedly died in 2010, Fernandez de Kirchner won a landslide reelection victory in October 2011 to become Argentina’s first elected female president. Fernandez de Kirchner has moved to address past human rights abuses, legalized same-sex marriage, and renewed contact with the IMF after years of hostility. Frequently described as a strong-willed woman, she has also drawn international attention by challenging British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

Rania al Abdullah, Queen Consort of Jordan
Rania al Abdullah, Queen Consort of Jordan

Queen Consort of Jordan Rania al Abdullah has leveraged her position to engage in a variety of philanthropic efforts within her country and abroad. Since her marriage to King Abdullah II in 1993, Rania has proven to be particularly passionate about education and raising public awareness about violence against children. Her vivacious personality and charitable endeavors have combined to make her a national and international celebrity. The queen brings an unprecedented level of connectivity to her position, sending regular tweets to her 1.6 million Twitter followers, and addressing stereotypes about Islam, Arab culture, and the Middle East on her YouTube channel.

Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Melinda Gates, Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Melinda Gates met her husband, Bill, while working as a project manager for Microsoft, and the two married in 1994. Soon after, Melinda Gates left Microsoft to focus on raising a family, along with running the world’s largest private foundation. Since 1994 she has devoted her time, effort, and fortune to addressing health and poverty issues in the U.S. and abroad. While broadly shaping the strategy, results, and future direction of the organization with her husband, Melinda Gates has emphasized her goal of empowering women in developing countries to decide whether and when to have a child.

Helen Clark, UN Development Program Administrator
Helen Clark, UN Development Program Administrator

In 1999, Helen Clark became the first female prime minister of New Zealand to be elected in a general election, followed by her appointment as the first female head of the UNDP in 2009. During her four-year tenure, Clark has addressed issues ranging from food crises in the Eastern Africa to environmental sustainability, while emphasizing her dedication to the Millennium Development Goals.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi
Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsi

Joining PepsiCo in 1994 after holding positions with Boston Consulting Group, Motorola, and Asea Brown Boveri, Indra Nooyi was named Pepsi’s president and CFO in 2001. She has consistently been recognized by Forbes, Fortune, and U.S. News & World Report as one of the world’s most powerful women and business executives, was elected chairwoman of the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) in 2008, and serves as an honorary co-chair for the World Justice Project.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization
Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization

Appointed director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006 and re-appointed for a second term in 2012, Margaret Chan is the world’s most powerful figure in public health care. Previously serving as the first female director of health of Hong Kong in 1994, she introduced initiatives to enhance training for public health professionals, improve communicable disease surveillance and response, and establish better local and international collaboration. As director general of the WHO, her recommendations on drugs and treatments now direct efforts at the national and international level to battle communicable diseases and viruses like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and influenza.

Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia
Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia

In 2010, Julia Gillard was elected as the first female prime minister of Australia, and the first female leader of the Australian Labor Party. Immigrating to South Australia from the U.K. at the age of five, Gillard specialized in industrial law before her first election to the Australian House of Representatives in 1998. Her agenda has focused on promoting education as the pathway to a productive and participatory economy, while tackling ongoing climate change and immigration issues.

Mary McAleese, Former President of Ireland (1997-2011)
Mary McAleese, Former President of Ireland (1997-2011)

Known to the Irish public as a broadcaster and social activist, Mary McAleese had not held political office prior to her election as president of Ireland in 1997. An experienced broadcaster, McAleese worked as a current affairs journalist and presenter in radio and television with Radio Telefís Éireann, representing Ireland at several major overseas conferences. McAleese’s presidency incorporated her longstanding personal interests in issues concerning justice, equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism, and reconciliation, with a working theme of “building bridges” between disparate groups.

Dr. Helene Gayle, President/CEO of Care USA
Dr. Helene Gayle, President/CEO of Care USA

As president and CEO of Care USA, Dr. Helene Gayle oversees an annual budget of $626 million and manages a staff of 10,000 employees to fight global poverty. Her leadership has emphasized a greater focus on Care’s long-term impact, while leveraging the resources and influence of corporate and NGO partners to extend Care’s global reach. Focusing on HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB prevention, Gayle spent time with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Obama administration’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, before joining Care USA. Constantly striving to promote awareness and build effective partnerships between sectors, Gayle has published numerous scientific articles and brings her insights and expertise to several board positions, including the Rockefeller Foundation and CSIS.

Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State

During her four years as the first female U.S. Secretary of State, Albright advocated for democracy and human rights, reinforced U.S. alliances, and worked tirelessly to promote American trade, business, labor, and environmental standards abroad. She visited 98 different nations from 1997 to 2001, holding the record for most countries visited as Secretary of State prior to Hillary Clinton.

Johanna Sigurdardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland
Johanna Sigurdardottir, Prime Minister of Iceland

In February 2009, Johanna Sigurdardottir became Iceland’s first female prime minister and the world’s first openly gay head of state. A social democrat and Iceland’s longest-serving member of parliament, Sigurdardottir has served as an MP since 1978, as well as Iceland’s minister of social affairs and social security. Her administration weathered the Icelandic financial crisis, reforming the country’s constitution in response to widespread protests. In 2009 Iceland celebrated its number one placement on the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Index.

Nancy Birdsall, Founding President, Center for Global Development
Nancy Birdsall, Founding President, Center for Global Development

Nancy Birdsall is the co-founder and president of the Center for Global Development (CGD), a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. Under Birdsall’s leadership, the Center has achieved international renown for leading debt relief programs in Nigeria and Liberia, Prior to founding the CGD in 2001, Birdsall spent a number of  years in research, policy and management positions at the the World Bank, as well as the Economic Reform Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Zainab Salbi, Founder/CEO of Women for Women International (1993-2011)
Zainab Salbi, Founder/CEO of Women for Women International (1993-2011)

Originally moving to the U.S. from Iraq at age 19 for an arranged marriage, Zainab Salbi has dedicated her life to addressing women’s rights issues across the globe. As a girl, Salbi’s father served as the personal pilot for Saddam Hussein, which exposed her family to psychological abuse from the dictator along with the atrocities of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War. In 2003, she founded the nonprofit group Women for Women International (WFWI), which focuses on grassroots efforts to empower women in war-torn regions.

Marian Wright Edelman, President/Founder of The Children’s Defense Fund
Marian Wright Edelman, President/Founder of The Children’s Defense Fund

Marian Wright Edelman took a keen interest in law after she was arrested as an activist in association with the American Civil Rights Movement. Receiving a scholarship to Yale Law School in 1960, Edelman became the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar after graduating in 1963, and she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Mississippi. In 1973, Edelman established the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) as a voice for poor, minority, and handicapped children, and she served as president of the organization while speaking publicly and lobbying congress on behalf of disadvantaged youths.

Christiane Amanpour, Chief International Correspondent, CNN
Christiane Amanpour, Chief International Correspondent, CNN

Christiane Amanpour has spent over 30 years as an international reporter. She currently serves as the chief international correspondent for CNN, host of CNN International’s nightly interview program, and global affairs anchor of ABC News. Her stern and insightful reporting out of international hotspots, from Bosnia in 1992 to Afghanistan in 2009, has earned her nine Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and numerous other accolades in the field of journalism.

 

Angela Merkel

Position: Chancellor of Germany (since 2005)
Age: 58
Country of Citizenship: Germany (born in Hamburg, Germany)
Education: Leipzig University (Master of Science, Physics); Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof (Doctorate, Physical Chemistry)

Angela Merkel has been called “the decider” and “the de facto leader of the European Union” for her prominent role in managing the European debt crisis. Her hardline prescriptions of austerity to stabilize debt-ridden European economies have earned her both praise and organized protests from different political corners, but have ultimately helped to hold the 17-member European Union (EU) together through a period of intense financial and political turmoil.

Since assuming office in 2005, Merkel has overseen a booming domestic economy and falling unemployment in Germany, resulting in a 62 percent domestic approval rating as of December 2012. Ranked by Forbes as the world’s most powerful woman for six of the last seven years and the world’s second most powerful person in 2012, the Chancellor is the first woman to lead Germany since it became a modern nation-state in 1871. In 2007, she became the second woman (after Margaret Thatcher) to chair the G8, serving as president of the European Council that same year. Also in 2007, Merkel worked closely with then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy to increase economic and political integration in Europe by negotiating the Treaty of Lisbon and the Berlin Declaration. During this period, she was simultaneously signing the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council to strengthen economic relations with the U.S. A former Minister of the Environment, Merkel has called on international leaders to renew the Kyoto agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, and has embraced social media as a tool for representative democracy by launching the Die Bundesregierung YouTube channel in 2011 to directly answer citizens’ questions.

