“Who run the world? Girls.” Beyoncé’s words from this song are a tribute to all those fearless women who have shattered the glass ceiling and made a mark for themselves. Today, many famous mothers who are ruling the world in their own fields are role models for the youth. These successful moms prove that careers can be built and voices can be raised while taking care of a family. So, with Mother’s Day around, take inspiration from some of the most celebrated and daring moms.
Since time immemorial, many mothers have been trailblazers and way ahead of their era. Be it Marie Curie — the only female Nobel Prize winner in two different subjects (Physics and Chemistry), Mary Wollstonecraft — a feminist writer whose daughter Mary Shelley was also a writer and penned Frankenstein (1818), or Anne Morrow Lindbergh — writer, aviator, a mother of six and wife of American exploration aviator Charles Lindbergh.
The Mother’s Day concept originated in the US and is celebrated on the second Sunday of May every year. It started when Philadelphia resident Anna Jarvis organised a service for her late mother on 12 May 1907 in West Virginia. Her mother played a pivotal role in organising women’s groups to spread health, harmony and friendship. Soon Mother’s Day celebrations spread to other American states and it was made official when President Woodrow Wilson declared it a national holiday in 1914. This year it falls on 14 May and will be celebrated globally.
This Mother’s Day take a look at some of the powerful mothers
View this post on Instagram
One of the most famous mothers in the world, Rihanna made flaunting a baby bump a fashion statement like no other. A complete boss lady on acclaimed red carpets, Rihanna has an impeccable music career with over 14 singles reaching the No. 1 spot on Billboard Hot 100. When her hit track “Work” from her eighth studio album Anti reached the apex spot, it broke Michael Jackson’s record of 13 chart-toppers.
Besides her musical dominance, the “Umbrella” star is also a successful entrepreneur and is the co-owner of Fenty Beauty. She also has a 30 per cent stake in the Savage x Fenty lingerie line which was valued at USD 1 billion in February 2021.
The same year, she shared that she was dating rapper A$AP Rocky and the following year became a mom to a son. In 2023, the pop star headlined the Super Bowl LVII halftime show for the first time with a visible baby bump which revealed that a second child is due.
The actress with the most number of Oscar nominations, Meryl Streep is nothing short of Hollywood royalty. She has been nominated 21 times and has won three for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Sophie’s Choice (1982) and The Iron Lady (2011). She has also received five Grammy nominations, with Mamma Mia (2008) being the most recent. Some of her other works such as The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and Julie and Julia (2009) have earned her Golden Globe Awards.
One of the most famous mothers who has defied all age stereotypes, Streep is an inspiration for many women. She is married to American sculptor Don Gummer and has four children — their eldest son Henry Wolfe is a musician and their youngest daughter Louisa is a model. Their middle daughters, Mamie and Grace, have followed in their mother’s footsteps and are actresses.
JK Rowling shall forever be hailed by children for changing their mundane daily lives and making them believe in magic. The author of the acclaimed Harry Potter books started penning the first manuscript in the 1990s and was rejected by 12 publishers before Bloomsbury finally published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. And, the rest is history.
One of the richest authors of all time, Rowling reportedly went through depression once. A failed marriage and her struggle as a single mom to daughter Jessica Isabel Rowling Arantes, seemed to be the cause behind it. Later, she married Neil Murray in 2001 and the couple has two sons — David and Mackenzie Murray.
Rowling also has a philanthropic arm and is the founder and president of Lumos, an international children’s charity working in the domain of child rights.
The former First Lady of the United States of America is an inspiration for generations of women, who dare to dream. She works tirelessly to uplift the living conditions of the next generation and advocates for their rights.
