Women have changed the world, often one tiny step at a time, and our selection of those women who’ve had the most influence often varies with the years and with our own experiences. Twenty-five years ago, we might have chosen Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana or maybe even Mary Tyler Moore, but our choices today would surely reflect the almost revolutionary changes in the world around us.
Hilary Rodham Clinton would have to top any list of influential women, and — no surprise — she tops mine. In her courageous and historic 2008 presidential bid, she won more primaries and more delegates than any woman in our history. Her ultimate loss to Barack Obama was more a commentary on the electorate’s desperate bid for change than on her capabilities, and as the most traveled Secretary of State in history, she has deftly proven her range of qualifications and has most assuredly left her mark on a world hungry for female leadership.
Oprah Winfrey, the iconic TV talk show host, has changed the world through her tireless and enthusiastic promotion of books and reading through her television shows and book club. Who hasn’t waited to see her newest book club pick? And as a writer, my dream (along with countless other authors) was to get that magical nod from Oprah Winfrey, but alas, her show ended with the release of my first novel — Lipstick in Afghanistan. Still, even if it wasn’t one of my books that was catapulted to the bestseller lists, she has done more to promote reading than any other woman today.
And of course, Mother Theresa. Though she died more than a decade ago, her good works live on in her orphanages and shelters where she and her sisters cared for the world’s most vulnerable — the poorest of the poor, the lonely, the dying and the lost souls of the world. She continues to inspire millions to do good, and to find joy in the selfless service of others.
And any discussion of influential women must include the women we’ll never hear about, the women who work tirelessly around the world, and among those are the women of the International Rescue Committee, and a host of other international aid groups, who change the world very day by bringing light and hope into the world’s darkest places. These women go in quietly and without fanfare or fuss, and they provide aid in places like Afghanistan where women are still dying at an alarming rate from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. And they toil in the remotest regions of Sudan where conflict still rages though we hear little about the miseries there. These women work every day to provide healing, and to shed light and understanding on the plight of the world’s refugees and displaced. The difference these women make is palpable and yet immeasurable all at once, and surely without them, the world be a sorrier place.
And the final woman is the one you would choose, the one who made an impression on you, who helped you to see the world, or perhaps yourself, differently. It could be a teacher who inspired you or maybe a stranger who performed an act of kindness, or your mother who gave you the courage to chase your dreams. Whoever it was, remember her, carry her in your heart, and pass on the light she shared with you to another.
Together, we really can change the world, one woman at a time.