Editor’s Note: The CNN Special Report, “All the Best, All the Worst 2015,” airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET and looks at the best and worst stories in big news, politics, pop culture, sports and more.
Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review, and a former CNN producer and correspondent. Follow her @FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
In 2015, some of the biggest news and successes resulted from the actions of women
Frida Ghitis: Here are my nominees for women who changed the world
The majority of the world’s most powerful and influential positions remain in men’s hands. But the imbalance is gradually tilting – and it shows. In 2015, some of the biggest news and successes resulted from the actions of women.
Here are my nominees for women who changed the world in 2015. But, before we get started, I want to mention some women who have been on my lists in previous years as they continue to shape our world.
Hillary Clinton made strides in her historic quest to become the first female president of the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel showed she is the undisputed strategic and moral leader of the European Union, Janet Yellen brought an end to nine years of zero-interest rates instituted since the Great Recession, and female Kurdish warriors proved an inspiring and effective counterforce against ISIS.
Here are the new faces who inspired, defied, guided or moved the world.
Traditionally, the top U.S. law-enforcement official is not well-known outside of the United States, but Attorney General Loretta Lynch not only made headlines around the world, she also brought a particular kind of change that billions of people had yearned for but thought was out of reach.
Lynch stunned the world by taking on the entrenched, corrupt officials of FIFA, the governing body of the world’s most popular sport, soccer. She had the guts to do what nobody else had dared; she lifted the heavy rock under which everyone knew worms were crawling. FIFA officials, she declared, had engaged in “rampant, systematic and deep-rooted” corruption, and it was time to “bring wrongdoers to justice.” To the billions who knew that graft has long tarnished the top levels of the beautiful game, it was a moment to rejoice and say: Amen to that!
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
When the Ebola epidemic took on alarming proportions in West Africa, it was tough for Liberia, one of the epicenters of the crisis.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the leader of Liberia, pleaded for international help. One reason the world responded is because the indefatigable President has international moral stature. She played a key role in guiding her country after brutal civil wars and received the Nobel Peace Prize for her effort.
Johnson Sirleaf not only helped bring an end to the epidemic, she did something just as remarkable: She revealed her emotions and admitted her faults. When it was all over she said she had been afraid, and conceded she had made big mistakes as a result of her fear. Then she showed gratitude. Instead of collecting laurels, she thanked all the people and countries who made victory against Ebola possible.
Aung San Suu Kyi
The iconic Burmese leader, also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, put the skeptics and the cynics to shame. To those who said nonviolent resistance could not defeat a vicious armed opponent, she seemed to say “just watch.”
Following the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., she endured a long struggle against the ruthless military rulers of Myanmar. She enlisted international support for economic sanctions that helped persuade the generals to loosen their grip, leading to elections in 2015 and an overwhelming victory for her National League for Democracy. Her record is stained by her refusal to speak out for the embattled Rohingya – a persecuted minority of Muslims living in Myanmar, near the border with Bangladesh – but she remains a global icon of peaceful resistance.
In one of the world’s most dangerous and corrupt countries, a woman started a movement that left a hemisphere astonished. Lucia Mendizabal, a 53-year-old real estate broker, led Guatemalans to the peaceful toppling of a government and the imprisonment of a president. She inspired the region to defy what had seemed like incurable corruption.
Mendizabal came home from work one day and heard the news of yet another scandal. This one was centered on the vice president’s secretary, a man whose crimes were so well known his nickname was “the car thief.” She went on Facebook and wrote to her friends, “Let’s see if we do something this time.” Indignant, they assembled nonpartisan protests. Before long the vice president and the President were in prison. Throughout Latin America the call to fight corruption got a shot in the arm.
It’s never been a secret that some people feel a sense of identity that does not match the anatomical gender of their birth. But until Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce Jenner, told her story to the world, most people had not had a meaningful understanding of what it means to be transgender.
Jenner, a superstar athlete, used her high profile to make her transformation an enlightening moment for the entire world. With that, society took a much-too-long-delayed leap of understanding and empathy on the subject of gender identity and the people who struggle with it. Jenner started a new era for the transgender community.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Looking for someone to admire? You can’t top the Supreme Court justice who is becoming a cult figure under the rap-inspired moniker “Notorious RBG.” At 82 and visibly stooped, Ginsburg remains a strong force on the Supreme Court with no sign of slowing down.
Her life story has carved a path of inspiration for many, fueled by a passion for the law, women’s equality and fairness. Her advice is a perfect cocktail of idealism and practicality: “Fight for things that you care about,” she counsels, “but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
It’s a tough challenge to find a single human being who may be responsible for saving as many lives. The Chinese pharmacologist Tu Youyou, one of three winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine, took an unconventional route in attacking one of the world’s biggest killers, malaria.
Research into ancient Chinese texts led her to discover the compounds that help prevent a disease that still kills about half a million people every year, transmitted by mosquitoes in water-logged jungles. The discovery has resulted in medication that has saved millions of lives.
Her full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, but she’s better known as the woman whose mesmerizing vocals never fail to move her listeners, frequently to tears. Adele’s latest record has broken, well, more records. She was already in the Guinness Book with a series of “firsts” and “onlys.”
Her unlikely career, launched when a friend posted her demo on the MySpace website, and propelled by a 2008 appearance on “Saturday Night Live” on the same day Sarah Palin had secured a giant audience, is the stuff of legend. By now, few disagree that she is one of the biggest starts in the universe, even if modern telescopes keep searching other galaxies.
U.S. women’s soccer team
In some parts of the world, soccer is still a boy’s sport. But that is changing fast and one of the reasons is that the U.S. women’s soccer team, whose members have shined on and off the pitch, accomplished something that even the boys have struggled to do: get people truly excited about the sport.
One year from now, we will all exhale with exhaustion, looking back at a 2016 that kept the entire world on edge. Maybe 2017 will bring more calm, we will muse, knowing that a brand new U.S. president will usher in a change in policies for addressing intensifying global conflicts that America cannot afford to ignore.