 

Dilma Rousseff

Position: President of Brazil
Age: 65
Country of Citizenship: Brazil (born in Belo Horizonte, Brazil)
Education: Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (B.A. in Economics)

The first female president of Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, Dilma Rousseff was previously a career civil servant who had never run for an elected office. Her political involvement began in the early 1970s, when she joined the left-wing resistance movement against Brazil’s then-military dictatorship, eventually being thrown in jail and reportedly tortured. In 1986, Rousseff was selected for her first position in public office, as finance secretary for the city of Porto Alegre, and by 2003 was named energy minister by former President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. Known for her brusque and effective management style, Rousseff democratized Brazil’s electricity sector through the Luz Para Todos (Light for All) program, making electricity widely available in both cities and rural areas.

Working closely with the hugely popular President Lula as chief of staff from 2005–2010, Rousseff represented continuity with the former administration during Brazil’s 2010 presidential election. She has promoted the mostly market-friendly policies that contributed to a widespread improvement in Brazilian standards of living, emphasizing entrepreneurship while reserving a strong state-led role in key sectors of the economy. Rousseff is also viewed as taking a tough stance on government corruption, particularly among Brazil’s surging middle class, helping her to achieve domestic approval ratings of more than 60 percent as of late 2012.

 

Hillary Clinton

Position: Former U.S. Secretary of State
Age: 65
Country of Citizenship: U.S. (born in Chicago, Illinois)
Education: Wellesley College (B.A. in Political Science); Yale Law School (J.D.)

Few public figures are as widely known—or as widely respected—as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. First coming to national attention in 1992 as U.S. first lady, she immediately transformed the position by taking an active role in several policy initiatives, including an effort to reform the nation’s health care system.

Clinton then made history as the first U.S. first lady to run for public office, elected as a U.S. Senator for New York in 2000 and reelected by a wide margin in 2006. Narrowly missing the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, Clinton was promptly appointed secretary of state by President Barack Obama, who would later tell 60 Minutes that she “will go down as one of the finest secretaries of state we’ve had.” Clinton’s work ethic propelled her to visit a record 112 countries in four years, based on a professed belief that in-person visits were more important than ever in the virtual age. As the top U.S. diplomat, she helped to craft the nation’s response to the Arab Spring, advocating in 2010 for military intervention in Libya and the ongoing use of ‘smart power,’ while overseeing the State Department’s “Asia pivot” and forging diplomatic engagement with the Southeast Asian nation of Burma/Myanmar.

Throughout her career, Clinton has remained an advocate of women’s rights both at home and abroad. While she has not yet publicly discussed interest in another bid for the White House, supporters at home and abroad believe that she will emerge as a U.S. presidential candidate in 2016.

 

Christine Lagarde

Position: Managing Director of IMF
Age: 57
Country of Citizenship: France (Born in Paris, France)
Education: Paris West University Nanterre La Défense (J.D.); Institute of Political Studies, Aix-en-Provence (Master’s degree in English and labor law)

The straight-talking managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, is the first woman in history to lead the hugely influential 188-country organization. Elected in 2011, Lagarde previously served as the French minister of finance from 2007–2011. She became the first female finance minister of a G8 economy, and she served as the minister of commerce and industry from 2005–2007. The Financial Times voted her Europe’s best finance minister in 2009, after winning international respect for advancing France’s negotiating clout in the G20 and other major economic forums. A noted antitrust and labor lawyer, Lagarde is also recognized for the instrumental role she played in approving a bail-out mechanism to aid struggling members of the Eurozone in May 2010.

