BY: SAMANTHA TAPP
2016 was a year of progress in many different ways: we saw countries step up and make changes to battle climate change; we saw progress in the LGBT community from legalizing gay marriage in certain countries to advancements in transgender rights; and as everyone knows Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. female presidential candidate nominated by a major party.
However, we do still deal with racism, discrimination and sexism on a daily basis. For thousands of years women have dealt with discrimination based solely on gender, and sadly we’re still facing gender inequality issues today. Luckily for us, women around the world don’t let sexist biases hold them back from changing the world in a positive way. Since women make up half of the population, unsurprisingly, women from all over the world made history in 2016.
In 2016 women fought for equal rights, the environment and human rights and fought against discrimination, racism and sexism. These women fought for society as a whole, while at the same time fighting against sexist stereotypes that made the fight that much harder. Thankfully these women stood up and confronted important issues, regardless of the societal biases that worked against them.
These women in particular worked past the discrimination to accomplish huge goals in 2016 that are not only accomplishments for themselves, but that serve society as a whole.
Thousands of Icelandic women protested the country’s gender wage gap
On October 24, thousands of female employees across Iceland stopped working. Whether they were in the office or at home taking care of children, 90 per cent of women stopped working at 2:38 pm local time to protest the gender pay gap. This specific time was chosen because it signifies that exact time that women are technically working without pay because of the fact that Icelandic women make an average of 14 per cent less than men. Iceland is the best country in the world for gender equality, yet women still make significantly less. This is a historic action as Icelandic women took to the streets in protest against the pay gap in 1975, 2005 and 2008; and since 2005 only three minutes have been gained annually towards eliminating the pay gap.
“No one puts up with waiting 50 years to reach a goal,” Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labor said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s a gender pay gap or any other pay gap. It’s just unacceptable to say we’ll correct this in 50 years. That’s a lifetime.”
Nanfu Wang and Ye Haiyan documented the sexual violence epidemic in China
Earlier this year, film director Nanfu Wang released the documentary, Hooligan Sparrow. The documentary is based on Ye Haiyan’s nickname, a woman that worked to expose the sexual violence epidemic in China in 2016. The documentary focuses on Ye and other activists’ struggles as they worked to expose a principal that took six girls to a hotel and raped them in 2013. Ye has been repeatedly arrested for speaking out against sexual abuse and women’s rights. In the documentary, Nanfu and Ye uncover the police’s attempts to cover up the scandal, which resulted in Ye and her daughter receiving threats, violence and harassment by police and thugs alike. The documentary has now been shortlisted for an Oscar nomination for best documentary.
“The approaches used by security men were enough to shock the world: they trampled on the law, on human rights, and even produced fake evidence, fabricated rumours and publicly degraded me,” Ye said in a public statement.
Maminydjama Maymuru destroyed beauty standards by becoming Australia’s first Aboriginal model
Aboriginal people are infamously underrepresented in Australian society. Aboriginal women specifically have been thrown to the side as the stereotypical definition of beauty favours the European look. Nineteen-year-old Maminydjama Maymuru worked towards changing this harmful stereotype in 2016. She is from a remote outback town in Australia and this year became the first indigenous model to represent the Northern Territory in Australia’s Miss World competition. She is using her modelling as a platform to speak up against negative Aboriginal stereotypes.
“The main reason why I agreed to do it is that I don’t want to do it just for myself,” she said. “I want to do it for young people all over Australia. That means black or white.”
Peggy Whitson became the oldest woman to every travel space
This year, on Peggy White’s third mission on the space station, she became the oldest female astronaut at the age of 56. On this particular mission, she will once again become the American astronaut with the most time spent in orbit; this will be her second time as commander; and collectively over her three missions, she’s spent more than a year of her life in space, giving her the additional record of being in space more days than any other woman in NASA history. Peggy will turn 57 during her current space mission.
“In terms of goals for NASA before I die, we need to be living on Mars. And I might not live that long, so they better get with it!” she told reporters last summer.
Yusra Madrini made history by risking her life to save fellow refugees and then competing in the summer Olympics
Yusra Madrini was a swimmer in Damascus, backed by the Syrian Olympic Committee, until the Syrian war escalated. The 18-year old fled her home with her sister and ended up on a small boat heading towards Lesbos Island off the coast of Greece. When the boat began to sink, Yusra jumped in the water and pushed the boat to shore for three hours with her sister, saving nearly 20 lives. She travelled for 1,500 miles through Turkey before arriving in Berlin, Germany where she began to train for the Olympics. Yusra went on to compete in the summer Olympics this year as a part of the first ever team of refugees.
