The most powerful women in the world

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Angela Merkel Michael Sohn/AP/Press Association Images

Remember the bad old days when the world's most powerful women were the ones making sure world leaders were fed and had clean pants for the day? Now Forbes' list of the most powerful women features world leaders, business moguls and leading philanthropists.

But who has made the top of this list? Which two celebrities have made it to the top 20, and where is Britain's most powerful woman?


1. Angela Merkel

German Chancellor, and the 'Iron Lady' of Europe, leading the country which is fast becoming the only thing standing between the eurozone and disaster. And with an approval rating of 70% she's odds on to hold that position after 2013's election too.

2. Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State for the United States. After years of being the woman who made sure the leader of the free world had clean pants every morning, at the age of 64 Clinton is the second most powerful woman in the world. She has said she will be leaving pubic life this year, but there are plenty who are holding out hope she will run for the presidential nomination again.

3. Dilma Rousseff

President of Brazil, and possibly the mossy powerful woman that many people haven't heard of. She is running the powerhouse of the BRIC countries, spearheading a number of programmes to bring GDP back to strength and improve the health and education of the poorest of the country.

4. Melinda Gates

Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Arguably the 48 year old wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for her husband. However, having contributed $25 billion to charitable causes tackling poverty, and promoting public health and education, she is clearly in a position to achieve her life goal of improving access to contraception to some of the world's poorest women.

5. Jill Abramson

Executive Editor of the New York Times, and the only media player in the top ten. She has radically overhauled the publication and made her mark as the only female executive editor in the paper's 161 year history.

6. Sonia Gandhi

President of the Indian National Congress. As the longest serving leader of the party, she has faced her critics who claim she tolerates corruption, has seen her party's power falter, and struggled to handle this summer's riots. However, at the age of 65 she has overcome cancer in order to lead a booming economy.

7. Michelle Obama

First Lady of the US. It's a long time since the First Lady was purely on pants duty. Obama, a graduate from Harvard Law School, also champions the fight on childhood obesity and is a strong supporter of military families.

8. Christine Lagarde

Managing director of the International Monetary Fund. The former French Finance Minister is now the first woman to run the IMF, and has been at the helm throughout the eurozone debt crisis.

9. Janet Napolitano

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the US. The second most powerful woman in the US administration was the governor of Arizona before becoming the first woman in charge of the Department of Homeland Security

10. Sheryl Sandberg

COO of Facebook. She has faced her share of criticism over various Facebook privacy rows, and questions over the future growth strategy of the business, but was at the helm through the groundbreaking $100 billion IPO in May, and is the youngest woman in the top ten at just 42.

The rest

Beyond the top 10, there is a fair smattering of celebrities, with Oprah Winfrey at 11, Lady Gaga at 14 and Diane Sawyer at 23.

Business woman, however, dominate much of the rest of the top of the list, with Indra Nooy of Pepsico at 12, Irene Rosenfield of Kraft at 13, Virginia Rometty of IBM at 15, Ursula Burns of Xerox at 17, Meg Whitman of Hewlett-Packard at 18 and Maria das Graças Silva Foster of Petrobras-Petróleo Brasil at 20.

You have to go a fair way down the list for your first Brit, with the Queen at number 26 and JK Rowling at number 78.

However, on the real plus side, this is evidence of the power women wield with age. Despite the much-discussed disappearance of women hitting their 50s and 60s, in the top ten only two women are under 50, and in the top 20 only one is under 40 (Lady Gaga). In fact, the only four women under 40 in the whole of the top 50 include three musicians (Lady Gaga, Beyonce Knowles and Shakira) and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo at 37.

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