Now that we're officially in 2017 — and a Donald Trump presidency is only weeks away (!) — it's a great time to look at women-led movements around the world for some 2017 inspiration. Progressive journalists, activists, organizations, and media outlets have all been encouraging like-minded people to continue the fight for progress by getting involved in local politics, donating to groups that need financial support, and rejecting hopelessness in order to keep pushing forward. Examining successful movements with female leadership not only serves as a reminder that progress is still attainable and that it can be done by women, but can shed light on practical methods of reaching goals.
Some of the more recent breakthroughs, like the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights being signed permanently into law, and women in Poland staging a massive strike that resulted in a restrictive abortion law being voted down, were overshadowed over the past year by the U.S. election. So it might be surprising to hear that anything progressive happened in 2016, but, yes, there were indeed notable victories.
Seeing how women around the world utilized their voices and fostered concrete differences in society is exactly the kind of motivation we all need as we go into 2017.
1Black Lives Matter
Black Lives Matter was founded by three black women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. Over the span of just three years these women have managed to bring the issue of police brutality against black men and women — a problem that has existed for decades — into the mainstream. And it all started with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. Supporters of the movement have since carried out hundreds of demonstrations — sometimes attracting thousands of demonstrators — across the United States and around the world.
Ala’a Basatneh did not spark the revolution against Assad in Syria, but she did become one of the lead organizers of the effort against the current government. From her room in Chicago, Basatneh communicates with journalists, protesters, and activists to coordinate meetings, obtain footage and photos for release, and become a leading voice for the Syrian conflict. Her story is a reminder of how much we can accomplish by properly utilizing the tools at our disposal.
Led by the bold Sampat Devi Pal, the Gulabi Gang is fighting against women's oppression in India and encouraging women to reject the idea that they must be silent. Among many other issues, some of the Gulabi Gang's main focuses are putting an end to child marriages, promoting the education of girls, shaming molesters and rapists in public, and training women in physical self-defense.
With over 100,000 members, the "gang" personally confronts families to persuade them against imposing forced marriages and other problems facing women in throughout India. Perhaps most notable is this group's willingness to beat male abusers with sticks to teach them a lesson.
4Say Her Name
While Black Lives Matter focuses on police brutality against the black community as a whole, Say Her Name highlights the little-talked-about problem of police brutality specifically against black women.
Earlier this year, thousands of women in Poland went on strike to protest a new law that would practically eliminate abortion in a country where the procedure is legal only in extreme cases involving rape, incest, fetal abnormalities, or danger to the life of the mother. After the demonstration, the government rejected the proposed legislation. Poland's minister of science and higher education, Jarostaw Gowin, even admitted that the demonstrations hand "caused us to think and taught us humility."
6Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace
Led by Leymah Gbowee, this group ended a 14-year civil war in Liberia in 2003 by staging several strikes, including a sex strike. “We would take the destiny of this tiny nation into our own hands,” Gbowee told the Women of Liberia. “In the past we were silent, but after being killed, raped, dehumanized, and infected with diseases…war has taught us that the future lies in saying NO to violence and YES to peace!”
7Mujeres Unidas y Activas
This immigrant rights group was able to get the historic California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights signed into law through their work. The victory required some negotiation on the part of both activist groups and legislators; some controversial provisions, such as the requirement that domestic workers be provided with a minimum of eight hours uninterrupted daily sleep, resulted in the bill being vetoed in 2012. After addressing the more divisive sections of the bill, Gov. Jerry Brown passed the bill in 2013 and made it permanent in 2016. Under the new law, domestic workers in California are entitled to pay that meets the minimum wage, overtime compensation for workers who work over nine hours a day (or 45 hours per week), meal breaks, and rest breaks.
Several social justice groups led by black women carried out a successful campaign to vote Anita Alvarez of Chicago out of office. As Cook County State’s Attorney, Alvarez supported the innocence of dozens of police officers who shot and killed black men and women — such as Jason Van Dyke who shot 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times in 2014 — and walked free. The #ByeAnita activists organized protests, formed phone banks in charge of calling residents to inform them about Alvarez's record, posted flyers around Chicago, and worked tirelessly to spread the word on social media.
9Justice for Farkhunda
After a woman named Farkhunda was beaten and burned alive by a mob in Afghanistan, thousands of women protested her death, eventually leading to the prosecution of multiple participants — including the death penalty for four men.
10No Mining In Peru
Maxima Acuña, a woman in Peru, prevented the U.S. firm Newmont Mining from obtaining land for a new gold mine. She was honored with the 2016 Goldman Environmental Prize.
11April 6 Youth Movement
Co-founded by Asmaa Mahfouz, the April 6 Youth Movement was one of the lead organizers for the 2011 protests that led to the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring. The group distributed thousands of leaflets and made posts on Facebook and other social media outlets encouraging citizens to join the demonstrations against Hosni Mubarak's regime.