In this decidedly male-dominated world, you’d think that the few women who manage to make it will shine through like beacons. Everyone knows German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who leads what is probably one of the only viable economies in the eurozone; and in India, Sonia Gandhi (love her or hate her) is widely acknowledged as being the true voice of power in the current Congress-led government.
But there are many more women in significant positions who are taking important decisions that have far-reaching consequences in their own countries as well as on the global stage. We just don’t know who they are.
Take, for instance, the UAE’s first female minister, Lubna Al-Qasimi; as Minister for Foreign Trade, she is charged with finding new markets for the country’s $260 billion export-dependent economy. Or Mary Schapiro in the US, who has the thankless job of cleaning up the Securities and Exchange Commission in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. Both are listed in a Foreign Policy feature that looks at 25 lesser known — but extremely powerful — women on the world stage today.
The list is a largely eclectic one, featuring women leaders as diverse as former New Zealand Premier Helen Clark, who now heads the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to Mexico’s Attorney General Marisela Morales, who is taking a fearlessly hardline stand against proponents of the drug wars that have virtually decimated the political establishment in the country. It also features women like North Korean politburo member (and sister of Kim Jong Il) Kim Kyong Hui, who is believed to influence a lot of policy decisions in the country, and Nigerian Foreign Minister Ngoze Okonjo-Iweala, who is actively engaged in making the country more attractive for foreign investors.
One point worthy of note, however, is that the list does not feature any South Asian female leaders. And despite the dismal gender equality record in this part of the world, it is difficult to reason that there are absolutely no influential women across the entire South Asian region. Mamata Banerjee, for instance, was named one of Time Magazine‘s most influential leaders, but does not find mention on the Foreign Policy list. Neither do Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina or Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar. All three are arguably lesser known that former New Zealand Premier Helen Clark.
A Twitter conversation between Foreign Policy Managing Editor Blake Hounshell and journalist Sadanand Dhume reveals that the publication had considered both Sonia Gandhi and Mayawati for inclusion on the list, but decided against it because Gandhi was deemed to be ‘too famous’ and Mayawati lost the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections to the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajawadi Party. Hounshell said, “we thought about sonia gandhi but figured she was too well known… trying to go a layer down” and “we were thinking of selecting Mayawati (remember: not all positive picks) until she lost.”