Michelle Obama has raised her voice to spread awareness about childhood obesity and kids’ development. She worked extensively with farmers, in partnership with Walmart, to reduce the cost of their products and remove harmful ingredients from readymade food products in 2011. She has also been instrumental in passing the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act as part of her ‘Let’s Move!’ campaign to make America’s kids healthy. During the former president’s second term, she headed the Reach Higher Initiative, which helps children realise their potential from a young age and makes students aware of job opportunities as well as the skill sets needed.
The first African American lady in the position, Obama has tirelessly campaigned to educate young women about their self-worth, their rights and their strong place in society. In a 2016 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Obama said that women must learn to prioritise their life, their time and value. If women only strive to pacify others, it will eventually take a toll on their personal lives and affect their children too.
With a number of books like Becoming, Michelle Obama In Her Own Words and others to her credit, this strong woman has put her family and kids at par with her career in politics and social work.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, better known as just Beyoncé, is a celebrated singing sensation and songwriter, who dominates the stage, red carpet and music shelves every time she makes an appearance or releases an album.
The 28-time Grammy Award-winning pop star is the only artist after Mariah Carey to hit the Billboard Hot 100 across four decades — 1990s, 2000s, 2010— and she hit her first no 1 spot of the 2020s decade with a feature in Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” remix. Beyoncé also created history by becoming the first solo artist, six of whose albums debuted at No 1 on the Billboard Top 200 chart, consecutively.
Her sixth album Lemonade grossed a whopping 6,53,000 equivalent album units (units correspond to the buying of a single album copy) in the launch week in 2016. In 2018, Beyoncé became the first woman of colour to headline the Coachella music festival. The intense rehearsal and power-packed performance were celebrated in her Netflix documentary titled Homecoming.
Queen Bey (as she is fondly called) married American rapper Jay Z in 2008 and is a mother to three adorable kids — Blue Ivy Carter and twins Rumi and Sir.
One of the most sought-after political leaders and female heads of nation, former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shows the world that nothing is impossible even if you are a mother.
She entered office at the age of 38 and was one of the world’s youngest female Prime Ministers and the country’s youngest PM in 150 years. Becoming the world’s second female leader to give birth, while serving her term in office, Ardern welcomed her daughter, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford, on 21 June 2018. She took a six-week maternity leave and even announced that her partner Clarke Gayford will be a stay-at-home father.
In March 2019, Ardern took a strong stance in condemning the gun violence at two Christchurch Mosque attacks that took the lives of over 50 individuals. And within days, she confirmed a reform in the country’s gun laws. In December 2020, Ardern announced a climate change policy in the country and pledged the government would become entirely carbon neutral by 2025. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Adern set an example worldwide. Not only did she impose a strict closure on borders and a national lockdown but also announced that she and her cabinet will take a 20 per cent pay cut due to the economic slowdown. ‘Jacindamania’ continued when she was re-elected as PM in 2021.
Although she stepped down in January 2023, Ardern continues to serve as a role model and shape the political future of the country.
Melinda French Gates
Co-chair and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda French Gates is a renowned philanthropist, businesswoman and advocate for women’s and children’s rights.
Working towards gender equality is her prime focus. Through her work, Gates has shown that empowering women, which includes their education and awareness about their rights, can bring about a host of positive changes in society. Gates also launched Pivotal Ventures, which is “an investment and incubation company working to drive social progress for women and families in the United States,” as per the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website.
Recipient of the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom along with Bill Gates, she is a mother of three children — Jennifer Katharine Gates, Phoebe Adele Gates and Rory John Gates. Her book The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World (2019) is an account of her travels and all the wonderful and inspiring women she has met and worked with, who can be role models, too, for young girls out there.
View this post on Instagram
In April 2023, they became grandparents and shared images of Jennifer’s daughter.
Committed to bringing about change and developing the lives of women and children, this philanthropist was also a paediatrician previously.
Priscilla Chan heads the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative which she founded with her husband, Mark Zuckerberg, in late 2015. One of the world’s biggest philanthropic investment houses, the initiative aims at eradicating diseases, improving education as well as addressing the needs of local communities.
