It is not easy for women to prove themselves and be treated as an equal, if not better, in a male-dominated world. Here is a list of women who defied all odds and dared to be different.
Angela Merkel: the most powerful woman in the world
Angela Merkel is the first female and current chancellor of Germany since 2005 and de facto leader of the European Union. Angela Merkel has consistently retained the top spot in the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women since 2006, except for 2010 when she was overshadowed by the then U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. She has no limits and there is nothing that is beyond her. She has proved herself time and again and deserves to be called the most powerful women in the world. As the German chancellor for the past 16 years, she has rubbed shoulders with four American Presidents, five British prime ministers, four French presidents, and seven Italian prime ministers. According to an October 2020 survey, 75% of adults in 14 European countries trust Merkel more than any other leader in the region. She is referred to as “Mutti” or “Mummy” by the Germans who trust her to run the country and do the best possible as a mother does for her children. But despite all her extra-ordinary traits, she has a terrible fear of dogs after being attacked by one in 1995. As a child, she once failed in physics but then went on to qualify as a scientist and complete her PhD in Physical Chemistry. A member of the evangelical church, she believes in God who she feels has been her constant companion during all stages of her life.
Melinda Gates- committed to make the world a better place to live in
Melinda Gates a former general manager at Microsoft is the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation the largest private foundation in the world, holding $46.8 billion in assets. Melinda first met Microsoft CEO Bill Gates at a trade fair in New York and after seven years of dating got married to him in Hawaii in 1994. They have three children: Jennifer, Phoebe and Rory Gates. Melinda along with her husband Bill Gates, shapes and approves the foundation’s strategies, reviews results and sets the overall direction of the organization. French President François Hollande conferred France’s highest national award, the Legion to Bill and Melinda Gates for their charity efforts in 2017. President Barack Obama honoured Bill and Melinda Gates with The Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropic efforts on November 22, 2016. Melinda was listed by Richtopia a UK-based Company at number 12 in the list of 200 Most Influential Philanthropists Worldwide.
Lady Gaga- the “Queen of Pop” and the first woman to win an Academy, Grammy, BAFTA, and Golden Globe Award in one year
Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta popularly known as Lady Gaga is one of the topmost American singer, songwriter, and actress. She rose to prominence after the release of her debut album The Fame in 2008 which won several awards and was nominated for six Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year. She was named the “Queen of Pop” in 2011. Her achievements include various Guinness World Records, 11 Grammy Awards, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Artist of the Year and Woman of the Year. Lady Gaga was included in Forbes’ power rankings and ranked fourth on VH1’s Greatest Women in Music (2012) and second on Time’s readers’ poll as of the most influential people of the past decade in 2011. She became the first woman to win an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, a BAFTA Award and a Golden Globe Award in one year for her contribution to A Star Is Born in 2019. Gaga was allegedly raped at age 19 and underwent deep psychological complication posttraumatic stress disorder which she overcame with the support of doctors, family and friends. She founded the Born This Way Foundation, a non-profit organization and Haus Laboratories, a vegan cosmetics brand.
JK Rowling- the ‘ghost’ who gave life to the most-loved literary characters ever – Harry Potter
Can you imagine that just like the fictional character Harry Potter even the author J. K. Rowling has no real-life identity and it is a pen name that had to be coined to disguise her real name, Joanne Rowling? Her publishers believed that the target audience — young boys would not want to read a book written by a woman hence asked her to use two initials rather than her full name. But since she had no middle name, she chose K for Kathleen as the second initial of her pen name from her paternal grandmother. Another interesting fact is that the manuscript of Harry Potter was rejected by twelve publishing houses before Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book. The credit for the final decision to publish Rowling’s book goes to Alice Newton, the eight-year-old daughter of Bloomsbury’s chairman, who reluctantly tasked his daughter to judge how the target audience would react to the book because Rowling didn’t have a track record of writing books for children. What happened thereafter is history. J.K. Rowling is today best-known as the author of the bestselling Harry Potter series of seven books, published between 1997 and 2007. The enduringly popular adventures of Harry, Ron and Hermione have gone on to sell over 500 million copies worldwide, translated into over 80 languages, and made into eight blockbuster films. Curiously J. K. Rowling also continues to write crime fiction under the pen name Robert Galbraith.
