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Expert comment: Woman’s Hour 2015’s Power List of inspirational women

Power List Angelina Jolie Thursday 2 July 2015

Following the release of Woman’s Hour’s list of the most influential women of 2015, Senior Lecturer in Modern History Dr Sonja Tiernan reflects on those who made the top ten. 

BBC Radio 4 presents a rather unique daily programme, Woman’s Hour. The aim of the programme is not to focus exclusively on issues of gender inequality, but to celebrate advances being made by women. This aspect of celebration is most evident in their annual Power List. This year, Women’s Hour describes its aim as ‘to identify a range of women who have an exceptionally large impact on our lives, not just because of their job title but because of their personal ability to influence others’.

The 2015 Power List was announced on 1st July and it is inspiring. Not surprisingly, the First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon is placed first, as the most influential woman. Sturgeon is not new to politics; she was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and has since held numerous prestigious positions including Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary posts. Sturgeon has earned her place as a highly respected politician in Scotland and was elected as First Minister, unopposed, when Alex Salmond stood down in the wake of the failed Scottish independence referendum. Sturgeon became the first female to take this position, which ensured that for the first time in history all three main political parties in Scotland were led by women, albeit for a short time. Ruth Davidson is leader of the Scottish Tories and Johann Lamont was then leader of Scottish Labour before stepping down in October 2014.

Sturgeon burst on to our television screens, into national newspapers, and fired up the British public during the 2015 general election, ensuring that her profile moved far beyond the confines of Scotland. The seven leaders of the main parties in Britain went head-to-head on a live televised debate on 2nd April. Sturgeon came out as a clear favourite with the audience. The following day, The Independent announced that the most googled term after the debate aired was, ‘can I vote for the SNP?’. After tackling questions on the NHS, the economy and the future of Britain in a relaxed and assured manner, The Guardian revealed that out of four polls taken to ascertain who performed best, Sturgeon was the clear winner; achieving 28 per cent of the votes. This is a remarkable achievement for a woman who has never set foot in Westminster and was a relatively unknown politician outside of Scotland. Throughout this week’s EU crisis with Greece, it is Sturgeon who is providing a calm assessment of the situation. She warned British politicians that when it comes to referendums ‘threats won’t help’. Sturgeon is a force to be reckoned with and her future political career is one to watch in anticipation.

Other women who made it on to the top ten of the Power List differ immensely from Sturgeon, but have generated positive influence in particularly important areas. Angelina Jolie, who took the position of number three on the list, made her fame as a leading Hollywood actress, in a career where a woman’s beauty and body image is of the utmost value. Jolie has used her fame to actively promote humanitarian work and was appointed as special envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Chief António Guterres in 2012. However, it was Jolie’s activities the following year that must have taken significant personal courage. In 2013, Jolie publically discussed her choice to undergo a preventative double mastectomy. The results of a blood test identified that she carried a mutated gene which raised her risk of breast cancer to an 87 per cent chance and her chance of ovarian cancer to 50 per cent. Jolie’s mother, aunt and grandmother all died from cancer. In March of this year, Jolie wrote her Diary of a Surgery, which was published in The New York Times. In the article, Jolie discussed her further elective surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes in order to improve her life expectancy. The positive repercussions of a woman such a Jolie publically discussing such female health issues is immeasurable. In Britain alone, the affirmative impact on women’s health can be seen through a breast cancer research study, which confirmed National Health Service genetic testing referrals doubled in 2013.  

Jolie is not the only woman to make the top ten of the Power List after influencing through huge personal effort. Caitlyn Jenner, formerly the all-American boy and Olympian gold medallist Bruce Jenner, revealed herself in the most public way as a trans woman, by appearing on the cover of the illustrious fashion magazine Vanity Fair in June. The issue carried photographs of Caitlyn and an in-depth interview with her. A high profile person providing detailed personal information about her life journey is certain to have a positive impact, not only by helping others in the same situation, but also in generating a wider public understanding of transgender issues. It is wonderful to see Caitlyn Jenner listed as number seven on the Power List.

The remaining top ten in the Woman’s Hour Power List are; Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue Anna Wintour, Editor of The Guardian Katharine Viner, Director of Downing Street Policy Unit Camilla Cavendish, singer, songwriter and music video director Sia, CEO, of MediaCom UK Karen Blackett, Editor-in-Chief of  The Economist Zanny Minton Beddoes, and Director and co-founder of Inspire Sara Khan.

Dr Sonja Tiernan - Full Profile 

History and Politics at Liverpool Hope 


Picture by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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