The 40th Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the Leader of the Labour Party has earned a profile well beyond that of any of her predecessors. Ardern was the world’s youngest female head of state when she was elected, at just 37. But her commitment to equality and justice endured for decades, having joined the Labour party when she was 17, encouraged by her politically active aunt.

A year ago, she saw the country through the deadliest attack in its modern history, when a white supremacist terrorist targeted two Christchurch mosques. Her compassion for New Zealand’s Muslim community in the face of the atrocity drew praise around the world, as did her rapid response in the form of introducing strict firearm regulations. At the end of 2019, she guided New Zealand through another catastrophe, the Whakaari/White Island eruption.

As one of the world’s most powerful women, Jacinda’s leadership has made strides for gender equality. A self-described feminist, she’s made her voice heard on the global stage, having stood alongside other world leaders while also contending with misogynistic commentary. She was the second elected head of government to give birth while in office, and made history in 2018 when she brought her then-three-month-old daughter, Neve, to the United Nations General Assembly. At the Assembly,

Ardern drew yet more praise when she called for the #MeToo movement to become “We Too”, pledging to uplift women across the world and ensure that equality becomes a global movement.

The issues she’s pursued domestically – affordable housing, the support of the Ma¯ori population and LGBTIQ+ rights – have also been critical in the fight for gender equality; across many minority groups, women are often hit harder by systemic disadvantage, and intersectionality is a major aspect of feminism.

As part of a Q&A published by The Guardian, Ardern responded to a question on how to deal with institutionalised misogyny in schools thus: “Rebel against it! We have to do what we can to call out bad behaviour, but also to have plenty of role models. I can’t say I’ve been told our schools are any worse than anywhere else, but there’s almost always more to do to make sure our young women are treated fairly.”

Honourable mentions

Sanna Marin

In December 2019, Marin was appointed Prime Minister of Finland and, at only 34 years old, she’s the youngest incumbent in the world to hold this title. A social democrat, she’s backed by a team of five female party leaders and is committed to closing the pay gap.

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Sanna Marin.

Nancy Pelosi

The Speaker of the US House of Representatives has become known as the woman who stood up against President Donald Trump. She instigated the 2019 investigation that led to his impeachment trial this year.

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Nancy Pelosi.

From CEOs and politicians to humanitarians and athletes, we profile 30 extraordinary trailblazers creating major change in 2020. Jacinda Ardern, Sanna Marin and Nancy Pelosi are among the iconic women we're celebrating this International Women's Day.