US: Feminists Bachelet, Arbour, Sirleaf, Suu Kyi & Malalai Joya amongst Top 100 Global Thinkers Print E-mail


November 30, 2010

36.  Michelle Bachelet
for applying a stateswoman's vision to gender equality.
Undersecretary-general, U.N. Women | New York

No one would have guessed that Michelle Bachelet -- a single mother, a socialist, and a survivor of torture under Gen. Augusto Pinochet's regime -- would emerge as one of Latin America's most conciliatory and universally admired leaders. But, indeed, her term as president of Chile was marked by a judiciousness of spirit and policy. She negotiated free trade agreements while expanding health-care coverage; she saved the country's boom-time export surplus while spending on government-run day-care centers. "In my family I learned that all people should be equal in opportunities and that justice was essential, dignity was essential," she told the Nation in September.

Tapped this year to head a new U.N. super-agency dedicated to the protection of women's rights, Bachelet will now be bringing her fearless-but-measured leadership style to the world stage. One key focus will be combating workplace discrimination, given that bringing women into the workplace has proved to be among the most efficient ways to jump-start struggling economies. "Women are almost invisible in some places," Bachelet said in September. "It is a shame for humanity."

Louise Arbour
for putting the world on notice.
CEO, International Crisis Group | Belgium

Before she took the reins at the International Crisis Group in 2008, Louise Arbour had already made a name for herself with her willingness to be impolitic in international bodies known for being diplomatic to the point of impotence. As chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s, she indicted Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic and the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide. Later, as the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, she nearly doubled her office's budget and commensurately increased its ambition, in the process offending all the right people (a Zimbabwean official mocked her office as a "deified oracle which spews out edicts we all must follow").

In her new role, Arbour's political savvy has transformed her groundbreaking organization from an indispensable source of information on the world's thorniest conflicts to a full-fledged actor in their resolution. The ICG's dogged investigation of war crimes committed in Sri Lanka's civil war, for example, has kept the issue front and center in 2010, a year after the hostilities ended. "The scale of civilian deaths and suffering demands a response," Arbour told reporters in May. And if there's one thing Arbour knows, it's how to get one.

85.  Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
for moving her country away from a troubled past.
President | Liberia

Africa's first elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, came into office in 2006 promising to rebuild Liberia after decades of bloody civil wars. The years since have seen impressive success: Liberia boasts one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, former warlord-president Charles Taylor has been captured and put on trial for war crimes, Sirleaf has appointed women to lead a quarter of her ministries, and the country is beginning to rebuild its battered institutions and infrastructure.

Sirleaf's tenure has not been flawless. Corruption remains endemic, and some of her closest allies have been forced to step down amid ongoing investigations. But as Liberia handles its newfound oil wealth, Sirleaf is gaining the world's trust: "Today we have a very empowered society in which accountability is demanded by the people," she says.

75.  Aung San Suu Kyi
for never giving up on democracy.
Dissident | Burma

When Aung San Suu Kyi emerged this fall from a house arrest that had lasted on and off for two decades, the world was impatient to hear what this symbol of Burma's embattled resistance movement would have to say. Would she rage against her captors, the Burmese junta that had just days before staged its first, extraordinarily flawed election in two decades? Would she call for international intervention to end a regime that has become known for its vicious crackdowns on minority and opposition groups and a dangerously laissez-faire attitude toward the drug barons operating along its borders? Instead, the freed dissident made a remarkably levelheaded call for long-term reform of the sort that comes from within: "value change," as she put it, not regime change. And she has already begun to take action, filing papers to reinstate her political party and promising an investigation into the recent election. As she said upon her release, "We have a lot of things to do."*

*Editor's note: This bio has been updated from the print version to reflect Aung San Suu Kyi's Nov. 13 release from house arrest.

93.  Malalai Joya
for embodying an independent-minded Afghanistan.
Activist | Afghanistan

A vocal defender of human rights, a passionate opponent of fundamentalism, and a fearless advocate of a civic Afghan culture, Malalai Joya -- who has stared down numerous assassination attempts since 2003 and was suspended from parliament in 2007 for comparing the body to a "barn full of animals" -- is precisely the sort of Afghan woman the West continues to fight for in the Hindu Kush. That doesn't mean she's happy with her country's current state of dependency. "Afghans face three enemies," she said in a recent interview, "the occupying forces, the Taliban, and the warlords." Joya got her start as a humanitarian during the Taliban regime, establishing underground health clinics and orphanages to spite the country's fundamentalist rulers. And she's just as skeptical of the human rights bona fides of Kabul's current powers that be. Afghans don't see the war between NATO, the Afghan government, and the Taliban as an either-or proposition, she argues. As she puts it, "Democracy without independence has no meaning."