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The amazing stories of 10 most influential women in the world

ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF
By PATRICK MAYOYO
newsdesk@reporter.co.ke
A wave of change is sweeping across the globe that has seen a number of women achieve feats that have never been witnessed in recent times.
They are trendsetters who are re-inventing the wheel in mostly male dominated sectors.
For example, Japan’s former environment minister Yuriko Koike, was elected Tokyo governor becoming the capital’s first female leader.
Koike, 64, defeated her two top rivals in a landslide victory where she beat her closest opponent Hiroya Masuda by more than a million votes to oversee a city of more than 13 million residents.
Koike who was elected on Monday, joins the swelling ranks of women who have recently been elected or chosen to run countries, major cities and different international organisations.
On June 19, Virginia Raggi was elected Rome’s first female mayor in its almost 3,000-year history, giving Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement its biggest victory to date.
On July 13, Theresa May became Britain’s prime minister. She replaced David Cameron, who became the first political casualty of the Brexit referendum when he announced his intention to quit hours after the result.
Read the amazing stories of these gallant ladies who have defied many odds to take the world head-on. We also look at the story of US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel
Others are Burma’s Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, IMF President Christine Lagarde and Fatma Samba Diouf Samoura, FIFA Secretary General (SG) and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
VIRGINIA RAGGI
virginia-raggi
A city ruled for 2,500 years by Etruscan kings, Roman emperors, powerful popes and the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini now has a woman mayor for the first time in its history.
Virginia Raggi, a 37-year-old lawyer from the Eurosceptic, populist Five Star Movement, swept to power in the early hours of Monday morning after winning 67 per cent of the vote during a run-off election, two weeks after an initial round of voting failed to deliver an outright winner.
Virginia Raggi, was elected Rome’s first woman mayor, after 2,500 years of kings, emperors and popes.
A political neophyte for the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5s) whose thumping win over Premier Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) in the Italian capital captured headlines worldwide.
Raggi, who will turned 38 on July 18, is also the youngest-ever Rome mayor.
A civil lawyer, she is described by those who know her as a bit of a “swot”, precise, determined, and a stickler for detail.
In the M5S since 2011, she served as an opposition councillor to former Rome PD mayor Ignazio Marino from 2013 until his PD-spurred demise amid an expenses scandal last year.
Raggi grew up in the central Roman quarter of San Giovanni but for more than 10 years she has lived in the suburb of Ottavia.
Married to a radio director, Andrea Severini, who brought her into the M5S, the couple have a seven-year-old son, Matteo.
She has said she entered politics “to change the world”. As a lawyer, she has specialised in copyright and new technologies.
A Catholic but not a regular church-goer – she has said she will celebrate gay unions – Raggi is a sports enthusiast and loves riding her bike.
She’s a lukewarm soccer fan but is known to follow Lazio, Rome’s second team after AS Roma.
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF
ellen-johnson-sirleaf
The “Iron Lady” as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is fondly referred to by her supporters; she is the first female elected president in Africa.
She is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner a feat she achieved in 2011 becoming one of a trio of women to win the coveted prize. She will also be remembered for being the first woman to rebuild a war-torn country in Africa.
Born in Liberia in 1938, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was schooled in the United States before serving in the government of her native Liberia. A military coup in 1980 sent her into exile, but she returned in 1985 to speak out against the military regime.
She was forced to briefly leave the country again before she won the 2005 election making her first female elected head of state in Africa.
After supporting Charles Taylor’s bloody rebellion against President Samuel Doe in 1990, Johnson Sirleaf ran unsuccessfully against Taylor in the 1997 presidential election. Taylor subsequently charged Johnson Sirleaf with treason.
In 2005, after campaigning for the removal of President Taylor, Johnson Sirleaf took over as leader of the Unity Party. That year, promising economic development and an end to corruption and civil war, she was elected to the Liberian presidency.
Despite Charles Taylor’s large number of followers in Liberian government, including his son-in-law and estranged wife, President Johnson Sirleaf submitted an official request to Nigeria for Taylor’s extradition in 2006.
Five years later, she shared the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, awarded “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has four sons and six grandchildren, some of whom live in Atlanta, Georgia.
YURIKO KOIKE
yuriko-koike
Ms. Koike’s biography is unusual for a Japanese politician, even apart from her gender. A divorced former newscaster, she attended a university in Egypt and speaks fluent Arabic.
Ms. Yuriko Koike served as Japanese Defense Minister. Ms. Koike previously served as Environment Minister and Special Adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his first administration in 2006 to 2007. She has been a Director at Renault Société Anonym since April 2013.
