Forbes has released its list of the world's 100 most powerful women of 2012, ranking German Chancellor Angela Merkel number 1 for the second year in a row. Presiding over one of Europe's most vibrant economies in the midst of the recession, Merkel has vowed to preserve the European Union, which is threatening to break apart as countries such an Greece, Portugal, and Italy attempt to deal with a massive debt crisis.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remained second on the Forbes list despite her announcement that she intends to retire from public life at the end of 2012. Clinton has been a powerful force in shaping American foreign policy during her tenure, visiting 42 countries this year and 100 during her time as Secretary of State, a record for the position.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff rounded out the top three. A highly popular head of state with a 77 percent approval rating, she has recently launched a new effort to eradicate Brazil's dire poverty and increase access to education and medical services by 2014. Rousseff told Forbes, "What I want my legacy to be is this country to be increasing middle class, to be highly competitive and highly educated." The first female President of Brazil, Rousseff is also the highest ranking unmarried woman on the list, having divorced her second husband in 2000.
Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, came in fourth. She has been a fixture on the list. Gates co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which gives out billions of dollars each year in grants and donations to combat poverty and illness around the world.
Journalists featured prominently on the list, with Jill Abramson, recently appointed the executive editor of the New York Times, at number 5. The first female executive editor of the paper, Abramson has been spearheading an effort to launch the paper into the digital age. ABC News' own Diane Sawyer came in 23rd. Sawyer, the first female correspondent on CBS' "60 Minutes," spent time anchoring both "Primetime" and "Good Morning America" before moving ABC's nightly newscast, "World News," in 2009. Arianna Huffington, Christiane Amanpour, and Greta van Susteren also made the list at 29, 53, and 94 respectively
A testament to the growth of social media, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg was one of the highest ranking executives on the list, coming in tenth. Businesswomen dominated the upper teens and lower twenties with Xerox CEO Ursula Burns at 18, Meg Whitman of HP at 19, Maria das Graças Silva Foster of Petrobras-Petróleo Brasil at 20, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at 21 and Disney Media Networks Co-Chair and President of the Disney/ABC television group Anne Sweeney at 22.
First Lady Michelle Obama was the highest ranked African American woman on the list, coming in 7th. Oprah Winfrey was No. 11.
Click here for a look at the full Forbes list of the world's most powerful women of 2012.