The Saturday Profile: 11 Powerful Women We Met Around the World in 2017

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A warlord, a novelist, a diplomat, a centenarian and other exceptional women our overseas correspondents wrote about in 2017.

The Saturday Profile: 11 Powerful Women We Met Around the World in 2017
The Saturday Profile: 11 Powerful Women We Met Around the World in 2017

ByKyle Crichton

Dec. 15, 2017

LONDON — Since its inception in 2002, the Saturday Profile has aimed to bring to readers of The New York Times people around the world they probably have never heard of, but who have led interesting lives and done extraordinary things, or perhaps recently gone through a remarkable experience.

The people we look for usually do not run countries, or headline blockbuster movies, or write best sellers. We leave those to the appropriate sections of the newspaper. Our subjects are more likely to have just emerged from prison, or written their 1,547th novel.

Or, this year, to be women with a story to tell about abuse, sexual or otherwise — a couple of whom shared #MeToo moments in our pages. Carlotta Gall told the story of Henda Ayari, a French citizen of North African heritage and anti-Salafist activist who accused a prominent Oxford professor of raping her.

Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, a proponent of a “feminist foreign policy,” opened up to Ellen Barry about her abuse at the hands of an old boyfriend when she was a young woman, something she had never said publicly before.

Perhaps my favorite profile this year was Kiki Zhao’s stirring depiction of the remarkable Yu Xiuhua, now one of China’s most read poets, a woman with cerebral palsy who lived most of her 41 years on a farm, writing at a low table. She never finished high school, and says she “could write before she could read.” Now, she is invited to places like Stanford University and fends off comparisons to Emily Dickinson.

So take a look. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading them as much as I liked selecting and editing them.

Manal al-Sharif

Manal al-Sharif, an activist for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, in Central Park during a tour for her new memoir.CreditNathan Bajar for The New York Times

A Saudi Woman Who Got Behind the Wheel and Never Looked Back

Manal al-Sharif is best known for challenging laws and mores that keep women down in her native country.

Emma Morano


Ms. Morano at her home in Verbania in 2015, when she was the oldest person in Europe.CreditAlessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Remembering the World’s Oldest Person, in the Objects She Left Behind

Emma Morano’s singular achievement in life may have been perseverance. She lived for 117 years, crediting her longevity to raw eggs and her lack of a husband. She died on April 15.

Margot Wallstrom


Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister, addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September.CreditLucas Jackson/Reuters

Sweden’s Proponent of ‘Feminist Foreign Policy,’ Shaped by Abuse

As foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, who broke free from a violent relationship in her 20s, is challenging assumptions in a traditionally male sphere.

Henda Ayari


The French activist and author Henda Ayari filed a police complaint in October accusing the Swiss-born Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan of sexually assaulting her in 2012.CreditDmitry Kostyukov for The New York Times

‘I Could Not Forget What Happened to Me That Night With Him’

Henda Ayari created a storm when she denounced radical Islam. Now, inspired by the #MeToo campaign, she has accused an Oxford professor of rape.

Olive Yang


Olive Yang, in Muse, Myanmar, in 2015. According to relatives, she wore boys’ clothes and frequently fell in love with her brothers’ romantic interests.CreditGabrielle Paluch

The Female Warlord Who Had C.I.A. Connections and Opium Routes

Born to royalty in Burma, Olive Yang, who died on July 31, rejected her birthright to become a cross-dressing warlord and opium trafficker.

Asli Erdogan


Asli Erdogan at her publisher’s office last month in Istanbul. Recently released from prison, the Turkish author is awaiting trial.CreditThe New York Times

Torn Ballet Shoes, and a Life Upended

Asli Erdogan, a novelist of the “dark, pessimistic,” is struggling to process her own grim experience: months in prison.

Letizia Battaglia


Letizia Battaglia, 82, at her apartment in Palermo, Italy. Her pictures of the Mafia’s cruel campaign for control are valued as historical points of reference and as deeply moving slices of Sicilian life.CreditGianni Cipriano for The New York Times

A Sicilian Photographer of the Mafia and Her ‘Archive of Blood’

Letizia Battaglia chronicled Palermo’s Mafia wars in the 1970s and ’80s for a local newspaper. Now, her images appear in museums and retrospectives.

Sinta Nuriyah


Sinta Nuriyah at her home in Jakarta, Indonesia, near a bust of her husband, former President Abdurrahman Wahid, who died in 2009.CreditKemal Jufri for The New York Times

A Former First Lady Presses On for a Tolerant, Feminist Islam

Sinta Nuriyah carries forth her family’s campaign in Indonesia, holding interfaith events and establishing a network of progressive Islamic boarding schools for girls.

Yu Xiuhua


CreditGilles Sabrié for The New York Times

A Chinese Poet’s Unusual Path From Isolated Farm Life to Celebrity

Yu Xiuhua, born with cerebral palsy, lived a quiet village life. She is now a literary sensation whose vivid, erotic poems are “stained with blood.”

Alice Schwarzer


Alice Schwarzer, center, founder of the feminist magazine EMMA, with some of its employees. The magazine celebrated its 40th birthday in January.CreditHenning Kaiser/picture-alliance, via AP Images

A Pioneering German Feminist Looks Back in Anguish

Alice Schwarzer, who has battled for women’s rights for years, is stunned that “an old-school sexist” like Donald J. Trump could win the United States presidency.

Maryam Sharif


Maryam Nawaz Sharif, a daughter of the ousted prime minister, arriving for her appearance before an anticorruption commission in Islamabad, Pakistan, in July.CreditAamir Qureshi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In Pakistani Fray, Maryam Sharif Is on the Edge of Power, or Prison

She had recently emerged as the right hand of her father, the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But corruption charges are clouding her rapid rise.

Kyle Crichton is a senior editor for international news in the London office of The New York Times.

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