Florence Nightingale – the founder of modern nursing and ‘Lady with the lamp’
Florence Nightingale the well-educated daughter of wealthy British parents was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit in 1907 for her role in revamping nursing service during the Crimean War. During those days nursing or taking care of strangers, in hospitals or homes, was not seen as a respectable career for ladies from well to do families. They could at best only look after sick family members and friends. Florence Nightingale dared to be different and defied all societal norms by opting to become a nurse. She believed that educated women could make a big difference and dramatically improve the condition of sick patients. She believed that nursing could be a viable profession for women, who had few other career options at that time. So she turned down multiple marriage proposals and dedicated herself to take care of others. Her family was totally against her decision to take up nursing as a full-time career option. This is when the Crimean War started and many British soldiers were losing their life – not on the battlefield but in the poorly managed hospitals. It was a pathetic condition where more soldiers were dying of diseases like typhoid, cholera and dysentery than from battle wounds. The hospital wards were overcrowded with rat and lice infestations. Florence Nightingale trained volunteer nurses to take care of wounded soldiers returning from the front lines. Florence Nightingale’s selfless service and dedication to the cause won her the epitaph ‘Lady with the lamp’. One of her first tasks after returning from the war was to set up a training school for nurses in which still runs today. Her 1859 book Notes on Nursing is regarded even today as a ‘Bible’ written in simple language for women who wish to understand Nursing.
Martha Gellhorn – one of the first female war correspondents
One of the greatest war correspondents in the 20th century Martha Ellis Gellhorn reported on over a dozen major conflicts including the Spanish Civil War, World War Two and the Vietnam War during her career spanning more than six decades. However personal life was quite unkind for Martha the third wife of American novelist Ernest Hemingway. During her last years, Gellhorn was in frail health, nearly blind and suffering from ovarian cancer which spread to her liver. On February 15, 1998, she committed suicide in London apparently by swallowing a cyanide capsule at the age of 89. Today the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism is named after her.
Marie Curie – the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris in 1906. In 1903, Marie Curie and her husband Pierre Currie shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with a fellow researcher Becquerel for their combined work on radioactivity. In 1911, Marie Curie was awarded Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her research on radium as a pure metal. Thus she became the first woman to win the Nobel prize twice. In 1921, President Harding of the United States presented her with one gram of radium in recognition of her service to science. Continuing the family legacy the Curies’ daughter, Irene and son-in-law Frederic Joliot were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Thus Marie, Pierre and Irène Curie and her husband received a total of four Nobel prizes, the highest won by a single family!
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh – the teenager who founded an online magazine for Muslim women
Amani Al-Khatahtbeh was named one of the 25 most influential Muslim Americans by CNN. She was 13 years old, her family decided to move to Jordan due to increased violence against the Muslims in the United States. As a 17-year-old she founded MuslimGirl.com a blog by and for Muslim women.
Mother Teresa – founder of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu popularly known as Mother Teresa was born in Skopje and is the capital of the Republic of Macedonia. Her father a grocer died when she was eight, and she was raised by her mother. Agnes left her family in Macedonia at the age of eighteen and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns. She was sent to India where she taught for nearly 17 years at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta. She left the school in 1950 to start ‘Missionaries of Charity’ and took the pledge to serve humanity with nothing but two saris with a blue border. By the time of her death in 1997, the Missionaries of Charity that thousands of volunteers in 123 countries around the world. She was canonized as Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
Lucie Ball – the Queen of Comedy
Lucille Ball was one of America’s greatest singer, model and film star in the early 50s who rode the crest of fame because of her comedy shows – I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. During the early stages of her career, she faced many challenges but never gave up or kneeled in front of adverse circumstances and always managed to bounce back with greater strength and determination than before. She died in 1989 at the age of 77. Lucille Ball will always be remembered as the crazy, accident-prone, lovable housewife called Lucy.