Ms. Koike entered politics in 1992 after a career as a television news anchor. She served as defense minister under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during Mr. Abe’s first, short-lived term in office in 2007, when Japan was supporting the United States-led military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. She also ran unsuccessfully for the national Liberal Democratic Party leadership.
As a young woman in the 1970s, Ms. Koike left a university in Japan to study in Egypt, first learning Arabic at the American University in Cairo, then earning a degree in sociology from Cairo University. She married a fellow Japanese student whom she had met in Egypt, but they divorced soon after.
Ms. Koike, 64, is also a Liberal Democrat, but she broke with the party to seek the governor’s post. The role roughly combines the duties of an American mayor and a state governor.
In addition to governing a municipality of 13.6 million residents — the core of the world’s most populous urban area, with at least 20 million more people in its separately administered suburbs — Ms. Koike will be responsible for preparing Tokyo for the Summer Olympic Games in 2020. One of her first duties will be to travel to Rio de Janeiro, the site of this year’s Games, to represent Tokyo as the event’s next host.
THERESA MAY
theresa-may
The 59year old PM has been MP for Maidenhead since 1997. Home Secretary since May 2010 and was mainly state-educated at Wheatley Park Comprehensive School with a brief time at an independent school; St Hugh’s College, Oxford. She is married to Philip May.
Her hobbies include cooking – she says she owns 100 recipe books. Occasional mountain walks. On BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2014, she chose Abba’s Dancing Queen and Walk Like A Man, from the musical Jersey Boys, among her picks, alongside Mozart and Elgar.
Theresa May is the new Conservative Party leader and second female prime minister, taking charge of the UK at one of the most turbulent times in recent political history.
The 59-year-old home secretary’s carefully cultivated image of political dependability and unflappability appears to have made her the right person at the right time as the fallout from the UK’s vote to leave the EU smashed possible rivals out of contention.
Long known to have nurtured leadership hopes, Mrs May – whose friends recall her early ambition to be the UK’s first female PM – could have reasonably expected to have had to wait until at least 2018 to have a shot at Downing Street.
But the EU referendum which David Cameron called and lost – the year after leading the party to its first election win in 23 years – turned political certainties on their head and, as other candidates fell by the wayside after the PM’s own resignation, Mrs May emerged as the “unity” candidate to succeed him.
That her party should rally round her at such a time of national uncertainty is testament not only to the respect in which she is held across the party but to the fact that, in a world where political reputations can be shredded in an instant, Mrs May is the ultimate political survivor.
Even before entering Downing Street, she made history by becoming the second longest serving home secretary in the past 100 years.
The daughter of a Church of England vicar, Hubert, who died from injuries sustained in a car crash when she was only 25, Theresa May’s middle class background has more in keeping with the last female occupant of Downing Street, Margaret Thatcher, than her immediate predecessor.
Born in Sussex but raised largely in Oxfordshire, Mrs May – both of whose grandmothers are reported to have been in domestic service – attended a state primary, an independent convent school and then a grammar school in the village of Wheatley, which became the Wheatley Park Comprehensive School during her time there.
FATMA SAMBA DIOUF SAMOURA
fatma-samba-diouf-samoura
Samoura was appointed FIFA Secretary General in May this year. She is a 21-year veteran of United Nations programmes who is currently the UN’s Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Nigeria. The announcement was made by FIFA President Gianni Infantino at the 66th FIFA Congress in Mexico City.
Since starting her UN career as a senior logistics officer with the World Food Programme in Rome in 1995, Ms Samoura has served as country representative or director in six countries: Republic of Djibouti, Cameroon, Chad, Guinea, Madagascar and Nigeria. She speaks French (her mother tongue), English, Spanish and Italian.
In her current UN role in Nigeria, amoura has wide-ranging responsibilities including budgeting, human resources, and procurement, among others. She coordinates the activities of approximately 2,000 staff members, and monitors and evaluates the security, political and socio-economic situation and trends in Africa’s most populous country.
Prior to joining the UN, Samoura spent eight years in the private sector, working in the fertiliser trading sector for Senchim, a subsidiary of Industries Chimiques du Senegal. Her areas of responsibility included product export and import programmes, tenders, and the establishment of a national distribution network.
Ms Samoura earned her Masters Degree in English and Spanish at the University of Lyon; and a Post-Masters Degree in international relations/international trade from the Institut d’Etudes Supérieures Spécialisées (IECS)- Strasbourg-France.
HILLARY CLINTON
hillary-clinton
Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton the nominee of the Democratic Party for President of the United States in the 2016 election.
If she wins the election, the former Secretary of State will be the first woman US President and the first wife to rule the US after her husband President Bill Clinton.
