This Women’s Month we celebrate five women whose influence has extended globally.
Angela Merkel has been the Chancellor of Germany since 2015 and has been widely described as the most powerful women in the world, and the defacto leader of the EU. In 2014 she became the longest serving incumbent Head of Government in the EU. She will not seek reelection in 2021. Merkel announced in 2015 that Germany would process asylum applications from Syrian refugees if they came through other EU countries, and 1.1 million refugees arrived that year. Merkel has twice been named the world’s 2nd most powerful person following Russian President Vladimir Putin by Forbes magazine – the highest ranking ever by a woman. Times Magazine named her Woman of the Year in 2015. Merkel is well known for repeatedly saying that “Europe has 7% of the world’s population, 25% of its GDP, and 50% of its social spending.” Merkel believes Europe can only maintain its prosperity by being innovative and measuring itself against the best.
Jacinda Ardern is New Zealand’s youngest female Prime Minister and the world’s youngest female Head of Government. Ardern’s rise was meteoric and earned her the title Jacindamania. Ardern became the world’s 2nd elected Head of Government to give birth while in office last year, and is considered the most powerful woman in the Southern hemisphere. At the UN General Assembly last year she praised multilateralism, called for immediate attention to address the causes of climate change, and called for equality for women. She has raised concerns over the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. On March 15th this year, 51 Muslims were shot in two mosques in Christchurch, and Ardern was widely praised for her response to this tragedy. She immediately met with the families of the victims and the Muslim community, wearing a headscarf, and called for a Royal Commission to investigate the attacks. She also introduced stronger firearm regulations.
Oprah Winfrey has been dubbed the Queen of all Media, and is known as the richest African American of the 20th century. Winfrey is North America’s first black multi-billionaire and ranked the greatest black philanthropist in US history. Some consider her the most influential woman in the world. She is best known for her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest rated TV show of its kind in history, and was nationally syndicated and ran for 25 years. Winfrey was born into poverty in rural Mississippi and has said she was molested as a child, becoming pregnant at the age of 14, although her baby died prematurely. She was a rising star at local radio and TV stations until she started her own production company. As a TV talk show host, Winfrey broke taboos of the 20th century, by allowing LGBT people to make TV appearances on her shows. In 1994 she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and in 2013 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former US President Barak Obama.
Melinda Gates is an American philanthropist and the former General Manager at Microsoft, In 2000, she co-founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband, which became the world’s largest charitable organisation. Melinda Gates has been consistently ranked as one of the world’s most powerful women by Forbes magazine. In 2005, Melinda and Bill were named by Time magazine as the Persons of the Year, alongside Bono. In 2019, Melinda Gates debuted as an author with the book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. Former President Barak Obama starred in a comedy sketch in order to promote the book. The book highlights the failure to acknowledge women’s unpaid work, drawing on feminist economist Marilyn Waring’s book If Women Counted. Gates’ experience of a male-dominated workplace at Microsoft inspired her to encourage more women in the computing field. In September 2016, Gates announced her desire to increase diversity in the workplace, especially in the technology industry, stating, “Every company needs technology, and yet we’re graduating fewer women technologists. That is not good for society. We have to change it.”
Michelle Obama was the first African American First Lady in US history from 2009-2017. Obama is widely recognised as serving as a role model for women, and advocating for poverty awareness, education, nutrition, physical education and health eating. On February 9, 2010, as First Lady Obama announced Let’s Move! and President Barack Obama created the Task Force on Childhood Obesity to review all programs and create a national plan for change. Obama was praised for addressing the issue of obesity which is one of the leading US public health crises. In May 2014, Obama joined the campaign to bring back school girls who had been kidnapped in Nigeria. The First Lady tweeted a picture of herself holding a poster with the #bringbackourgirls campaign hashtag. Obama is well known to have said that she and her husband believe "that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond, and you do what you say you’re going to do, that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them." Obama’s memoir, Becoming was released in November 2018, and it had sold 10 million copies by late March 2019.