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10 women of the world in 2011 – an alternative list

December 30, 2011

After all the kerfuffle surrounding the BBC News website’s decision to include a panda in their list of the top 10 women of 2011 (which for starters indicates that someone could do with a simple biology lesson), and the fact that half the women appeared to have made it onto the list by virtue of being married to someone more notable, I present to you my version of the top 10 women of 2011, women who, for better or worse, made the news of their own volition this year. Feel free to disagree or add your own in the comments!

1. Mona Eltahawy

Egyptian born columnist and commentator Eltahawy was one of the most prominent Western based voices of the Arab spring, using social media – her twitter accounts in particular – to follow, comment and curate the news, especially with regard to women. Eltahawy was, sadly, to experience first hand the problems facing women demonstrators and activists in Egypt last month when she was apparently assaulted by Egyptian security forces. Her story on the shocking incident takes pains to emphasise that she is, unfortunately, not the only woman to have suffered such abuse and that others faced far worse, but it still put the spotlight on some troubling aspects of the revolutions currently sweeping the region.

2. Wangari  Maathai

The remarkable Kenyan environmental activist and founder of the Green Belt movement sadly passed away this year, but deserves a mention here for being remembered as the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize and for the outpouring of grief and praise for her pioneering work after she passed.

3. Nobel peace prize winners – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakel Karman

Three remarkable women – a former leader of Liberia (and Africa’s first female president), a Liberian activist and a Yemeni democracy activist, all honoured as recipients of one of the world’s most renowned awards.

4. Sally Dowler, Milly Dowler’s mother

Never mind the Leveson enquiry theatrics, the Murdoch saga, the public opprobium, at the heart of the hacking story was a woman who had experienced unimaginable loss and pain, only to learn that it had been exploited in the most repulsive of circumstances. While we chuckled at the wit of Hugh Grant and tweeted the hearings for the pithiest of quotes, it was Mrs Dowler who reminded us all that running through the entire fiasco was the bludgeoning impact of unethical behaviour.

5. Christine Lagarde

While most eyes were (nervously) on Angela Merkel as she held the fate of the Eurozone in her hands, it should not be forgotten that an enormous amount of power is still with Lagarde, the first female head of the International Monetary Fund after Dominique Strauss Kahn’s spectacular fall from grace. Intelligent, articulate and with that insouciantly Gallic elegance, she has proved one to watch in 2012.

6. Helle Thorning Schmidt

Denmark’s first female prime minister, who has had to suffer the sobriquet ‘Gucci Helle’ for having the temerity to have blonde hair.

7. Manal al-Sharif, Women2Drive activist, Saudi Arabia

Al-Sharif helped to organise the social media campaigns on Twitter (@Women2Drive) and Facebook against Saudi authorities banning women from getting behind the wheel. She was arrested several times this year for her efforts, and some authorities claimed that permitting women to drive would risk their virginity, but was it a total coincidence that a few months later Saudi Arabia announced that women would be able to vote in the country’s 2015 elections and sit on King Abdullah’s advisory council?

8. Syrian spokeswoman Reem Haddad

As the Arab spring swept across the Middle East this year the Syrian regime’s response was embodied in the person of Reem Haddad, who as spokeswoman for the government was often exposed to ridicule for her more fanciful interpretations of why the country was convulsed in violence. She was sacked in the summer for unclear reasons, and Syria seems to have since spiralled into a bloody civil war of attrition. Regardless, Haddad is no longer, it seems, around to put a face to it.

9. The CIA analyst who helped find Bin Laden

Much has been made of the CIA’s work in finally locating that most elusive and most wanted of men, Osama Bin Laden, and of a particular CIA analyst named only as ‘John’ who had led the intelligence trail which finally wound its way to Abbotabad, where Bin Laden was killed. What few stories concentrated on is that is was one of his female colleagues who honed in the courier Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, thus beginning the trail which led eventually to his safe house and one of the boldest, most fraught intelligence operations of our times.

10. Lindsey Hilsum

OK so another journalist, but Hilsum excelled herself this year in coverage of the many, many conflicts, revolutions and other events percolating outside of UK shores. Honourable mention, too, to Alex Crawford of Sky News, who endured the tired old questions of a woman daring to leave her children to report the news with grace and firm rebuttals.

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