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The World’s Most Powerful Women and What They Studied

1. Angela Merkel

The German Chancellor has a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Leipzig. She worked as a chemist at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry, Academy of Sciences from 1978-1990.  After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, she entered politics.  In 2005, she became Germany’s first female Chancellor. In the light of seismic political shifts around the globe, Merkel recently announced that she will run for a fourth term as Chancellor.

2. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

In office since 2006, the Liberian President is the first female leader of Liberia.  She is Africa’s first female head of state.  In 1971, Sirleaf earned her Master’s in Public Administration at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, after which she became Liberia’s Minister of Finance. In 2011, she shared the Nobel Peace Prize with fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen.  Their work?  The non-violent struggle for women’s safety, and women’s rights to full participation in peace-building.

3. Erna Solberg

Norway’s Prime Minister since 2013, Erna Solberg, leader of Norway’s Conservative party studied sociology, political science, statistics, and economy at the University of Bergen. Solberg triumphed over dyslexia, a diagnosis she received at the age of 16, and went on to a successful career in Norwegian politics and government.

4. Michelle Bachelet

Chile elected its first female President in 2006-2010, and then again in 2014. That woman?  Michelle Bachelet, who has focused her life’s work on meeting the needs of the poor, children’s rights, women’s rights, and economic change.  She finished her medical degree at the University of Chile, after years of exile in Australia and Germany.  Her medical expertise?  Treating victims of torture, especially children.

5. Sheikh Hasina Wazed

A two-time Prime Minister of Bangladesh, first from 1996-2001 and again from 2009 until now, Sheikh Hasina Wazed studied Bangla at the University of Dhaka. In 1971, she helped her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, when she served as his political liaison during his detainment for initiating Bangladesh’s separation from Pakistan.  In 1975, shortly after her father became president of Bangladesh, her mother, father, and three brothers were assassinated by military officers.  Hasina was out of the country; she subsequently led her father’s political organization, the Awami League.  She has several honorary degrees from universities around the world; she spent the better part of her life in exile, avoiding various assassination attempts.

6. Aung San Suu Kyi

State Counsellor of Burma and the Leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi studied Burmese at the University of Delhi and philosophy, politics, and economics at the University of Oxford.  She lived abroad with her husband and children for most of the 1970s and 1980s.  When she returned home from her life abroad in 1988, she learned of her government’s slaughter of her people—and the ensuing protests and violence.  She helped spark a movement against then dictator U Ne Win, and initiated non-violent protests for democracy and human rights.  From 1989-2010, she was in and out of house arrest and government custody.  In 1991, while imprisoned, she won the Nobel Prize for Peace.

7. Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwan’s current President Tsai Ing-wen studied law.  Throughout the 1980s, she earned her initial degree National Taiwan University in Taipei, and then earned a master’s in law from Cornell, and later a PhD in law from the London School of Economics.  She taught law in Taiwan until 2000, and became involved in government in the 1990s.  She is Taiwan’s first female president, the first not to have been Mayor of Taipei, the first never to have held a previous executive position, the first unmarried president—and the first president of Hakka and aboriginal descent.

8. Theresa May

In office since July 2016, Prime Minister Theresa May is the UK’s leader of the conservative party and second female prime minister.  Like her predecessor Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May studied at Oxford, where she specialized ingeography.  David Cameron appointed her Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equality in 2010.  Politics aside, she is a self-declared “feminist.”  Think tank Wonkhe recently named her one of the 50 most powerful people to shape education in the UK post-Brexit—make that the world.