Decade’s most influential women
Once the UN declared March 8th International Women’s Day, the need to reassert the role played by women in society and history has spread gradually all over the world.
In Forbes’ The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women list are builders, disruptors, and innovators in every sector from business to creative worlds, taking a modern, forward-looking view on power. The Power Women control or influence more than $2.3 trillion in revenue and oversee nearly 6.5 million employees.
If we think back on everything we’ve experienced over the last decade, the faces of numerous women who have made valuable contributions immediately flash before our eyes. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to summarize them all in one sole blog post, so we’ve decided to focus on stories of women we should all remember.
Of different ages, creeds and origins, they all share one trait: their will to leave their mark on the world.
The climate crisis was barely noticed until 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg came along. Her protest started small: she abstained from school for 20 days in August 2018 to sit outside the country’s parliament building clutching a sign that read: “School strike for the climate”.
Since then, she has inspired a global movement among young people, addressed the United Nations and the World Economic Forum in Davos, and been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. All along she was facing down critics her individual stand against climate injustice continues.
We are certain that Greta’s speech in 2019 at the UN climate summit will go down in history.
Gita Gopinath became the first Indian woman to be appointed as the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2018. The Harvard educated economist in 2011, was chosen as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In 2014, she was named in the Top 25 Economists under 45 list by the IMF, In 2019, Foreign Policy named her one of the Top Global Thinkers. She was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the biggest honor for a person of Indian origin.
Jacinda Kate Laurell Ardern, New Zealand politician who in August 2017 became leader of the New Zealand Labour Party and then in October 2017, at age 37, became the country’s youngest prime minister in more than 150 years. In March 2019 after an attack on a mosque in central Christchurch and another on a mosque in suburban Linwood during midday prayers, Ardern called for changes to New Zealand’s gun laws, a statement that appeared to meet with broad approval in a country where gun ownership was widespread. The anti-immigrant motivation for the attacks was especially jolting in a country with a reputation for welcoming immigrants. Ardern then announced that in 2020 New Zealand would be increasing the number of immigrants it accepted annually from 1,000 to 1,500.
Chancellor of Germany for the past 14 years and as leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party from 2000 to 2018, Angela Merkel has been named Forbes’ most powerful woman in the world for nine years in a row. In 2015, she was named Time magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ and she remains the only female commander-in-chief of a G20, with women today representing just 5% of government heads and holding only 24% of parliamentary seats. Merkel stepped down as leader of the CDU party in December 2018, describing her tenure as an ‘honor’. She will continue serving as German chancellor until the end of the parliamentary term in 2021.
CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
In 2014 Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie published her critically-acclaimed essay We Should All Be Feminists. Her 2009 TED Talk, The Danger of A Single Story, is now one of the most-viewed TED Talks of all time. Her 2012 talk We Should All Be Feminists has a started a worldwide conversation about feminism, and was published as a book in 2014. The literary work, which was adapted from her 2012 TEDx talk, discussed feminism and the problems of toxic masculinity. Adichie says in the text:
“We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.”
Adichie’s words became deeply ingrained in feminist discourse, being sampled in mainstream music and quoted on Dior t-shirts, which were widely criticized after being sold for around £500. Her most recent book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, was published in March 2017.
Beyoncé both as a member of Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist, throughout the past decade has risen even higher than anyone could have anticipated. In addition to being an 20-time Grammy Award winner, changing the music with the release of her visual album Lemonade, performing at the Super Bowl Halftime Show twice, in 2017 Beyoncé made history at Coachella, becoming the first black woman to headline the music festival. Her choice to sample Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘How To Be A Feminist’ on her song ‘Flawless’, was praised for introducing feminist literature to the mainstream and making it accessible to younger fans. She has also been open about motherhood and balancing her career with her family responsibilities.
The work of Canadian author Margaret Atwood, 80, was introduced to a new generation of women in the 2010s, as her patriarchy-smashing book The Handmaid’s Tale, about a dystopian society in which fertile women are made slaves for infertile couples. Atwood's work has been of interest to feminist literary critics, despite Atwood's unwillingness at times to apply the label feminist to her works
"I don't consider it feminism; I just consider it social realism”.
She later clarified her discomfort with the label feminism by stating, "I always want to know what people mean by that word feminism. Some people mean it quite negatively; other people mean it very positively. For instance, some feminists have historically been against lipstick and letting transgender women into women’s washrooms. Those are not positions I have agreed with.”
In 2018, Atwood faced a backlash on social media after voicing concerns over the #MeToo movement and calling for due process in the case of a former university professor accused of sexual misconduct. While feminist critics denounced Atwood for her support of Galloway, Atwood asserts that her signature was in support of due process in the legal system. In 2018, following a partnership between Hulu's adaptation of The Handmaid's Tale and women's rights organisation Equality Now, Margaret Atwood was honored at their 2018 Make Equality Reality Gala. In 2019 Atwood launched the sequel book, The Testaments to critical acclaim, winning her the Booker Prize in 2019.
Shoshana Zuboff, Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University is the author of the books In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power and The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism and The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Her work is the source of many original concepts including 'surveillance capitalism', 'instrumentarian power', 'the division of learning in society', 'economies of action', 'the means of behavior modification', 'information civilization', 'computer-mediated work', the 'automate/informate' dialectic, 'abstraction of work' and 'individualization of consumption'. Zuboff joined the Harvard Business School in 1981 where she became the Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration and one of the first women on the Harvard Business School faculty. In 2014 and 2015 she was a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School.
