From America’s Hillary Rodham Clinton to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi, women are becoming more prominent members of the political arena. Each of the women featured have helped to shape politics in their home country, inspiring millions of young women to become active members in the political process. These women are outspoken, intelligent, and just all around badasses. They make juggling career, family, and a life in the spotlight look easy, so it is no wonder that we often forget that they were young once. Their stories resemble those of many young women; proving that there are no linear steps to getting what you want in life, and most importantly, that you have to start somewhere. Even if that somewhere is as a low-paid, overworked, and under-appreciated staffer. Check out what these fierce politicians were doing as twenty-somethings.
Before she was “Mrs. Clinton” Hillary Diane Rodham was a hardcore Republican attending Wellesley College in 1965. In 1964, not only was Rodham a member of the Young Republicans, she campaigned for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater! So how did Hillary go from Goldwater Girl to staunch Democrat? The Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. dramatically changed Clinton’s views. She became one of the student leaders pressuring the administration to hire black faculty and admit black students. Always the overachiever, Clinton was the first student commencement speaker at her graduation from Wellesley in 1969. Unsurprisingly, Clinton received a standing ovation after criticizing the guest speaker, Senator Edward Brooks after some comments he made during his speech. From there she attended Yale Law School, which is where she met her future boo-thang Bill Clinton. A bad-ass from the beginning, Hillary approached Bill, after she caught him staring at her in the law library, then refused to marry him until she was ready to “settle down” in 1975.
Germany’s favorite Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was born in West Germany on July 17, 1954. As a twenty-something Merkel spent most of her time at the University of Leipzig studying physics, where she later earned a doctorate in 1978. After earning her doctoral degree, Dr. Merkel worked as a chemist at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry until 1990. Merkel did not become involved in politics until she was well into her thirties. But the fall of the Berlin Wall gave her an opportunity to enter the political arena, and she became Germany’s first female chancellor in 2005.
Justine Thornton (Miliband)
Before she was an environmental lawyer and the wife of Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband, Justine Thornton was a child actress. Born in 1970 in Nottinghamshire England, Justine retired from acting at age 17, and later went on to study law at Cambridge. Thornton was called to the bar, i.e., became a licensed barrister in 1994. Since then she has argued before the Court of Appeals, served as an environmental advisor to the British Government and chaired the Labour Party’s Socialist Environment and Resources Association. Her reputation as a hardworking and intelligent environmental barrister caught the eye not only of her future husband, Ed Miliband, but also has made her a key figure in Labour Party Politics.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Nobel Peace Prize-winner and opposition leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar (Burma), Aung San Suu Kyi got her revolutionary spirit from her parents. Her father was the prime minister of Burma before he was assassinated in 1947. Kyi’s mother, Khin Kyi was appointed ambassador to India in 1960. Kyi left Myanmar and attended Oxford University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1969. Determined to bring peace to Myanmar, Suu Kyi returned to Burma in 1988 amidst violent protest against Burma’s dictator U Ne Win who brutally cut down any opposition. Less than a year later, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest, where she stayed for more than 20 years. In 2010, Suu Kyi was released and two years later was elected to parliament where she continues to serve.
At just 30 years old, Elise Stefanik is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Elected in 2014, Stefanik also made history as the first Republican to win New York’s 21st Congressional district in 21 years. A legend in the making, Stefanik was the first person in her family to graduate from college, and graduated with honors from Harvard. Elise then took a job in the West Wing as part of President Bush’s Domestic Policy Council and then later in the Chief of Staff’s office overseeing policy development. Only time will tell what is next for the youngest woman in Congress.
Lindiwe Mazibuko is the youngest black woman in the history of South Africa’s Democratic Alliance (DA) party. Mazibuko first became interested in politics while writing her honors dissertation on Helen Zillie, former leader of the DA. After finishing her degree, Mazibuko was elected to Parliament in 2009 and was appointed the DA’s National Spokesperson and Shadow Deputy Minister for Communications. Living proof that even women in their 30s do not completely have their lives together, Mazibuko, former National Spokesperson for South Africa’s Democratic Alliance party, decided not to run for a second term, even though there were calls for her to take over party leadership. Her reason for turning down the position? She was did not feel she was ready yet, and so she resigned from her position in 2014 to take a year off and study at Harvard.