Oprah Winfrey – the richest African American TV host
Oprah Winfrey started her career, as the first African-America woman and the youngest TV newsreader in America at the age of 19. She is today one of the world’s most famous and most-loved host of the Oprah Winfrey Show was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history that ran for 25 years from 1986 to 2011 before making the way for the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). Forbes magazine listed Winfrey as the richest African American and the world’s only Black billionaire. Life magazine hailed her as the most influential woman of her generation.
Malala Yousafzai – one of the most talked-about schoolgirls in the world
At the age of 24, Malala Yousafzai is one of the most talked-about and the youngest Nobel Prize winners in the world. As she says, “I tell my story not because it is unique but because it is the story of many girls”. She was born in Mingora, Pakistan on July 12, 1997. In a society where the birth of a girl child is not an occasion to celebrate— her father Ziauddin Yousafzai a teacher running a girls school in the village begged to differ and wanted to give her every opportunity that boys have. This made the family an eye-sore for the Taliban who ruled the roost in Swat Valley in Pakistan. The extremists banned many things — like owning a television and playing music and banned girls from attending school. The Taliban made it clear that anyone who defied their orders would invite harsh punishments. Malala in particular made herself extremely unpopular because she spoke out publicly about the right to learn of girls. In January 2008, 11 years old Malala was on the way back from school when out of the blue a masked gunman boarded the school bus and asked, “Who is Malala?” Before anyone could realize what was going to happen Malala was shot in her head. She woke up 10 days later in a hospital in Birmingham, England where the doctors and nurses told me about the attack — and that people around the world were praying for my recovery. After months of surgeries and rehabilitation, she joined her family in their new home in the U.K. Her father established Malala Fund, a charity dedicated to allowing every girl to choose her future. “It was then I knew I had a choice: I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given. I determined to continue my fight until every girl could go to school,” she says. Malala was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and became the youngest-ever Nobel laureate in December 2014.
Susan Kare – the iconographer who gave Apple Macintosh its smile
Susan Kare is the artist who created the icons and fonts for Macintosh and gave the lifeless computer warmth and personality. In 1982, Kare was hired to design typefaces and screen elements at Apple, where she created the iconic Chicago typeface as well as the icons featured on the original Macintosh computer. In 1982, Kare was retained to create screen graphics for the Macintosh group. As the designer “who gave the Macintosh a smile,” she developed distinctive icons, typefaces, and pixel elements that gave the Macintosh its characteristic—friendly look and feel. Her total lack of software experience turned out to be an asset since she could empathize with the non-technical users of the new computer. In 1986, she joined Steve Jobs at NeXT Computer. Several years later, she began Susan Kare Design, a graphics studio and spent her time developing humane solutions to design problems for hundreds of clients. Since 2015, she has worked as a Creative Director at Pinterest, a company known for being the home of inspiration. Susan is today considered a pioneer of pixel art and the graphical user interface. Recently Susan Kare Design has created digital images and user interface graphics for many companies including Facebook, Fossil, Thompson Reuters, PayPal, and AOL. Many of her iconic designs are displayed at the National Museum of American History, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
Beulah Henry – the “Lady Edison” who has 49 patents and 110 inventions in her name
One of the brightest innovators of her time Beulah Henry is often called “Lady Edison” that too not without reason. She has 49 patents and 110 inventions against her name. She was granted her first patent in 1912 for a vacuum ice cream freezer – a device to make ice cream without cranking like the earlier manual ice cream makers. Henry also invented the first bobbinless sewing machine. Some of her other spectacular inventions include a device to make four typewritten copies of documents at a time without carbon paper and “continuously-attached envelopes” that can be used for mass mailings. Her multi-faceted list of inventions included a can opener, hair cutter, soap-filled sponge, dolls with eyes that closed and changed colours, an umbrella with detachable, snap-on covers (so owners could change covers to match their outfits). Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Henry was self-educated and would conceive a picture of each product and its application in her mind before describing her idea to enable a model maker to reproduce each device.
