If, as historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich noted, well-behaved women seldom make history, we're happy to live in an era of so many female miscreants. You'll find a whole host of boundary-pushing, noisemaking young ladies at the International Women's Empowerment Summit, hosted this fall by the Ministry of Tourism of The Islands of The Bahamas in partnership with StartUp Woman and in collaboration with UN Women. The annual conference focuses on developing tomorrow's leaders from around the world.
In 2016, though, we're lucky to live in a world shaped by today's fearless female commanders—most of whom were the first non-dudes to hold their offices. Herewith, a brief history of ten women who have had a hand in shaping the world we live in. (Note: In order to condense the field of wildly impressive women inspiring us daily, we established parameters including that the individual must have held elected office within the last 20 years).
1. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany
Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany since 2005, was named TIME's Person of the Year in 2015 and is the de facto leader of the European Union. In the past year, Merkel controversially opened Germany's borders to refugees and migrants, arguing that her country should offer asylum to those fleeing terrible circumstances elsewhere. The gesture, which has been met with both criticism and praise, signified Merkel's vision of a globalised world that isn't demarcated by invisible borders.
2. Theresa May, Prime Minister of Britain
After David Cameron stepped down following the Brexit vote, Theresa May earned the position of prime minister of the United Kingdom. May, who has been a member of Parliament since 1997, is also the leader of the British Conservative Party and has been tasked with helping the U.K. exit the European Union. May has held several roles in the U.K. government over the past several decades, most notably as minister for women and equalities from 2010-2012, during which she dealt with issues affecting female constituents and members of the LGBTQ community.
3. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Former Prime Minister of Denmark
Helle Thorning-Schmidt is no stranger to firsts: She was Denmark's first female prime minister and, before that, the first woman to serve as the leader of the Social Democrats. Now she's the chief executive of Save the Children International, a global organization that works to reduce child mortality. Although she caused a controversy in 2013 for taking a selfie with President Obama and former British Prime Minister David Cameron during a memorial service for Nelson Mandela, Helle Thorning-Schmidt has had a long, devoted career in politics and has been an important voice in Denmark.
4. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first female head of state, was elected in 2005. (Share that with anyone who claims the U.S. isn't ready for a female president.) She's a decorated leader who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work on women's rights; in 2014, Forbes listed her as the 70th most powerful woman in the world.
5. Park Geun-Hye, President of South Korea
Before becoming South Korea's first-ever female president in 2013, Park Geun-hye acted as the chairwoman of the Conservative Grand National Party and as a member of the Korean National Assembly. Geun-hye, whose father served as president for nearly two decades, is often called one of the most powerful women in the world. During her time in office, she has worked to prioritise national security, particularly in relationship to North Korea, and to revitalise the South Korean economy, which is the 14th largest in the world.
6. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland
In 2014, Nicola Sturgeon made history as the first woman to hold the top spot in Scotland. (Are you sensing a theme here?) Sturgeon began her political career in 1986 and has been a major voice in both the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum and in the recent Brexit vote. She is a self-described feminist and a strong advocate for women's rights; Scotland's gender equality is in part thanks to her.
7. Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile
Michelle Bachelet was re-elected president of Chile in 2014 after serving from 2006-2010 (the first woman to hold the title). Between terms, Bachelet was the executive director for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, which is responsible for fostering gender equality and female empowerment in UN member nations. During her first term, Bachelet pushed through legislation that gave teenagers access to contraception, added sex ed to schools, and encouraged computer literacy in low-income children.
8. Benazir Bhutto, Former Prime Minister of Pakistan
Benazir Bhutto served two non-consecutive terms as prime minister of Pakistan, finally stepping down from the position in 1996. Bhutto became the first woman in Pakistan to head a major political party way back in 1982 (!), taking over as chairperson of the Pakistan Peoples Party; she remains the country's only female prime minister. The leader left a sometimes controversial legacy, but is considered an important figure in both Pakistan and global politics. Sadly, Bhutto was assassinated in 2007 while campaigning for upcoming general elections.
9. Sonia Gandhi, President of Indian National Congress
Sonia Gandhi, the widow of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, has served as president of the Indian National Congress since 1998. Gandhi was asked to join the country's political scene after her husband's assassination but refused for several years. She now is considered one of the world's most powerful women and has landed on TIME's 100 Most Influential People list twice. Gandhi is a good example of a female leader who found her own path after being defined by her husband's career, and is part of one of the world's most famous political dynasties.
10. Janet Jagan, Former President of Guyana
Janet Jagan, who died in 2009, became the first female president of Guyana after serving a short term as the country's prime minister. Jagan was awarded the Order of Excellence, the country's highest honour, and earned the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Gold Medal for Women's Rights in 1998. Although Jagan has an important political legacy, she was also the author of several children's books, which she published because she wanted Guyanese children to read books that portrayed their cultural reality.
This story was first published on ELLE.com.
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