Every December, FT Weekend Magazine dedicates a special series to profiling some of the most influential women of the year from across the globe.
Of course our list isn’t exhaustive — each year there are far more women who deserve to be included than we can possibly fit. This is why we asked for your help in highlighting some of the game changers who have mattered to you in 2020.
This year we were delighted to receive hundreds of nominations, and we enjoyed reading about the women you felt had broken ground, coped with crises or brought attention to some of the most important issues of our time, whether in their community or at a national or international level.
Here is a selection of 12 game-changing women who FT readers thought stood out in 2020.
Jacinda Ardern, PRIME MINISTER OF NEW ZEALAND
The world is beginning to realise that empathy is a necessary quality for leadership. New Zealand’s handling of the pandemic has also shut up the naysayers.
She understood quickly the possible consequences of Covid. That it was not flu. She managed to get her country on side in limiting the number of cases, and pretty much eradicating it in New Zealand. She did this by demonstrating a remarkable lack of hubris, unlike some other — mostly male — world leaders who showed the absolute opposite traits and, as a result, lack of success.
— Richard in UK
Ozlem TUreci, chief medical officer, BioNTech
It’s such a beautiful story: two gifted immigrants [Türeci and husband Uğur Şahin] fell in love and are on course to have developed the first vaccine against the coronavirus, a truly global threat. And she is the chief scientist in the company that has developed it!
— Ze Estevao
Özlem Türeci and Katalin Kariko of BioNTech — two of the crucial scientists behind the breakthrough of using mRNA to induce immune reactions. Their persistence over many years provides the world with a potential way out of the pandemic and a platform for tackling many other diseases.
kamala Harris, us vice president-elect
Navigated through a crowded field to emerge as the first woman on a winning American presidential ticket. First African-American in pole position for the presidency. Ran the second- largest justice department in the US, can sell tickets to her interrogations on the Justice committee and hasn’t lost who she is on the rise to power. She will be a crucial right hand in the incoming administration.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, belarusian politician
The election campaign in Belarus almost ended before it began, with three key opposition leaders jailed before the election day. Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, one of the leader’s wives, was allowed to run on her husband’s collected signatures and, essentially, out of pity. In an unexpected turn of events, she united with two female leaders of the other candidates’ teams, and formed a trio which lifted the country out of political slumber and gave people hope.
— Roman Faminou
STACEY ABRAMS, US politician
This is the year of Stacey Abrams. Through her work and that of people like her in other US states, hundreds of thousands of people who were actively discouraged from voting did jump through all the hoops and did manage to push Georgia and Pennsylvania over to the Biden side. It has been a Herculean, sustained effort that has changed the political landscape in the US sufficiently to deny Trump a second term. She stands for this political awakening and the hard work behind it more than any other person.
— Felix Drost
Stacey Abrams launched a stunningly successful get-out-the-Democratic-vote campaign in Georgia this year. She is the reason Georgia, a reliably ‘red’ state, turned ‘blue’ in the recent election. Her stature in the Democratic party is nonpareil, her effectiveness in identifying and countering efforts to suppress voting among minorities around the US unprecedented.
I nominate all working mothers as they were stretched to the absolute max and have shown insane grit and resilience while making it so clear that gender role models are no longer sustainable. Society needs to change fundamentally.
The working mum deserves recognition. Back in April, an awful lot of people found themselves sent home, either to work from home or do nothing on reduced pay. They then had to spend considerable time and effort managing the education of all the children in the house at the same time.
It is alarming that for all the progress society has made, it was still the default assumption that the schooling would fall to the mums regardless.
A first-world problem perhaps, but working 5am-7am and then 7pm-midnight to accommodate the kids is no mean feat and deserves to be acknowledged.
tsai ing-wen, president of Taiwan
I really like Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, who has done exceptionally well in generating enthusiasm in the elections back in January; made an excellent decision to ban arrivals from mainland China early [in the pandemic] and made Taiwan one of the strongest economies this year (no annual GDP drop).
Politically, she has done a good job this year, resisting pressures from Beijing while not offending China, hereby avoiding further escalation in tensions. She also supported same-sex marriage in Taiwan, which is now legal.
ANGELA MERKEL, chancellor of Germany
With populism on the rise across Europe, and Trump tearing up international agreements, Merkel held the line against the AfD in Germany and became the de facto leader of the liberal west. She has overseen one of Europe’s most effective battles against coronavirus, and been the driving force behind the establishment of the EU recovery fund. She is a giant among politicians.
Angela Merkel, for leading Germany through a pandemic with a focus on science and the wellbeing of the citizens, and not being afraid to suspend Germany’s famous distaste for large deficits.
— Jamal Nugy
ruth bader Ginsburg, late associate justice of the US Supreme Court
She once and for all changed the perceptions of gender and equality.
— @dittekrogholesen via Instagram
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for a life dedicated to civil rights, and her leadership style.
— @xisca_borras via Instagram
Alexandria ocasio-cortes, us politician
AOC is the type of transformational politician that comes once every generation.
— @src55 via Instagram
KK shailaja, Indian politician
I nominate Kerala’s “coronavirus slayer” and “rock-star health minister” for remarkable health outcomes in India’s fight against Covid-19.
Taylor swift, musician
Taylor Swift for her continued work in the music industry to highlight its inequalities and for making the first (and so far only?) great lockdown album.
Responses have been edited for length and accuracy. You can read more about all the women chosen by FT editors here, and if you haven’t had a chance to share your own recommendation yet, please do so below