A cursory review of 2015 reveals a world that's far from inspiring. Bombings, gun violence, executions, domestic violence and a refugee crisis took centre stage. For these reasons we look to those who might bring light to dark places and use their influence to bring others to a places of hope rather than despair.
In 2015, many women were able to take up this mantle. Away from the glamorous world of the Kardashians and Miss Philippines/Columbia, women's influence continued to grow across politics, commerce, industry, social movements and the arts. The five women featured here are outspoken and controversial, using their intellect, skills, and tenacity to be highly influential on domestic, international and even intergalactic fronts.
In 2015 Australia woke up the alarming epidemic of domestic violence. The choice of Rosie Batty as Australian of the Year was as brave as the woman herself, ensuring the issue would be kept at the forefront of our consciousness. Batty gave an articulate voice to the victims who would continue to suffer and be killed throughout the year. She called family violence a kind of domestic terrorism, implored governments to fund frontline services, and talked frankly about gender and victim shaming. Batty broadened the issue of community safety when she criticised Manus and Nauru detention centres, declaring "They must be shut down". While grieving for her son, she was heavily criticised by the likes of Miranda Devine and Mark Latham, but Batty took it all in her stride. She continues to be an astonishing example of strength and courage.
The German Chancellor found herself at the forefront of several key world events of 2015. In her self-named "Year of Crises" Merkel showed leadership on the Greek financial saga, becoming the defacto leader of the European Union. Her response to the international refugee crisis gave a million refugees hope that they may be able to begin a new life.
Characterised by patience and compassion, Merkel has attracted deep criticism, even from her own party, for her moral leadership and open-door policy to refugees. As a result, her popularity has fallen. But to those who are sceptical, she declares, "Wir schaffen das", translated as "We can do this".
It takes a special kind of woman to do a faceplant at the feet of Kim and Kanye West in an effort to expose them as real people, but this comedian/actor/writer/producer is known for going all-in. Despite a decade of stand-up comedy, hosting Saturday Night Live and producing her own TV series, Schumer made her mark in 2015 with the release of her first feature film, Trainwreck. Like Schumer herself, her character is unapologetically sexual, oozes attitude and is engaging to watch. She's a refreshing celebrity who talks openly about dating, food, feminism and the media's obsession with body.
Schumer has stated she's not trying to be "likeable", yet she's the girl we all want on our team.
In 2015 Black's maiden speech to the British Parliament went viral, cementing herself and the Scottish National Party as forces to be reckoned with. The new 20-year old member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South was also the youngest person elected to parliament in the past 300 years.
Her speech pulled no punches, attacking neoliberalism and telling first-hand stories of poverty and need. Being from a traditionally Labour Socialist family, her words resonated with many as she declared that "it is the Labour party that left me, not the other way round". Since then she's been outspoken against the bombing of Syria and an advocate for women's economic development. Her age, passion and sharp wit ensure that she'll be heard for many years to come.
A fictional character, yes, but the scale of her influence is beginning to emerge. Played by little-known actor Daisy Ridley, this game-changing protagonist of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is undeniably kick-arse. More than that, Rey signals a departure from the previous episodes that portrayed female heroines as princesses or queens.
This orphaned scavenger defends herself, tells men who touch her to back off, and ultimately chooses her destiny. She's a leader to those around her, who are mostly men who are as flawed as they are moral.
But Rey's real influence will be on the choices of filmmakers who have been shown they don't need elaborate costumes, slave-girl scenes or romantic interludes to make female heroes work.
Any list, by definition, is exclusionary. Aung San Suu Kyi's victory, Patricia Arquette's Oscars speech, and Clementine Ford's activism against gender-based harassment make them all worthy of this list; 2015 was the year that Malala declared she's a feminist, Nikki Minaj called out racism in the music industry, and the Matildas became the most successful Australian football team. Ever.
These achievements also highlight that there's a long way to go in all these fields. But influential women give us hope. The year 2016 will be an Olympic year, an election year in Australia, and Hilary Clinton may be elected US president. The coming years will reveal even more influential women whose achievements must be celebrated.
Rachael Jacobs is a lecturer at the Australian Catholic University.