Its mission “is to build a more inclusive, just, and healthy future for everyone.” In collaboration with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the Bloomberg Philanthropies, Chan’s initiative has contributed a large sum of USD 225 million for Resolve, a global health programme aimed at reducing deaths from heart attacks and strokes, across 60 low-income nations.
A doting mother of three daughters — Max, August and Aurelia — Chan eschews the limelight and dedicates her time to the company and The Primary School, which she has founded. It provides better health and education facilities to children and families in East Palo Alto and the Belle Haven neighbourhood in Menlo Park, California.
State Bank of India’s (SBI) first female Chairperson and one of the country’s leading bankers, Arundhati Bhattacharya is an example that it is never too late to take up new roles and responsibilities. She took up the role in 2013, post Pratip Chaudhuri. Though she retired in 2017, Bhattacharya’s career saw outstanding reforms during the 2016 demonetisation and she is remembered for the digitalisation of the organisation.
In 2020, she returned as the CEO and Chairperson of San Francisco-based software company Salesforce, leading its India operations. In 2016, Arundhati Bhattacharya was included in the Forbes list of Most-Powerful Women in the World at the 25th spot. She is the only head of an Indian organisation to feature in Fortune‘s World’s Greatest Leaders list, where she got the 26th spot in 2017.
She has a daughter named Sukrita Bhattacharya. As a mother, Bhattacharya once thought of quitting work but stood strong and sailed through. She has chronicled the experiences of her four-decade-long career and what it is like to have a family while working, in her book titled Indomitable – A Working Woman’s Notes on Life, Work and Leadership, which is published by Harper Collins.
Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
The first woman and African Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, two-time Finance Minister of Nigeria from 2003 to 2006 and from 2011 to 2015, an African Union (AU) COVID-19 Special Envoy and World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID-19 Special Envoy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala wears several golden feathers on her hat.
The mother of four — Onyinye Iweala, Uzodinma Iweala, Okechukwu Iweala and Uchechi Iweala — is an acclaimed economist and an international development expert with over 30 years of experience. She took up her role in WTO on 1 March 2021, prior to which she had a thriving career of 25 years at the World Bank, where she rose to the position of Managing Director, with her hard work and dedication.
Dr Iweala also briefly served as Nigeria’s Foreign Minister in 2006 and has Chaired the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (2016 – 2020), the African Risk Capacity (2014 – 2020) and Co-Chaired The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, besides being associated with Lazard, Standard Chartered PLC and Twitter Inc.
In 2020, Dr Iweala was named Forbes African of the Year. She has been featured on Fortune’s list of 50 Greatest World Leaders (2015) and on Forbes‘ list of Top 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 2022, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2011.
A self-made billionaire entrepreneur, Falguni Nayar is an investment banker-turned-businesswoman who founded Nykaa, India’s largest growing beauty and fashion online retail platform, in 2012. The former Managing Director of Kotak Mahindra, left the high-paying job to venture into business and Nykaa was formed at a time when her twins Adwaita and Anchit had left for the US to pursue further studies.
What started as a mere fashion platform with just 60 brands, soon grew exponentially into a full-blown family business that involves Nayar’s twin children too. The company launched a three-day initial public offering (IPO) on 28 October 2021 and in November 2021, when Nykaa entered the stock market, it became the first woman-led unicorn in the country.
According to the Economic Times, “The stock debuted at Rs 2,001, reflecting a jump of 77.86 per cent on the BSE. It then zoomed 89.24 per cent to Rs 2,129. On NSE, it listed at Rs 2,018, a premium of 79.37 per cent.” In 2021, this famous mother ranked 88 on Forbes’ list of 100 Most Powerful Women.
Tennis star Serena Williams not only dominates the court but is also a strong personality at several noted red carpets like the Met Gala and Oscar Vanity Fair. In 2017, she created history by surpassing Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams. Serena set the record after she won her 23rd title at the Australian Open that too, while being eight weeks pregnant.
