Power for Some, but Poverty, Abuse for Millions More

"Girls at the age of 10 or 12 are forced or encouraged to leave school. … At 12 or 13, it becomes the job [of] a girl's parents to marry her off. It's the same in sub-Saharan Africa as it is in Asia," Powers said.

Even things like a woman's ability to travel contribute to understanding just how powerful or powerless she really is.

"In places like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan a woman's mobility is really limited. After a girl begins menstruating, her movements are more closely controlled. She might only be allowed to visit the four houses in her family's compound," Powers said.

In the United States, women are also kept disempowered through economics, violence and discrimination, said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization of Women.

"Women have made dramatic progress compared to a century ago when they couldn't vote, own property or enter contracts on their own," Powers said.

"Those with less access to education and knowledge have less power to make change. Education is critical, but there are great imbalances in the system even from one county to the next or one state to the next. … Women and children are the majority of people living in poverty. Women are the primary custodians of their children and therefore have more mouths to feed. Their checks can only go so far when making 77 cents on the dollar as compared to men," she said.

"Power ultimately is the ability to make change. The Forbes list is a start, but there is still much work to be done."

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