“When you are an athlete, you don’t think if you are Syrian, or London, or Germany, you will just think about your race,” she said.
Ieshia Evans became an iconic symbol during the Black Lives Matter movement
Even if you don’t know her name, you have most likely seen her photo. Ieshia Evans was the main subject of the now-iconic photo taken during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in July. The 35-year old nurse and mother was peacefully protesting after the shooting deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. The photo quickly went viral because of Ieshia’s powerful stance next to heavily armed officers. The picture became a symbol of peaceful protest and civil unrest. Quickly after the photo was taken, Ieshia was arrested and held in jail for a few hours. The photo now is a representation of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I appreciate the well wishes and love, but this is the work of God,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “I’m glad I’m alive and safe and there were no casualties that I have witnessed firsthand.”
Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first U.S. Olympian to wear a hijab during her sport
Ibtihaj, an African American woman from New Jersey, was a member of the U.S. National Fencing Team for the past six years before qualifying for the 2016 summer Olympic Games. When she fenced in the Olympics this year she became the first American Olympian to compete in a hijab. Ibtihaj has been racially profiled in the past for wearing a hijab, even during fencing competitions. However, she broke through the negative stereotypes and racism this year as she proudly represented her country. She is also a sports ambassador for the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls Through Sport Initiative and she launched a clothing company in 2014 (modest, fashionable, affordable clothes).
“The honor of representing Muslim and black women is one I don’t take lightly,” she told Rolling Stone.
Balkissa Chaibou travelled around Niger helping girls say ‘no’ to child marriage
Balkissa Chaibou was horrified when she found out she was promised as a bride to her cousin when she was only 12 years old. The young girl lived in Niger, which has the highest rate of child marriage in the world, and was planning to be a doctor, not a wife which would end her studies. When she was 16 and the marriage was nearing, with help from her principal, she went to the NGO, Centre for Judicial Assistance and Action and took legal action against her dad and uncle for forcing her into marriage. The case was dropped when her uncle denied the accusation. After threats, she took refuge in a women’s shelter until she could return to her family. This year, she began campaigning for other girls to be able to say no to child marriage. She visits school and speaks to tribal chiefs about the issue. Currently, she is helping other girls with child marriage as she finishes up med school.
“The message that I would like to pass to African women is, most of all, to know their own value, know their dignity, and to know their rights and responsibilities,” she said in a mini-documentary. “Because if you really want to live your life, if you want to succeed, you have to fight every corner.”
Tess Asplund became an iconic image of resistance against neo-Nazis in Sweden
In May, Tess Asplund became a powerful symbol of resistance in Sweden. Tess stood alone with her fist raised in the air in a powerful stance during a Neo-Nazi march in Borlänge, involving over 300 uniformed Neo-Nazis belonging to the Nordic Resistance Movement. The march came during a surge in far-right activities in Scandinavia. Later she joined a large counter-demonstration. The photo is said to be a powerful photo representing a multicultural society fighting against racism.
“It was an impulse. I was so angry, I just went out into the street,” she told The Guardian. “I was thinking: hell no, they can’t march here! I had this adrenaline. No Nazi is going to march here, it’s not okay. I hope something positive will come out of the picture. Maybe what I did can be a symbol that we can do something- if one person can do it, anyone can.”
Negin Khpalwak became the first person to ever lead an Afghan all-female orchestra
Negin Khpalwak is a 19-year old from Kunar in eastern Afghanistan and she loves music. But, for Negin to pursue her passion she faces threats and hate. This is because playing instruments was banned during the period of Taliban rule in Afghanistan and most conservative Muslims frown upon most music. Apart from her father, everyone in her family is against her playing music. But, Negin made history this year by leading the Zohra orchestra, an ensemble of 35 women at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Now living in an orphanage, her orchestra plays both Western and Afghan musical instruments.
“I will never accept defeat,” she said. “I will continue to play music. I do not feel safe, but when people see me and say, ‘That is Negin Khpalwak’, that gives me energy,” she said.