Later that year, she gave birth to a girl named Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. The toddler takes the first name of Serena’s partner Alexis Ohanian with AO initials.
Besides innumerable accolades on the court, Serena has achievements off the court as well. In 2021, Forbes included her in the list of 100 Most Powerful Women. She ranked 85 and was the only athlete to feature on the coveted list. In addition to this, she also appeared in the Forbes list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women as well as the World’s Highest Paid Celebrities. In 2021, she also bagged the 28th spot in the list of Highest Paid Athletes.
One of the most successful and famous mothers, Williams is also the founder of a venture capital firm called Serena Ventures which has invested in over 66 startups. The Will Smith starrer 2021 film, King Richard, showcased the journey of Venus and Serena Williams’ father Richard Williams along with the two siblings, beautifully on screen and received many honours.
In August 2022, Williams announced that she is “evolving away” from tennis ahead of the US Open.
MC Mary Kom
View this post on Instagram
One of the famous mothers in the sports world, MC Mary Kom is the living embodiment of perseverance and immense dedication. The boxer is touted as a super mom and it is definitely not an exaggeration. After giving birth to twins in 2007, she returned to the ring in 2008 and won a silver at the Asian Women’s Boxing Championship as well as her fourth gold in AIBA World Boxing Championship in China. From being crowned World No 1 to winning medals at all the AIBA World Boxing Championships, she has shown that if there is will, nothing is impossible.
Kom won six golds, one silver and a bronze in 2019, at the AIBA tournaments and bagged a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. The following year she gave birth to her third child. In 2014, the pugilist became the first Indian woman to win gold at the Asian Games and continued the streak in the 2018 Commonwealth Games. In 2021, she made a comeback, after a pandemic-induced hiatus, with a bronze at the Boxam International tournament.
The six-time world champion had to pull out of the 2023 World Championship due to an injury. In March 2023, when she was named one of the brand ambassadors of the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championship, Kom revealed that she is far from retiring and has her goals set for Asian Championships.
Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen is the first woman European Commission (EC) President. She took up office in 2019 and is responsible for allocating portfolios to each Commissioner and setting the EC’s policy agenda. Her role also requires her to represent the EC at European Council meetings, G7 and G20 summits, summits with non-EU countries and major debates in the European Parliament and the Council. Prior to this, she served as Germany’s Defence Minister in 2013 under the Angela Merkel government.
She played a pivotal role during the Russia-Ukraine war and the EC pledged EUR 9.1 billion for the internally displaced and refugees. She is also an active climate change activist and is vocal about gender equality and supports campaigns for the LGBTQI+ community.
Described as a ‘workaholic’ by Vogue, Ursula von der Leyen is a mother of seven — David, Sophie, Donata, twins Victoria and Johanna, Egmont von der Leyen, and Gracia von der Leyen. While serving as Germany’s federal minister for family affairs from 2005 to 2009, she introduced the concept of ‘conservative feminism’ and coined the term ‘parental leave’ instead of ‘maternity leave.’
Ketanji Brown Jackson
Appointed as the 116th Associate Justice of the US apex court on 7 April 2022, Ketanji Brown Jackson is the first woman of colour to take the position.
Her two daughters Talia and Leila Jackson were by her side as she emerged victorious with a 53-47 vote tally. After Stephen Breyer retired, President Joe Biden was in search of a strong and unwavering candidate to fill the gap and Jackson was the ideal fit.
She is currently working on her memoir titled Lovely One and is slated to address law graduates at renowned schools like American University Washington College of Law on May 20 and Boston University School of Law the next day.
(Main image credit: badgalriri/ Instagram; The Devil Wears Prada/ © TM and2006 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved./ IMDb; feature image credit: The Devil Wears Prada/ © TM and2006 Twentieth Century Fox. All rights reserved./ IMDb)