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Top Women Of 2011

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Women are being left off the page of every best-of-the-year list I have read so far. For starters, you have to be a princess to make it onto TIME's list of runners-up for "Person of the Year." Kate Middleton appears again on People magazine's "Most Intriguing" list and her younger sister, Pippa, is among the women on Barbara Walter's list of "10 Most Fascinating People." The others? Pop icons Katy Perry and the Kardashians, followed by Amanda Knox, who won her appeal in a high profile murder case. Somehow, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the only woman who ranks for Forbes' top 10 "Most Powerful People in the World" and is one of very few women to be recognized for leadership ability rather than lifestyle and looks in these year-end superlatives lists.

In an age of reality TV, it has become clear that voters expect candidates to entertain and perform. This is potentially dangerous territory for women who have to work harder to prove themselves as "serious" candidates in the first place. "In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms," as Writer/Director Jennifer Siebel Newsom describes in her provocative documentary, "Miss Representation," "the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman's value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader." Let's not dismiss the accomplishments of women; let's celebrate them instead.

I nominate 11 Memorable Women Leaders in 2011:

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is a portrait of courage as she recovers from the near-fatal attack that took the lives of six others at a constituent event in January, including her staffer and a nine-year-old girl. At Gabby's side when she opened her eyes for the first time after the shooting, Leader Nancy Pelosi said, "We witnessed almost a miracle. We saw the power of prayer, the power of the effect of the excellence of her medical care and we saw a little girl power too... "

Senator Barbara Mikulski from Maryland became the longest-serving woman in Senate history when she was sworn in to her fifth term in January. First elected in 1987, she was one of two women in the Senate. Now, there are 17 women serving together. A leader in the Senate, Mikulski is known as the "Dean of the Women" for acting as a mentor to other women Senators when they first take office and for building coalitions with women Senators of both parties to work together to get things done.

Women Governors made history as the first ever women of color were sworn-in as states' chief executives -- Governor Nikki Haley (SC) and Governor Susana Martinez (NM). In June, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation released our latest research, which showed that women last year ran on a more level playing field. In fact, our research also showed that now more than ever, gender can be a strategic asset for women in campaigns. We found that women can be 360° candidates. By using all of their expertise and experiences women have the ability to be "relatable" and "use everything" in campaigns, including personal experience. As one campaign manager said, women candidates "can be tough and policy-minded and still talk to people about [their] kids."

Geraldine Ferraro (August 26, 1935 - March 26, 2011) She inspired me and millions of others as the first woman to rise to the national stage as a Vice Presidential candidate. "By choosing a woman to run for our nation's second highest office," she said in her acceptance speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention, "you send a powerful signal to all Americans: There are no doors we cannot unlock. We will place no limits on achievement. If we can do this, we can do anything." Thanks to Geraldine Ferraro, we are changed, hopeful, and forever grateful.

Anita Hill's testimony during Clarence Thomas's U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991 energized and empowered American women to forge a national dialogue about the ways in which men use sex to maintain power in the workplace. Twenty years later, we can see the legacy of this dialogue in a broader cultural understanding of sexual harassment, stronger laws and policies prohibiting harassment in the workplace, and in women's representation in our government.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the most popular political figure on the national scene, according to a recent poll and is a beacon for equality worldwide. Speaking at the United Nations on Human Rights Day this month she declared the promotion of LGBT rights the next critical step for human rights "As it has happened so many times before, opinion will converge once again with the truth, the immutable truth, that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights. We are called once more to make real the words of the Universal Declaration. Let us answer that call. Let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today. I come before you with great hope and confidence that no matter how long the road ahead, we will travel it successfully together."

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is the highest profile Republican woman presidential candidate in over a decade. She has called out sexist treatment during her campaign and has maintained a visible place in a crowded field of candidates. Whoever becomes the Party's eventual nominee, Bachmann's candidacy has helped normalize the idea of women in politics for many of her conservative supporters.

Elizabeth Warren, candidate for U.S. Senate, speaks passionately about the bread-and-butter issues that most Americans say they care about right now. Her compelling biography tells a story of success through hard work, skill, and determination. Despite the Bay State's liberal reputation, voters here have struggled to elect women at the top of the ticket. But my foundation's latest research on women's campaigns for executive office shows that Warren may have a real chance to bridge the gender gap in Massachusetts politics. She displays the key qualities that are now critical to women's success in elections: being a problem-solver, having the right priorities, and showing strength.

Nobel Laureates, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, were awarded The Nobel Peace Prize 2011 "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." Women leaders around the globe are creating freer, more open and equal societies. Succeeding where others have failed, they are healing the wounds of war and bringing their countries back from economic collapse. Countries with women heads of government demonstrate not only the strength of women's leadership but also the social and economic benefits of women's political equality.

Women of the workforce carried many households through the deepest parts of the recession. The link between gender equality and a country's economic strength is borne out by research. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report shows that global competitiveness and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) increase as a country's gender gap closes. Iceland and other Nordic countries that earn the report's highest marks in women's political empowerment rank among the strongest global competitors with the highest standards of living.

Democratic women in Congress stood strong to block attacks on women's healthcare, demanding that legislators stop using women's health as a political bargaining chip. Their message was clear: We must compromise on a budget, but we will never compromise the health of American women. Their words of passion, conviction, and courage continue to protect our freedoms, our health, and our families. This fight will continue in 2012. In a campaign field littered with early promises to roll back abortion rights and limit abortion access, Republican gains in Congress also would bring new attacks on existing federal legislation that allows women access to abortions.

So why is electing women so important? It's about fulfilling the promise of our democracy. Join me in recruiting women to run for office and let me know who they are--I'll send them our research!

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