 

Aung San Suu Kyi

Position: Burma’s pro-democracy leader
Age: 67
Country of Citizenship: Burma (Born in Yangon, Burma)
Education: University of Delhi (Politics); St Hugh’s College, Oxford (B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics)

A modern icon for democracy and nonviolent resistance, Aung San Suu Kyi recently emerged from a 25-year period of intermittent house arrest and continuous political repression to win a seat in the lower house of the Burmese parliament. Suu Kyi is daughter of Aung San, who negotiated Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1947 shortly before being assassinated. Suu Kyi founded the National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1988 after returning from her studies abroad. Soon thereafter she was placed under house arrest by the ruling military junta, despite the overwhelming political success of her NLD party in the 1990 general election. In her 1990 speech, “Freedom From Fear,” Suu Kyi famously observed, “It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”

Influenced by Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, Suu Kyi patiently awaited the political transformation of her country while maintaining a devoted following within her country and across the world. She was released from house arrest in November 2010, after which she and her NLD counterparts went on to win 43 of the 45 available lower house seats in Burma’s 2012 by-elections. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal in 2012 for her prominent efforts to “promote democracy, human rights, and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means.”

 

Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner

Position: President of Argentina
Age: 60
Country of Citizenship: Argentina (born in La Plata, Argentina)
Education: National University of La Plata (B.A./B.S. in Law)

Argentinian President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner has presided over an extended period of raising the country’s GDP, increasing pension and child welfare benefits, and a steadily falling poverty rate. Assuming presidential office when her husband and former president, Nestor Kirchner, unexpectedly died in 2010, Fernandez de Kirchner won a landslide reelection victory in October 2011 to become Argentina’s first elected female president. A member of the Peronist Youth movement in the 1970s, she then focused on studying law until her 1989 election to the Santa Cruz provincial legislature. In 1995, Fernandez de Kirchner was elected to represent Santa Cruz in the Argentine senate, followed by her election to the Chamber of Deputies in 1997 and second election to the national senate in 2001. By the time her husband was elected president in 2003, she carried substantial political clout herself, encouraging increases in social spending. As president, Fernandez de Kirchner has moved to address past human rights abuses, legalized same-sex marriage, renewed contact with the IMF after years of hostility, and is seeking to continue negotiations over Argentina’s debts to the Paris Club of lender nations. Frequently described as a strong-willed woman, she has also drawn international attention by challenging British sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

 

Rania al Abdullah

Position: Queen Consort of Jordan
Age: 42
Country of Citizenship: Jordan (Born Kuwait City, Kuwait)
Education: New English School in Jabriya, Kuwait; American University in Cairo (B.A./B.S. in Business Administration)

Queen Consort of Jordan Rania al Abdullah has leveraged her position to engage in a variety of philanthropic efforts within her country and abroad. Since her marriage to King Abdullah II in 1993, Rania has proven to be particularly passionate about education—leading efforts in Jordan to improve classroom quality, teaching standards, computer access and family involvement—alongside efforts to raise public awareness about violence against children.

In 1995, she founded the NGO Jordan River Foundation (JRF), which she currently chairs, and in 1998 launched the JRF’s Child Safety Program. Queen Rania is also an honorary chair of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative, and sits on the boards of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Foundation for International Community Assistance (FINCA), a leading microfinance organization. Her vivacious personality and charitable endeavors have combined to make her a national and international celebrity. The queen brings an unprecedented level of connectivity to her position by sending regular tweets to her 1.6 million Twitter followers. In 2008, she launched her own YouTube channel intended to open a global dialogue addressing stereotypes about Islam, Arab culture, and the Middle East.

 

Melinda Gates

Position: Co-Chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Age: 48
Country of Citizenship: United States (born in Dallas, Texas)
Education: Duke University (B.A. in Computer Science and Economics, MBA)

Melinda Gates met her husband, Bill, while working as a project manager for Microsoft, and the two married in 1994. Soon after, Melinda Gates left Microsoft to focus on raising a family, along with running the world’s largest private foundation. Since 1994 she has devoted her time, effort, and fortune to addressing health and poverty issues in the U.S. and abroad. In 2012, Melinda Gates dedicated $560 million of her own money to improving access to contraception for women in the world’s poorest nations, with the goal of delivering birth control to 120 million women in developing countries by 2020. While broadly shaping the strategy, results, and future direction of the organization with her husband, Melinda Gates has emphasized her belief that empowering women in developing countries to decide whether and when to have a child can be a “critical driver of the transformational improvements in the health and prosperity of whole societies.”

 

Helen Clark

Position: UN Development Program Administrator
Age: 63
Country of Citizenship: New Zealand (born in Hamilton, New Zealand)
Education: University of Auckland (B.A., M.A.)