Hillary Clinton has served many roles in US politics – first lady, senator, secretary of state. Now, she turns for a second time to her long-held ambition to fill the ultimate role – US president.
The 67-year-old served as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state from the start of his administration in January 2009, stepping down shortly after he won re-election.
As top US diplomat, she was known for a punishing travel schedule and a person-to-person approach to diplomacy.
A leading international figure and Democratic politician, Mrs Clinton is now running for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination. She previously lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Mr Obama.
Hillary Diane Rodham was born in October 1947 in Chicago. In the 1960s she attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, and became active in student politics.
She went on to Yale Law School, where she met Bill Clinton. They married in 1975. She remained politically active after Mr Clinton became governor of Arkansas in 1978.
When Mr Clinton campaigned for the presidency in 1992, he quipped he was offering voters two presidents “for the price of one”.
As first lady, Mrs Clinton campaigned for women’s rights and universal healthcare, raising her profile both at home and internationally.
However, following her failure to deliver on a plan for universal health coverage – which was never even debated in Congress – many critics saw her as overambitious and politically naive.
From the mid-1990s – and throughout during Bill Clinton’s second term – she became involved in the various scandals that marred his presidency.
There were congressional hearings and an investigation into the Whitewater affair, a failed real estate project in which the Clintons had invested.
They were cleared of wrongdoing.
She also endured media attention over Mr Clinton’s affairs – notably his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which came to light in 1998.
ANGELA MERKEL
angela
Chancellor Angela Merkel has cultivated the image of a prudent, pragmatic and down-to-earth leader, earning her the nickname “Mutti” – mother of the nation.
The conservative leader, 61, is in her third term after scoring a convincing victory in the September 2013 election. Only two post-war German leaders have achieved a third term previously – Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl.
In November 2015, Forbes magazine ranked Mrs Merkel the second most powerful person in the world – the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman – and later that year she was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year”, citing her role in Europe’s crises over migration and Greek debt.
She has played a leading role in Europe’s reaction to the migrant crisis, announcing that Germany would welcome refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war. The German government says 1.1 million people claimed asylum in the country in 2015.
The decision to welcome Syrians won her plaudits in some quarters but sparked a backlash in others, with some senior ministers openly questioning the approach.
She pushed for an EU banking union, which is still only in its infancy, and for a transfer of supervisory powers to the European Central Bank and European Commission.
That push has undermined Germany’s traditional alliance with France as the engine of the EU.
Born in Hamburg she earned a doctorate in physics in 1978 and joined CDU in 1990. She became Environment Minister in 1994, took over as CDU leader in 2000 before becoming chancellor in 2005.
Born in Hamburg, Angela Merkel was only a couple of months old when her father, a Lutheran pastor, was given a parish in a small town in East Germany.
She grew up in a rural area outside Berlin in the Communist east, and showed a great talent for maths, science and languages.
She earned a doctorate in physics but later worked as a chemist at a scientific academy in East Berlin.
She had never been involved in politics but, at the age of 36, she became involved in the burgeoning democracy movement in 1989 and, after the Berlin Wall came down, she got a job as government spokeswoman following the first democratic elections.
She joined the CDU two months before the reunification of Germany and within three months she was in the Kohl cabinet as minister for women and youth.
She established herself in the party, rising through the ranks until she was chosen to lead it in 2000 and was elected Germany’s first female chancellor in 2005.
She is married to a chemistry professor from Berlin, Joachim Sauer.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI
aung-san-suu-kyi
Burma’s Prime Minister San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years in November 2015.
The win came five years to the day since she was released from 15 years of house arrest.
The 70-year-old spent much of her time between 1989 and 2010 in some form of detention because of her efforts to bring democracy to military-ruled Myanmar (Burma) – a fact that made her an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.
In 1991, “The Lady” as she’s known, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the committee chairman called her “an outstanding example of the power of the powerless”.
However, after her release and subsequent political career, Ms Suu Kyi has come in for criticism by some rights groups for what they say has been a failure to speak up for Myanmar’s minority groups during a time of ethnic violence in parts of the country.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San.
He was assassinated during the transition period in July 1947, just six months before independence, when Ms Suu Kyi was only two.
She studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University in the UK. There she met her future husband, academic Michael Aris.
After stints of living and working in Japan and Bhutan, she settled in the UK to raise their two children, Alexander and Kim, but Myanmar was never far from her thoughts.
When she arrived back in Rangoon (Yangon) in 1988 – to look after her critically ill mother – Myanmar was in the midst of major political upheaval.
Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King and India’s Mahatma Gandhi, she organised rallies and travelled around the country, calling for peaceful democratic reform and free elections.
But the demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the army, who seized power in a coup on 18 September 1988. Ms Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest the following year.
