Michelle Obama doesn’t hold a political office, but she has a highly visible role in both the national and international political spheres. Trained as a lawyer, she now works as an advocate and runs the most famous household in America.
She may not be commander in chief, but Hillary Clinton is one of the highest-ranking members of the United States government. She is charged with managing foreign affairs, which is no small task in today’s international political climate.
Julia Gillard is a woman of firsts. She is the first woman and non-native to hold her political position in Australia. Her background and passion lie in education, which she holds central to her economic agenda.
Elena Kagan is newly appointed to her position, most recently serving as a professor and dean of Harvard Law School, her alma mater. Her first opinion was filed in January 2011.
The lone female leader in a continent run by men, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is known as Liberia’s "Iron Lady". She accomplished a feat that most national governments have failed to do, erasing the country’s external debt.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has spent the majority of her distinguished career advocating for equal rights for men and women. Despite rumors of her retirement, she has not announced her intention to step down.
In a country divided, Mary McAleese was the first person elected to her position in Ireland who was born in Northern Ireland. Her two terms in office have been dedicated to building bridges. Named among the 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes magazine in 2009, she is also a member of the Council of Women World Leaders.
Janet Napolitano has been charged with keeping America safe from terrorism, or what she calls "man-caused disasters." Issues of national security range from airport security to border safety, and these issues have sparked controversy and criticism.
Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has been compared to Eva Peron, the former first lady of Argentina, which is the title de Kirchner held before being elected to her current position. She was one half of a presidential marriage with her husband and former president, who stayed active in her presidency until his death in 2010.
Sonia Sotomayor became a first for her position and has enjoyed a long career punctuated by highly visible rulings. She has been a champion for ethnic diversity and identity, and many of her speeches focus on these themes.
Trained as a physical chemist, Angela Merkel turned to politics after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She rose to the ranks of her current position in 2005, and her tenure has focused on health care reform and future energy development in Germany.