After leading New Zealand through nearly a decade of economic growth as three-term prime minister from 1999 to 2008, Helen Clark joined the UN Development Program (UNDP) as administrator in 2009. Involved with the New Zealand Labour Party as a teenager, Clark held numerous Cabinet positions in the Fourth Labour Government of New Zealand, including minister of housing, minister of health and minister of conservation, along with serving as deputy prime minister for a year.

In 1999, she became the first female prime minister of New Zealand to be elected in a general election, followed by her appointment as the first female head of the UNDP in 2009. As administrator, Clark oversees the UNDP’s $5 billion annual budget and more than 8,000 employees operating in 177 countries. During her four-year tenure, Clark has addressed issues ranging from food crises in the Eastern Africa to environmental sustainability, while emphasizing her dedication to the Millennial Development Goals of eradicating extreme hunger while providing universal education and improved maternal health by 2015. In a March 2012 interview, Clark confirmed that she will seek another four-year term as UNDP Administrator.

 

Indra Nooyi

Position: CEO of Pepsi
Age: 57
Country of Citizenship: United States (born in Madras, Tamil Nadu, India)
Education: Madras Christian College; IIM Calcutta; Yale School of Management (MBA)

Joining PepsiCo in 1994 after holding positions with Boston Consulting Group, Motorola, and Asea Brown Boveri, Indra Nooyi was named Pepsi’s president and CFO in 2001. In her 12 years directing global strategy for the world’s second largest food and beverage business, Noovi has overseen a 72 percent rise in annual revenues and doubling of the company’s net profits. Consistently recognized by Forbes, Fortune, and U.S. News & World Report as one of the world’s most powerful women and business executives, she was elected chairwoman of the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) in 2008, and serves as an honorary co-chair for the World Justice Project, which seeks to strengthen the Rule of Law and allow for the development of opportunity and equity in communities across the globe.

 

Margaret Chan

Position: Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO)
Age: 66
Country of Citizenship: Hong Kong (born in Hong Kong)
Education: Northcote College of Education (Home Economics); University of Western Ontario (Medical Doctor); National University of Singapore (M.S. in Public Health)

Appointed as director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006 and appointed to a second term in 2012, Margaret Chan is the world’s most powerful figure in public health care. Chan served for 25 years with the Hong Kong government, originally as a medical officer in 1978 and eventually becoming the first female director of health of Hong Kong in 1994. In this role, she introduced initiatives to enhance training for public health professionals, improve communicable disease surveillance and response, and establish better local and international collaboration between health offices and organizations. In 2003, Chan left Hong Kong to join the WHO, where her recommendations on drugs and treatments now direct efforts at the national and international level to battle communicable diseases and viruses like HIV/AIDS, malaria, and influenza.

 

Julia Gillard

Position: Prime Minister of Australia
Age: 51
Country of Citizenship: Australia (born in Barry, Wales, UK)
Education: University of Melbourne (B.A./Bachelor of Laws)

In 2010, Julia Gillard was elected as the first female prime minister of Australia, and the first female leader of the Australian Labor Party. Immigrating to South Australia from the U.K. at the age of five, Gillard specialized in industrial law before her first election to the Australian House of Representatives in 1998. In the 2007 federal election, Gillard became the first female deputy prime minister of Australia, while also serving as both minister for education and minister for employment and workplace relations. Following a contentious break with former political ally and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2010, Gillard was elected to the highest position in Australian politics. Her agenda has focused on promoting education as the pathway to a productive and participatory economy, while tackling ongoing climate change and immigration issues.

 

Mary McAleese

Position: Former President of Ireland (1997–2011)
Age: 61
Country of Citizenship: Ireland (born in Belfast, Northern Ireland)
Education: Queen’s University Belfast (Law); Trinity College, Dublin

Known to the Irish public as a broadcaster and social activist, Mary McAleese had not held political office prior to her election as president of Ireland in 1997. An experienced broadcaster, McAleese worked as a current affairs journalist and presenter in radio and television with Radio Telefís Éireann, representing Ireland at several major overseas conferences. McAleese’s presidency incorporated her longstanding personal interests in issues concerning justice, equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism, and reconciliation, with a working theme of “building bridges” between disparate groups.