Sanna became a world’s youngest prime ministers at age of 34 (although she lost that position to Austria's Sebastian Kurz after less than one month)and she heads a government that is remarkably female and young. The other four parties in the government are led by women, three of whom are, like the prime minister, younger than 35. Marin now sits atop a government in which 12 of the 19 Cabinet positions are filled by women. In Davos 2020 she announced closing the pay gap and persuading men to take their fair share of parental leave as key concerns. She also expressed support for the idea of moving the country to a four-day workweek, in order to allow parents more time with their families. Finland was named the happiest country in the world and was the first country in Europe to give women the right to vote.
CHRISTINA KOCH AND JESSICA MEIR
NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir have made history by completing the first ever all-female spacewalk. In October 2019, they spent seven hours outside the International Space Station (ISS) replacing a failed power control unit. The first all-female spacewalk had been due to take place seven months prior but was delayed because NASA had only one suitably-sized space suit (the rest were all too big, having been designed to fit men), made their accomplishment even more interesting. After this NASA unveiled a prototype for a new spacesuit that is designed to give the wearer a customized fit whatever their shape or size. Christina Koch and Jessica Meir inspired a generation of young girls to look up to the stars and dream when they took part in history’s first ever all-female spacewalk.
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party, is the first woman the First Minister of Scotland since November 2014, and the first to lead her party. Forbes magazine ranked Sturgeon as the 50th most powerful woman in the world in 2016 and 2nd in the United Kingdom. In 2015, BBC Radio 4’s Woman's Hour deemed Sturgeon to be the most powerful and influential woman in the United Kingdom. Sturgeon has been an instrumental figure in leading the bid for Scottish Independence in the referendum and has campaigned widely on women’s rights and gender equality, describing herself as a feminist, saying feminism is “not a choice, it is common sense”. During the April 2019 SNP Conference held in Edinburgh, Sturgeon declared a "climate emergency". She argued that Scotland's carbon dioxide emissions are irrevocably causing sea levels to rise, which could have a negative impact on Scotland's prospects of achieving Independence.
Katie Bouman, a 29-year-old computer scientist earned plaudits worldwide for helping develop the algorithm that created the first-ever image of a black hole in April 2019. Bouman played a significant role in the project by verifying images, selecting parameters for filtering images taken by the Event Horizon Telescope. The remarkable photo, showing a halo of dust and gas 500 million trillion km from Earth, was only possible because of the algorithm created by Bouman when she was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As of June 2019, she is an assistant professor of computing and mathematical sciences at the California Institute of Technology.
As a singer, Rihanna has rocked the world with her hit songs, as a fashion designer and business owner, the 31-year-old has broken down barriers, championed inclusivity and achieved phenomenal levels of success. In May 2019, the Barbadian musician became the first woman, and first woman of color, to launch a fashion brand under luxury fashion group LVMH, when she introduced her eponymous fashion brand Fenty. Her cosmetics brand, Fenty Beauty, was named one of Time magazine’s best inventions in 2017, and her lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty, has received universal praise for its representation of different body shapes and sizes. “I wanted every woman on the stage with different energies, different races, body types, and different stages in their womanhood, culture”.
As a high school senior she survived the February 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida and in response co-founded the gun-control advocacy group Never Again MSD. In 2018, 17 people were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when a former student opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on the school. It was the deadliest high school shooting in US history. A group of survivors from the school founded a group called Never Again MSD, using the hashtags #NeverAgain and #EnoughIsEnough to spread the message that stricter gun control was required. Three days after the attack, Never Again MSD co-founder Emma Gonzalez delivered a powerful speech at a gun control rally, with regards to the lack of action being taken to ban assault weapons in America. The speech also became famous for the long period of silence (six minutes, 20 seconds) taken by Gonzalez, at the beginning of her speech, to indicate the length of time the shooter was active in the school for.
Margrethe Vestager, a 51-year-old former Danish lawmaker, head of the European Commission’s antitrust division, is perhaps the world’s most famous regulator, having spent the past five years investigating American tech firms, finding them wanting and ordering them to pay billions of dollars in fines and back taxes.
She has pledged to create the world’s first regulations around artificial intelligence and called for giving collective bargaining rights to so-called gig economy workers like Uber drivers. The push comes on top of an investigation into Amazon’s use of data to gain an edge on competitors that had already started, and her look into accusations of unfair business practices by Facebook and Apple.
“She hates the United States,” President Trump said in a television interview, “perhaps worse than any person I’ve ever met.”
She will play a leading role in the European Union’s debate over a new Digital Services Act, which could bring sweeping reforms to how the internet operates, including forcing online platforms to remove illegal content or risk fines and other penalties.
Vestager remains focused on whether the largest technology companies squeezed out businesses that rely on them to reach customers. Amazon is under investigation for mistreating third-party sellers that offer products similar to what it sells. Apple is being questioned over accusations that it uses the App Store to harm rivals such as Spotify.
She’s weighing whether to remove some protections that shield large internet platforms from liability for content posted by users. She is also working on policies to make companies pay more taxes in Europe and investigating how the companies use data to box out competitors.
After the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016, Teresa Shook, a retired lawyer from Indiana, was one of the women who created a Facebook event to ask her female friends to join her in a march to speak out against the anti-female rhetoric used during Trump’s election campaign. Within a single day hundreds of thousands of individuals were "attending" the march's Facebook event. This surge in interest was a catalyst for creating the organization that led to the 2017 Women's March. Shook’s march was one of several similar events circulated on the social media platform. On 21 January 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, women’s marches across various cities in the USA made it the largest single-day protest in the history of the nation. Multiple other women’s marches were held simultaneously around the world. In 2018, Shook criticized the leadership of the Women's March national organization as being "anti-Semitic and anti-gay rights". She dissociated from the 2019 Women's March.