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10 of the Most Influential Women of the 21st Century
- Marianne Stenger
- 5th March 2018
International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the remarkable achievements of women of who have done their part to make the world a better place, and have overcome big obstacles to do so. Although we couldn’t possibly name all of the amazing women who have left their mark on the world, here is a small sampling of some of the most influential women of the 21st Century so far.
1. Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel is an American cartoonist who is best known for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. She also created the now famous Bechdel Test, which is used to measure gender bias in movies.
In order to pass the test a movie must simply have at least two female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man. Despite its simplicity, it soon became clear that many Hollywood movies failed to pass the test.
Although Bechdel herself has admitted to feeling sheepish about having the test attributed to her over the years, there’s no denying that she helped launch an important dialogue about the lack of substantial female characters in movies today.
2. Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama is the ultimate female role model. Aside from being America’s first African-American first lady, she excelled in academics, studied at Princeton and Harvard, and is known for leading campaigns against childhood obesity and supporting education opportunities for women.
In 2015 she launched the Let Girls Learn initiative to inspire girls to go to and stay in school and shared stories and struggles of young women across the globe. She said in her essay for The Atlantic “As a first lady, a mother, and a human being, I cannot walk away from these girls, and I plan to keep raising my voice on their behalf for the rest of my life.”
3. Malala Yousafzai
Malala Yousafzai is an activist for female education, and in 2014 at the age of 17 she became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
As a young girl, Yousafzai defied the local Taliban in Pakistan and spoke out after girls were banned from attending school. A death threat was issued against her and in 2012, she was shot on her way home from school. She survived this and went on to give a speech to the United Nations and publish her first book “I Am Malala,” which became an international bestseller.
4. Ellen Degeneres
Actor, television host and comedian Ellen Degeneres is thought to have done more to influence attitudes about gay rights than any other public figure.
She caused controversy in 1997 when she came out as gay on the cover of Time and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her career initially suffered and her ABC sitcom “Ellen” was cancelled as a result of falling ratings, but in 2003 she launched her own talk show “The Ellen Degeneres Show” which became a runaway hit and still airs today.
Degeneres is now an outspoken LGBTQ and women’s rights activist who uses her public platform to highlight inequality and encourage open conversations about issues like ageism, gender equality and gender and beauty norms.
5. Inna Braverman
Entrepreneur and businesswoman Inna Braverman might be one of the lesser known women on this list, but her contribution to society has been immense.
Braverman’s early childhood experience as one of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster fuelled her desire to find renewable energy solutions. Together with her business partner David Leb she founded the company Eco Wave, which captures untapped energy from the ocean by extracting power from the sea’s ebb and flow and converting it into electricity.
6. JK Rowling
Although novelist, screenwriter and producer JK Rowling is now known as one of the most influential women in the world, she didn’t have it easy to begin with.
Rowling struggled to make ends meet as a single mum in Edinburgh and would write in her spare time at coffee shops near her house. Her initial Harry Potter manuscripts were rejected by twelve publishing houses before they were finally accepted by a smaller publishing house.
The Harry Potter books went on to become some of the bestselling books in history and were adapted for the screen. Today, both children and adults know and love the Harry Potter series and Rowling’s books will continue to inspire kids for generations to come.
7. Christiane Amanpour
Christiane Amanpour is a highly respected British-Iranian journalist and television host. She currently works as global affairs anchor for ABC News in America and Chief International Correspondent for CNN International where she hosts her own nightly interview program Amanpour.
Amanpour is known for being one of the journalists most followed by world leaders on Twitter and was also the only journalist to interview Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring. Her outstanding reporting has earned her just about every major broadcast award, including multiple News and Documentary Emmys and the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism.
8. Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most powerful women in tech today. She also serves on the board of the Walt Disney Company, Starbucks and Women for Women International.
Over the years, Sandberg has become an important role model for women, and she’s now well known for her “Lean In” philosophy, which encourages women to take bigger risks and pursue leadership roles rather than settle for being followers.
9. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Although some of her views are deemed controversial, there’s no doubt that Somali-born activist, writer and former politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most influential women of our time. She is known both for her work as a women’s rights activist as well as her critiques of radical Islam and the practices of forced marriage, honour violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation.
In 2004, she worked together with Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh on “Submission,” a short film that criticised the treatment of women in Islamic society. Shortly after the film’s release, van Gogh was murdered by a member of a Muslim terrorist organisation and death threats were issued against Hirsi Ali, which forced her into hiding.
She has since been named as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine and received a number of awards including the Moral Courage Award for commitment to conflict resolution.
10. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey is one of the only people to have appeared in Time’s list of most influential people ten times. The television host and entrepreneur overcame an impoverished childhood in rural Mississippi and went on to become the first African-American female billionaire.
Although she’s best known for The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 years and won multiple Emmy Awards, Winfrey is also a big philanthropist and has donated millions of dollars to charitable causes. She also started The Oprah Winfrey Foundation, which aims to give girls from underprivileged families a chance at a good education.