Ruled by the dictates of patriarchal norms, women from times immemorial have been forced to bow down to men and patriarchy. Yet, despite these shackles, there have been women who have managed to put their name in gold, fighting the predominance of men and their chauvinistic rules which are meant to bind women. Here’s a list of world’s most powerful women, who have given all women across the world, the access to their freedom of living!
Mother Teresa (1910-1997)
The world is most obviously familiar with her name, which is popularly synonymous to warmth, affection and universal love. Mother Teresa is the epitome of simplicity and selflessness. She has serviced the ‘poorest of poor’ and has followed ideals of charity all through her life. Her birth name Agnes Bojhaxiu, she was born in Albania during the rule of Ottoman Empire. Mother Teresa came to India in the year 1929 and started her community of missionary women called ‘Missionaries of Charity’ in Calcutta. The community has now turned into a world wide network which has more than 4000 sisters who run various orphanages. They also run AIDS hospices for victims. Mother has time and again been criticized for not attending to the issues of poverty on a much larger scale; she actively performed medical help on patients without any adequate professional training. The feminists turned her down because of her open disregard for birth control and abortions. But Mother Teresa inspired several NGOs and volunteers all over the world to come forward and give their little in improving the society. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the work in social development. Mother lives on in the hearts of people with warmth and great love!
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Feminist, novelist and critic, the world remembers Woolf as one of the pioneers of Modern Literature. Woolf’s writings were extremely feminist in their inclination. Woolf threw light on the oppression of women in the early 20th century. She was very vocal about her angst at the existent political and social hierarchies. Her landmark works include To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and her most regarded feminist essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’. She used her writings to reach out a wider section of the literary public bringing out issues of art, women’s latent sexuality, religion and how all these themes intertwined in the lives of women in her times. The popular American literary theme line, stream of consciousness found a champion in her. Virginia Woolf was fresh and creative in her work and she managed to inspire an entire generation of authors and readers all over the world. A tribute to her, came in the form of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which is a story of three generations of women and how Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway affected their lives. The Hours won the 1998 Pulitzer Award. Virginia Woolf suffered a lifetime of depression which led to her suicide. Her works live on till date as a stalwart of American and Modern Literature and Feminism.
Jiang Qing (1914-1991)
Mao called her ‘the Madame’. She was the epitome of female power in China which is a society extremely chauvinistic in nature. She had a low past of failed marriages and jail terms; she became the wife of the Famous Chinese Leader Mao Tse Tung in 1938. She was powerful and became the member of Gang of Four which led Chinese Communist Party for years. The Cultural Revolution in China became intense with the number of persecutions increasing overall. Though she ended up miserably in jail, she continues to be an icon of power.
Indira Gandhi (1917-1984)
She continues to be named as one of the most powerful women of her times. Indira Gandhi was born into a illustrious family. Her father Sri Jawahar Lal Nehru became the first Prime Minister of India. Her family had the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi. In 1966 when she ascended to power, India was in shambles literally. The war with China had drained the country. Social problem plagued the scenario. She ruled India for the next two decades. Her name was splashed in several controversies, from the Emergency to the Blue Star Operation. In 1984, when she was assassinated she was named as India’s most powerful woman ever, and that still stands in her name.
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
She was America’s most powerful First Lady, wife to the 32nd American President Franklin. D. Roosevelt. She changed the role of a President’s wife. She never walked behind her husband. She challenged and changed roles. She held women’s only press conferences, authored and dedicated column’s on women’s and humanitarian issues. She lobbied for civil and social rights to help minorities and socially marginalized sections of the society. She worked sincerely as a member of the first American delegation to the United Nations and worked for the development of Unicef and Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Her advocacy and ideals were preached globally with success by Harry Truman.
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
The founding figure behind radiology, Madam Curie (as she is fondly known as) discovered polonium and radium and went on to win the world’s most prestigious Nobel Prize Award twice! She made her career in science at a time when it was considered to be a man’s domain thus inspiring girls all over the world to breach into scientific arena and succeed in it. She became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize. She was known for the calm, focused nature. Her work in radiology formed the basis of the world’s most sophisticated cancer treatment protocol. Due to decades of radiation exposure, she finally succumbed to a rare form of leukemia.
Hillary Clinton (1947-Present)
Hillary Clinton is known for her vocal protest against child abuse and lower position of women in the developing world. She was a famous First Wife, with closely and openly advising her husband Bill Clinton on affairs of the public and Government for a smooth running America. She has successfully carried out the role of a New York Senator boosting the recovery of Manhattan post 9/11 attacks. She had the support of the armed forces because of her dynamic nature and was thus chosen the Secretary of State for her ideas for military escalation in Afghanistan. Though she could not fulfill her dream of becoming America’s first Woman President, she went against her supporters to join the cause of her Democratic counterpart Barack Obama to create a better America.
Oprah Winfrey (1954- Present)
Television show host, philanthropist, businesswoman, Oprah Winfrey is an icon of the global media industry. She single handedly built an eponymous media empire with her popular chat show, ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ which has many Emmy Awards to its name and ranks as the first chat show in the world to have maximum viewer-ship being telecast in almost 145 countries across the globe. Oprah is known for overwhelming influence on art and culture. She has helped a whole set of newbie people to become full fledged personalities. Her endorsement of Barack Obama in his presidential campaign in 2008 made a difference of more than a million votes which caused a major setback to his close competitor Hillary Clinton. She had earned Oscar nominations for her role as Sophia in Steven Spielberg’s, The Color Purple. She has her own magazine called, O, The Oprah Magazine. She is a social icon of sorts, grandly influencing popular culture by being the stalwart of confessional media, spiritual and self help trends.