Gertrude Bell – the founder of modern Iraq
Gertrude Bell received her early education from Queen’s College, London and at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford University at the age of 17. Bell was the first woman to graduate with a history degree from Oxford that too with a first-class honours degree in only two years. Her personality was characterized by energy, intellect, and a thirst for adventure. She played a major role in establishing the modern state of Iraq, helped define its borders, draft its constitution, and founded its National Museum. Towards the later part of her life, Gertrude was dismayed to be sidelined in the administration of Iraq. The government she helped bring to power was overthrown in 1958. It was followed by a series of military coups and repression. The National Museum was looted and thousands of its artefacts were stolen. Gertrude herself was found dead in her sleep in Baghdad on 12 July 1926. The cause of death an overdose of sleeping pills – was suspected to be suicide.
Christine Lagarde- the “rock star” of international finance
Christine Lagarde is today one of Europe’s most influential ambassadors in the world of international finance. A former Chair and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde is the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), the institution responsible for the management of the euro and monetary policy in the Eurozone of the European Union (EU). Before this Lagarde was the first woman finance minister of a G8 economy and is the first woman to head both the ECB and the IMF. She ranked number two in the Forbes list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women in 2019 and 2020. The “First-ever female” tag has followed her throughout her career. A former lawyer and the first woman to chair global law firm Baker McKenzie, she went on to be the first woman to serve as a finance minister from any Group of Seven nation and the first to lead the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Stacey Cunningham – the first female President of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
The 67th president of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) Stacey Cunningham created history in 2018 when she took over as the first female president in the 226-year history of the New York Stock Exchange. As President of the New York Stock Exchange, her charter of duties is to oversee the operations of the issuers, investors, and global financial institutions, ensuring that the U.S. remains the world leader in global capital markets. A banker by profession, she also worked as a Chef at a restaurant in 2005.
Chelsea Clinton – Vice-chair of the Clinton Foundation
The only child of Bill Clinton the 42nd president of the United States and the 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is an American author and global health advocate. A former special correspondent with NBC News from 2011 to 2014 she now works with the Clinton Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative. Chelsea is an advocate for women’s rights, AIDS research and global humanitarianism.
Shaesta Waiz – the first Afghan civilian commercial pilot and youngest woman to fly solo around the world
Shaesta Waiz is today the first certified civilian commercial pilot license holder from Afghanistan, and the youngest woman to fly solo around the world in a single-engine aircraft. Born in an Afghan refugee camp, she was six years old when her parents escaped to Pakistan on the way to the USA during the Soviet-Afghan war in 1987. She and her five sisters grew up in an underprivileged school district in Richmond, California sharing textbooks with classmates, and watching friends drop out of high school because of extreme poverty. As a child, Waiz dreamt of becoming a pilot and became the youngest woman to fly solo around-the-world in a single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza A36 single-engine aircraft on October 4, 2017. She travelled 24,816 nautical miles in the 145 days journey with 30 stops in 22 countries across five continents. “You must believe in yourself and allow your dreams to soar,” she says.
Barbara Burton– the woman who launched her business from behind bars
Barbara set up BehindBras help women who have been behind bars. Barbara Burton in her late 50s herself spent over one year behind bars and was transferred three times – in four different prisons. Barbara’s toughest challenge started when she was released from prison. It was difficult for her and others like her who spent time in prison to find a job. She was keen to make a fresh start and not repeat the same mistakes that led her behind bars. But this wasn’t easy and she had very few choices. Not many employers were ready to employ a woman with a criminal record. This is what she had in mind when she decided to start BehindBras. Barbara attended a bra-making course from the London School of Fashion. The rest is history. There was no looking back for her as CEO of BehindBras
Raghda Ezzeldin- Egypt’s Record-Breaking freediver
Raghda Ezzeldin is a record-breaking free-diver, who descends to extreme depths underwater without any breathing apparatus. Raghda Ezzeldin can hold her breath underwater for more than five minutes. As a record-breaking freediver, she descends to extreme depths without breathing apparatus and holds her breath until resurfacing. Raghda’s passion and daring to do something different helped her to be included in the BBC 100 Women list which names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world.