“My dream is for a presidency which will capture and hold in its embrace this large, colorful family which is the Irish people,” she told voters before the 1997 election. McAleese was reelected unopposed to a second term in 2004 and remained popular as Ireland experienced a period of relative social harmony and economic growth throughout her two terms in office.

 

Dr. Helene Gayle

Position: President/CEO of Care USA
Age: 58
Country of Citizenship: U.S. (Born in Buffalo, NY)
Education: Barnard College (B.A. in Psychology); University of Pennsylvania (M.D.), Johns Hopkins University (MPH)

As president and CEO of Care USA, Dr. Helen Gayle oversees an annual budget of $626 million and manages a staff of 10,000 employees to fight global poverty. A leading aid organization, Care USA reached an estimated 122 million people in 2012 alone through programs in 87 different countries. As CEO, Gayle oversaw the introduction of three major initiatives: Mothers Matter, which focuses on child and maternal health; Power Within, which promotes girls’ education; and Access Africa, which expands access to credit through microfinance. Her leadership has emphasized a greater focus on Care’s long-term impact, while leveraging the resources and influence of corporate and NGO partners to extend Care’s global reach.

Before joining Care USA, Gayle spent 20 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), where she focused primarily on HIV/AIDS and was appointed as the first director of the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention. She went on to direct the HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and served as chair of the Obama administration’s Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Constantly striving to promote awareness and build effective partnerships between sectors, Gayle has published numerous scientific articles and brings her insights and expertise to several board positions, including the Rockefeller Foundation and CSIS.

 

Madeleine Albright

Position: Former U.S. Secretary of State
Age: 75
Country of Citizenship: Czech, U.S. (born in Prague, Czechoslovakia)
Education: Wellesley College (B.A. in Political Science); Columbia University (M.A., Ph.D.)

Forced to flee Czechoslovakia after the signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, Madeleine Albright’s family moved first to England and then to Long Island, New York, in 1948 before finally settling in Denver, Colorado. Albright obtained her U.S. citizenship in 1957 while studying political science at Wellesley College, then proceeded to study politics and international relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Columbia University. In 1978, Albright’s former professor at Columbia University, Zbigniew Brzezinski, was named national security advisor and recruited her to work as the National Security Council’s congressional liaison. In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Albright as Ambassador to the United Nations, and in 1997 she was unanimously confirmed as the first female U.S. Secretary of State.

During her four years as secretary, Albright advocated for democracy and human rights, reinforced U.S. alliances, and worked tirelessly to promote American trade, business, labor, and environmental standards abroad. She visited 98 different nations from 1997 to 2001, holding the record for most countries visited as Secretary of State prior to Hillary Clinton. Albright currently serves as chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and Albright Capital Management LLC, an investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets. She also teaches diplomacy at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C.

 

Johanna Sigurdardottir

Position: Prime Minister of Iceland
Age: 70
Country of Citizenship: Iceland (born in Reykjavík, Iceland)
Education: Commercial College of Iceland

In February 2009, Johanna Sigurdardottir became Iceland’s first female prime minister and the world’s first openly gay head of state. A social democrat and Iceland’s longest-serving member of parliament, Sigurdardottir has served as an MP since 1978, as well as Iceland’s minister of social affairs and social security from 1987–1994 and 2007–2009. Her administration weathered the Icelandic financial crisis, reforming the country’s constitution in response to widespread protests. Sigurdardottir has also promoted women’s rights throughout her political career. In 2010 her government banned strip clubs, paying for nudity in restaurants, and other means of employers profiting from employees’ nudity, with Sigurdardottir saying, “The Nordic countries are leading the way on women’s equality, recognizing women as equal citizens rather than commodities for sale.” In 2009 Iceland celebrated its number one placement on the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Index, and Sigurdardottir married her partner as one of the first same-sex couples to be legally recognized in June 2010.

 

Nancy Birdsall

Position: Founding President, Center for Global Development
Age: 67
Country of Citizenship: United States
Education: Newton College of the Sacred Heart (B.A.); Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (M.A.); Yale University (Ph.D.)