Madonna is the other name for pop star! She is an energetic dancer, a multitalented provocateur and the most chart topping pop singer. She was an ordinary girl who had a dream to make it big and darn she did it! She gave hits like ‘Ray of Light’, ‘Vogue’ and ‘Like a Virgin’. Her music videos and stage performance were full of enthusiasm and energy. Her outfits were over the top, almost like a fashion statement! She went on to become MTV’s hottest star and one of the world’s most popular and sought after artists. She unabashed openness about sexuality has landed her in many controversies, but she has never pulled off from her work. She is great mother and a humanitarian besides being the name for Female Pop and Rock Music of the 20th century.
Coco Chanel (1883-1971)
She is the world’s famous fashion revolutionary. Starting off as a hat maker, she quickly shifted to clothing and apparel designing. She freed women from the bondages of corset and frills, giving the clothes a more comfortable and looser look. She brought in men’s fabric and aesthetic into women clothing, thus blurring the gender divides in men and women clothing. Chanel brought in a lot of fashion differences into women’s dressing, from the little black dress to blazer and skirt to double toned flat ballet, Chanel’s fashion statement has remained stationary in the fashion pantheon. She also designed costume jewellery. Chanel’s iconic quilted hand bags with metallic chain strap are fashion repeats even till the contemporary times. Chanel no 5 was the fragrance brand that a fashion designer introduced to the world for the first time. Chanel closed down all her shops when the World War 2 broke out in 1939. It was only in 1954 that she back with a bang introducing to the world bell bottoms. She passed away in 1971 leaving Chanel House to Karl Lagerfeld.
Margaret Thatcher (1925 – Present)
She is known to the world as the Iron Lady. A woman of high morals and principles with a very short temper, she is a barrister who realized her long standing political dream by becoming the Member of Parliament in the year 1959 in the Conservative Party. It was two decades later in the year 1979 that she was appointed as the Prime Minister of Britain. She served three terms in office till 1990, a time crucial to the world for all its happenings of the Cold War. She was not one bit Conservative in nature as she went on to introduce several reforms like lowering taxes and privatizing state industries and enterprises. She turned Britain into a more free market economy which fosters business and industries. She worked with close co-operation with American leader Ronald Reagan and was instrumental in the death of Soviet Union.
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)
She was sensuous, beautiful, and full of charm and effervescence, Marilyn Monroe was twentieth century’s best actress and singer! After a troubled childhood and short lived marriage, she shot to fame posing as models for many magazines. She changed her name from Norma Baker to Marilyn Monroe to get an edgy glamour quotient. She is known for her roles in ‘How to marry a Millionaire’, ‘Gentlemen Prefer blondes’, ‘All about Eve’, ‘Niagra’ and so on. She was a figure of Hollywood fashion and glamour thrusting her as a global star! She was termed as the Blonde Bombshell of her times. She was the most photogenic artist ever and a God for the modeling world. Her close association with President John.F.Kennedy is a questionable topic. She died at an early age of 36, due to drug overdose, yet theorists leave the room open for debate on foul play regarding her death.
Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993)
She was the definition of feminine glamour, poise and dignity. Known for her roles in an array of Oscar winning movies like ‘Roman Holiday’, ‘My Fair Lady’, ‘Breakfast at Tifanny’s’ and so on. Most of these movies got the classic film status. She had an enduring popularity all over the world mainly due to her child like beauty, natural charm, subtle humor, elegance and an aura of love she brought into every character of hers. She was regarded by the Hollywood stars for her nature so warm and kind! With many Academy and other awards to her name, she dedicated a large part of her life working for humanitarian causes for UNICEF. She worked to improve children’s conditions all over the world. She had an extremely traumatic childhood plagued with the memories of Nazi oppression; she worked on poverty issues in African countries mainly in Ethiopia. She was appointed as the special ambassador to the UNICEF. She succumbed to colon cancer which she got after a visit to Somalia, and died in 1993 at the age of 63.
Billie Jean King (1943-Present)
She is the star of Women’s Tennis paving way for future winners like Martina Navratilova to Steffi Graf. With an illustrious career in a male dominated game like Tennis, she had 39 Grand Slam titles to her credit. She is better known for her epic fight to do away with gender discrimination between Men and Women Tennis, asking for equal wages for both. She was the Queen of Wimbledon. Out of her 39, 20 were Wimbledon titles. Her game style was aggressive and highly impatient which was best suited for a grass court. She was powerful in her game and it was a treat watching her play. Her most iconic game was in 1974, a match of battle of the sexes. On national Television with 5 million viewers watching her on TV set and 30,000 in court, she ruthlessly defeated her opponent, Bobby Riggs at 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. All through her career, she has fought to get Women’s Tennis the same status as Men’s. In 2007, hr causes succeeded as Wimbledon decided to pay both men and women the same prize amount. She is an active promoter of Homosexual rights and works for Women Sports Foundation.
Benazir Bhutto (1953-2007)
To be a Prime Minister and a woman, in an Islamic country- is the hardest job ever. Benazir Bhutto successfully played her role as the First Woman Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was the daughter of Pakistan’s illustrious leader and former PM, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She was known for her charismatic presence and her political astute behavior. Her initiatives to develop Pakistan as a world economy and social power were implemented to a great extent. She served two non-consecutive terms as Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Though she ran into controversy due to charges of corruption and other family politics and allegations, her popularity among her hard core survivors never waned even when she lived away from her homeland. She was warmly welcomed back after her exile was over. Her assassination lost world a leader who could have brought a significant change to her nation. Her autobiography ‘Daughter of the East’ talks in detail about her life and hardships.