The 100 Top Women of the World – Faces from Southeast Asia

Image courtesy of Forbes, http://www.forbes.com/power-women/gallery

New year, new list, but the names on the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women have not changed much. Angela Merkel remains as the most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes, and most of the ladies who have a place on the list are either from the United States or from Europe. Asian women, particularly those from Southeast Asia, are still a minority force in the powerful women community according to the list. Nevertheless, it could be observed that more new faces are coming up and the following three figures are worth much attention.

It is not surprising that the Burmese symbol of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, is ranked the highest (#19) among her Southeast Asian counterparts. She has been elected to the Burmese parliament and has become the leader of the biggest opposition party in Myanmar this year, after being put on a house arrest for more than 20 years. Earlier in June, she finally had the opportunity to give her acceptance speech for her Nobel Peace prize which she had been awarded back in 1991. Her significant contribution to the democratization and development of Myanmar and beyond makes Suu Kyi a well deserving figure in the list.

The Thai Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinwatra, comes after Suu Kyi and is ranked #30, making her the second highest-ranked Southeast Asian woman. Shinawatra, who is the younger sister of the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, was a businesswoman and she was once the director of the biggest telecom company in Thailand before she entered politics in 2011. At present, she oversees a country of 67 million people and the second largest economy in Southeast Asia. She has demonstrated her courage and the qualities as a leader particularly during and following the historical 2011 Thailand floods as she initiated various flood prevention and control measures in response to Thailand’s worst flood in 50 years.

The third most powerful Southeast Asian woman is Sri Mulyani Indrawati from Indonesia (#73), who is the only one from the biggest Muslim country in the world. Indrawati has been the managing director of the World Bank since 2010, overseeing operations and loans in Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. She pays particular attention to middle-income countries such as Indonesia and the BRIC nations, drawing her experiences as the Indonesian Minister of Finance from 2005 to 2010. During her tenure as Minister, Indrawati cut Indonesia’s debt in half and helped the reserves reach an unprecedented high of $50 billion.

The three women leaders from Asia are deserving of their places – but we need to see more of such figures. Asia desperately needs to see more female leaders to foster socio-economic development. “Investing in women’s entrepreneurial leadership, and the empowerment of women, is smart economics – which is why women’s empowerment is one of the most important development priorities for the countries of Asia and the Pacific,” said Dr. Noeleen Heyzer, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). We strongly hope that the three leaders mentioned here will make good use of the power and influence for the benefit of their countries, including women. They should serve as inspirations for the girls in their home countries, so that more and more young women in Southeast Asia would be become future global leaders.

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