Marie Claire SA celebrates the women who have made a meaningful impact on the world in 2017. From the arts to science, politics and athletics, these women are helping shape the world for the better, amid growing sociopolitical and environmental crises.

AMAL CLOONEY

International human rights lawyer Amal stepped into the Hollywood spotlight when she married George Clooney in 2014. Since then, she’s captured the world’s attention as a celebrity wife and mother, gracing red-carpet events and magazine covers. But far less focus is given to the incredible work she does. For the past year, Amal has tirelessly fought for the Yazidi people, seeking justice for the war crimes that have been committed against them by the Islamic State (IS). She has worked closely with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who was kidnapped into sex slavery by IS, but managed to escape. Together they made history at the United Nations, advocating for world leaders to bring IS leaders to justice. Subsequently, in September this year, the UN Security Council mobilised investigative teams to gather evidence of ‘war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide’ committed by IS. This landmark decision is monumental for the Yazidi people, who will finally see justice for the countless cases of genocide, kidnap, human trafficking and forced marriage perpetrated against them.

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THANDO HOPA

Lawyer, activist and model Thando Hopa has become one of the most recognisable faces in South Africa. She has consistently used her fame as a platform to promote women’s rights and self-acceptance, having suffered years of discrimination because of her albinism. In July it was announced that Thando will appear in the international 2018 Pirelli calendar alongside Whoopi Goldberg, RuPaul, Lupita Nyong’o and other legends. Thando graced the cover of the August issue of Marie Claire, as one of South Africa’s Future Shapers.

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ANGELA MERKEL and NICOLA STURGEON

Though things seem to be spinning into chaos in global politics, there are still strong voices that speak with reason and rationality. With pressure rising in Europe due to the economic climate, the refugee crisis and the rise of far-right politics, Angela Merkel has held on to the chancellorship of Germany for her fourth term. She’s not afraid to speak out against other world powers, including challenging US president Donald Trump on his views on climate change, and Russian president Vladimir Putin about human rights violations. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, has been a strong voice of reason throughout the Brexit maelstrom. She continues to work towards a vote for Scotland to decide its own fate in Brexit, with an option of remaining in the European Union. This year, she announced progressive steps her government would take to ensure the wellbeing of the Scottish people, including a public-owned energy company to benefit lower-income citizens and tax relief for young people moving out of their parents’ homes.

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SERENA WILLIAMS

The undisputed champion of women’s tennis, Serena Williams achieved her record 23rd grand slam title when she won the Australian Open final in January 2017, beating her sister Venus,  and later revealing that she had been two months pregnant at the time. In September, the world was finally treated to pictures of the adorable Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, named after Serena’s fiancé, Alexis Ohanian.

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WENDY APPELBAUM

Wendy Appelbaum, owner of DeMorgenzon Wine Estate and former director at Liberty Investors, is one formidable businesswoman. This year, she became a champion for South African consumers when she took legal action against Vodacom for charging high out-of-bundle rates. Her cause may well influence the way service providers bill customers in the future.

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EMILY WEISS

Emily Weiss understands women. She started beauty blog Into The Gloss in 2010 while working as an assistant at Vogue. The blog was such a success that she was able to quit her job and focus on it full-time. She quickly saw a gap in the market for high-quality, affordable make-up and launched Glossier. By carefully listening to the women she was writing for, Emily has built a cosmetics empire that is today one of the fastest growing beauty brands in the world, allowing Glossier to move from online sales into retail space.

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REDI TLHABI

Redi Tlhabi told the deeply moving story of Fezekile Kuzwayo in her 2017 book, Khwezi. The book sparked massively renewed interest in a story that shook South Africa more than 10 years ago. ‘Khwezi’ was the pseudonym of the woman who accusedJacob Zuma of rape in 2006. Bullied and shamed in court, and later harassed and threatened, Fezekile was forced to flee the country when Zuma was acquitted. Redi’s book was met with overwhelming support from the public. She is giving a voice to the late Fezekile and the countless women who have been betrayed by our judicial system.

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CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE

Considered to be one of the finest writers of the 21st century, Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie has made an invaluable contribution to the world through works such as Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun. This year she released her latest book, Dear Ijeawele, which is another great addition to the feminist literature canon. 2017 also saw Chimamanda inducted into the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Social Sciences, one of the highest honours in academics.

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RIHANNA

Musician, fashion icon and entrepreneur, Rihanna has built an entire empire around her name and has become one of the most influential women in the entertainment industry. And 2017 has been a true testament to her mind for business: she launched the wildly popular FENTY Beauty in September, following her highly successful collaboration with Puma. Rihanna has solidified her mogul status.

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ADWOA ABOAH 

It’s likely you’ve seen Adwoa’s face before now – the British model has featured in some of the biggest fashion campaigns this year. Amid the great momentum of her modelling career, she has taken time to invest in a cause close to her heart. Adwoa’s online community, Gurls Talk, is a safe platform for young women to talk openly about mental illness, sexism in society as well as health and wellness.

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DANE VAN NIEKERK

Dane van Niekerk made her international debut at the 2009 Cricket World Cup when she was only 16 years old. She quickly grabbed the attention of the sports world with her incredible talent. This year, she became the first bowler in international cricket history, man or woman, to take four wickets without conceding a single run, beating the previous record that was set by Australia’s Richie Benaud in 1959.

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CASTER SEMENYA

Caster hasn’t had an easy career. But since the controversial allegations that dogged her in 2009 regarding her sex, she’s returned to athletics in top shape, racking up the awards in true Caster style. Most recently, she took home gold at the World Athletics Championship in London for the 800m. She’s also been nominated for the International Association of Athletics Federations’ Athlete of the Year 2017 award, the only South African woman to be nominated.

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GLORIA STEINEM

The famed American journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem has been an important voice in the feminist movement since the ’60s. In 2017, she co-chaired and acted as a speaker for one of the most important women’s marches of the year: the march to Washington to protest US President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

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DR. GLENDA GRAY

Dr Glenda Gray is the president of the South African Medical Research Council. Her work in HIV and Aids has been hailed as some of the most important in the field, and she has made substantial advances in the prevention of mother-to-child infections. Already bestowed with the prestigious Order of Mapungubwe, South Africa’s highest honour, Glenda was also named one of TIME’s most influential people of 2017.

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MAKHOSI KHOZA

Former member of parliament Makhosi Khoza bravely spoke out against President Jacob Zuma, calling for him to step down amid the corruption and state capture controversies in recent months. What followed was harassment, disciplinary action and even death threats against her. In September, she left the ANC, having spent most of her life in service to the party. Unintimidated, Makhosi has vowed to continue fighting corruption.

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DAPHNE CARUANA GALIZIA 

Daphne Caruana Galizia, a fearless Maltese investigative journalist and blogger, was assassinated in October 2017. She worked relentlessly to expose corruption within the Maltese government, and reported extensively on the Panama Papers, exposing the alleged criminal activity of high-ranking Maltese officials. News agency Politico named Daphne one of 28 people most likely to help shape Europe in 2017. Not long after that, she was killed by a remote bomb in her car, near her hometown Bidnija in northern Malta.

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JUSTICE MANDISA MAYA

With an impressive career in law spanning more than 35 years, Justice Mandisa Maya made history in June 2017 when she was named President of the Supreme Court of Appeals of South Africa. She is the first woman to hold this position, and has since vowed to pave the way for women to not only follow in her footsteps but also to fill top judiciary posts in the country.

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