The military government called national elections in May 1990 which Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD convincingly won – however, the junta refused to hand over control.
Ms Suu Kyi remained under house arrest in Rangoon for six years, until she was released in July 1995.
She was again put under house arrest in September 2000, when she tried to travel to the city of Mandalay in defiance of travel restrictions.
She was released unconditionally in May 2002, but just over a year later she was put in prison following a clash between her supporters and a government-backed mob.
She was later allowed to return home – but again under effective house arrest.
During periods of confinement, Ms Suu Kyi busied herself studying and exercising. She meditated, worked on her French and Japanese language skills, and relaxed by playing Bach on the piano.
But during her early years of detention she was often in solitary confinement. She was not allowed to see her two sons or her husband, who died of cancer in March 1999.
In 2015, the military-backed civilian government of President Thein Sein organized a general election on 13 November, the NLD secured the required two-thirds of the contested seats in parliament to win a majority.
CHRSTINE LAGARDE
chrstine-lagarde
Poised, chic and a fluent English speaker, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) managing director, 57, is the first woman to head the IMF.
But then, throughout her career, she has become familiar with the “first woman to…” tag. In 2007 she became finance minister, the first woman to hold this post not just in France but in any of the G8 major industrial countries.
She was born in Paris in 1956, Christine Lagarde completed high school in Le Havre and attended Holton Arms School in Bethesda (Maryland, USA).
She then graduated from law school at University Paris X, and obtained a Master’s degree from the Political Science Institute in Aix en Provence.
After being admitted as a lawyer to the Paris Bar, Christine Lagarde joined the international law firm of Baker & McKenzie as an associate, specializing in Labor, Anti-trust, and Mergers & Acquisitions.
A member of the Executive Committee of the Firm in 1995, Christine Lagarde became the Chairman of the Global Executive Committee of Baker & McKenzie in 1999, and subsequently Chairman of the Global Strategic Committee in 2004.
Christine Lagarde joined the French government in June 2005 as Minister for Foreign Trade. After a brief stint as Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, in June 2007 she became the first woman to hold the post of Finance and Economy Minister of a G-7 country.
From July to December 2008, she also chaired the ECOFIN Council, which brings together Economics and Finance Ministers of the European Union, and helped foster international policies related to financial supervision, regulation, and strengthening global economic governance.
As Chairman of the G-20 when France took over its presidency for the year 2011, she set in motion a wide-ranging work agenda on the reform of the international monetary system.
On July 5, 2011, Christine Lagarde became the eleventh Managing Director of the IMF, and the first woman to hold that position. On February 19, 2016, the IMF Executive Board selected her to serve as IMF Managing Director for a second five-year term starting on July 5, 2016.
Christine Lagarde was named Officier in the Légion d’honneur in April 2012.
A former member of the French national team for synchronized swimming, Christine Lagarde is the mother of two sons.
At 17, following the death of her father, Ms Lagarde went to study in the US for a year, where she perfected her English.
Never afraid to speak her mind, she blamed the 2008 worldwide financial crisis partly on the male-dominated, testosterone-fuelled culture at global banks.
Well before she took the helm of the IMF, the Financial Times voted her in 2009 the best finance minister in Europe.
She won international respect for promoting France’s negotiating clout in key forums such as the G20.
She also received plaudits for the key role she played in approving a bail-out mechanism to aid struggling members of the eurozone in May 2010.
And her straight-talking manner has only added to her appeal.
Since taking over at the IMF, Ms Lagarde’s main challenge has been to try to ease the eurozone debt crisis, in particular the huge bailout required for Greece.
Ms Lagarde replaced Dominique Strauss-Kahn, another French politician who resigned as head of the IMF following his arrest on charges of attempted rape in New York. She was a front runner from the beginning.
Kenneth Rogoff, a former IMF chief economist, spoke of her wide-ranging appeal: “She is enormously impressive, politically astute and a strong personality. At finance meetings all over the world, she is treated practically like a rock star.”
CHRISTIANA FIGUERES
christiana-figueres
If Mother Nature held auditions for a guardian, Figueres, 59, would be first in line. The daughter of a Costa Rican President who led a landmark revolution in 1948, Figueres became the United Nations climate-change chief in 2010, tasked with nothing less than halting the potentially catastrophic effects of global warming.
For six years she worked to convince governments that a binding agreement on limiting carbon emissions and slowing fossil fuel-led growth was in the world’s best interest.
Figueres’s efforts culminated in December at the Paris climate conference, where 195 countries signed a deal committing them to limit worldwide temperature increases to no more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels, a critical if hard-to-attain benchmark.
Figueres is out of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) but many believe she could become the first woman to be named UN Secretary-General.

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