Nancy Birdsall is the co-founder and president of the Center for Global Development (CGD), a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., which strives “to reduce global poverty and inequality by encouraging policy change in the U.S. and other rich countries through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community.” Under Birdsall’s leadership, the Center has achieved international renown for leading debt relief programs in Nigeria and Liberia, creating a program called “advance market commitments” to encourage vaccine development for specific diseases and numerous other initiatives. Prior to founding the CGD in 2001, Birdsall spent 13 years in research, policy and management positions at the World Bank where she oversaw a $30 billion public and private loan portfolio as executive vice-president of the Inter-American Development Bank from 1993–1998. She served for three years as senior associate and director of the Economic Reform Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Birdsall has also written numerous publications on issues relating to international economic development, including labor markets, human resources, economic inequality, and the relationship between income distribution and growth.

 

Zainab Salbi

Position: Founder and CEO from 1993–2011 of Women for Women International
Age: 43
Country of Citizenship: Iraq (born in Baghdad, Iraq) and U.S.
Education: George Mason University (BA in Sociology and Women’s Studies); London School of Economics (Master’s in Development Studies)

Originally moving to the U.S. from Iraq at age 19 for an arranged marriage, Zainab Salbi has dedicated her life to addressing women’s rights issues across the globe. As a girl, Salbi’s father served as the personal pilot for Saddam Hussein, which exposed her family to psychological abuse from the dictator along with the atrocities of the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq War.

In 2003, she founded the nonprofit group Women for Women International (WFWI) after hearing reports of and visiting refugee and rape camps in Croatia. WFWI has five country offices and a network of more than 35,000 women, and has supported more than 350,000 women by providing economic and emotional aid, job-skills training, and rights-based education. The group focuses on grassroots efforts to empower women in war-torn regions, seeking to stop endemic cycles of violence and to create lasting social change at the community level.

Salbi was honored for her humanitarian work by President Bill Clinton at a White House ceremony in 1995, just two years after founding WFWI, and received the Barclays Women of the Year Award in 2012. She has authored several books to spread awareness about the ongoing global issues facing women, including Between Two Worlds: My Escape from the Inner Circle of Saddam (Gotham 2005), The Other Side of War: Women’s Stories of Survival and Hope (National Geographic 2006), and If You Knew Me You Would Care (powerHouse 2013).

 

Marian Wright Edelman

Position: President and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund
Age: 73
Country of Citizenship: United States (born in Bennettsville, South Carolina)
Education: Spelman College (B.A.); Yale Law School (LLB)

Originally planning on a career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Marian Wright Edelman took a keen interest in law after she was arrested as an activist in association with the American Civil Rights Movement. Receiving a scholarship to Yale Law School in 1960, she decided to alter her professional course “to be able to help black people, and the law seemed like a tool I needed.” Edelman became the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar after graduating in 1963, and she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Mississippi. In 1973, Edelman established the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) as a voice for poor, minority, and handicapped children, and she served as president of the organization while speaking publicly and lobbying congress on behalf of disadvantaged youths. She has also published several books over her career on education, health, and violence issues related to children, including the bestseller The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours.

 

Christiane Amanpour

Position: Chief International Correspondent, CNN
Age: 55
Country of Citizenship: United Kingdom (born in London, England)
Education: University of Rhode Island (B.A. in Journalism)

Working her way up from a position as assistant on the international assignment desk for CNN in Atlanta, Christiane Amanpour has spent over 30 years as an international reporter. She currently serves as the chief international correspondent for CNN; host of CNN International’s nightly interview program, Amanpour; and global affairs anchor of ABC News. Amanpour has interviewed almost every major world leader over the course of a long and distinguished career, including Moammar Gadhafi and Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring. Her stern and insightful reporting out of international hotspots, from Bosnia in 1992 to Afghanistan in 2009, has earned her nine Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and numerous other accolades in the field of journalism.

  • ACKQ

    They are all such big names– although I loved the inclusion of Nancy Birdsall, a graduate school classmate of mine. What about including some unsung heroines. I nominate some of the wonderful women who lead democratization NGOs that I interviewed for my new book about South Africa, Tajikistan and Argentina. See http://www.importingdemocracy.org

  • mitaky

    Good to see so many female heads of States. Their leadership and work need to be explored more widely especially by girls in high school.
    See link added here. http://womandivine.blogspot.com

  • patriciahendricksen

    So-o-o many to be proud of!!! :-) :-)

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