While the election of Donald Trump in November has been troubling for women and women’s advocacy groups, there is still much to be excited about in terms of women’s empowerment. Indeed, 2016 really was in some way the “year of the woman,” filled with accomplishments and groundbreaking achievements by inspiring feminists from countries all over the world.
In the political world, of course, the United States saw its first woman run for president on the ticket of a major party, and the United Kingdom gained its second female prime minister. Additionally, Politico predicted that by early next year, at least 21 countries could be led by women.
In the entertainment industry, women were increasingly vocal about ensuring that they received pay that was equal to that of their male co-stars. Female celebrities also strove to bring particular attention to women’s rights, including protection from sexual assault and domestic violence, and equal representation in leadership roles in all industries.
Finally, in the sports field, women were more dominant than ever this year, particularly at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, 53 percent of the United States’ 121 Olympic medals were won by women.
Overall, women in nearly every sector around the world served as striking feminist icons and achieved incredible feats this year. The following list contains just a few of the many strong and talented feminists who left an especially significant mark on 2016.
Mogahed is an inspiring Egyptian-American researcher who specializes in amplifying Muslim-American voices and reducing stigma. She also particularly focuses on intersection of Islam and feminism. Mogahed gave a powerful TED Talk this year on fighting negative perceptions of Islam in the media.
Richards is the CEO of Planned Parenthood, and has been vocal in the fight to ensure that women's reproductive health and rights are protected, especially ahead of the incoming Trump administration. While Richards sees a "brutal" fight in the coming years, she is highly committed to continuing to protect and advance women's rights. Indeed, Planned Parenthood saw a huge wave of financial and advocacy support following Trump's election — support which will hopefully continue in the years to come.
Zajovic is the founder of the Belgrade chapter of Women in Black, a feminist anti-militarism and peacebuilding group in Serbia. To mark the group's 25th anniversary this year, they "staged a three-day series of meetings, film projections and debates in Belgrade about the militarization of Europe, the refugee crisis, and the rise of right-wing political forces," according to the Balkan Transitional Justice initiative. These events were attended by feminist activists from throughout Eastern and Western Europe.
4Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, And Opal Tometi
Garza, Cullors, and Tometi are the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, whose advocacy work on behalf of African Americans in 2016 has been exceedingly important, given the unfortunately divisive political and social climate in the U.S.
Clinton, as pretty much everyone knows, was the first female nominee for president of a major political party in the United States. Her hard-fought campaign and particular focus on women's advocacy and policy initiatives were highly inspirational for many women.
Wallstrom is Sweden's foreign minister, and has recently used her platform to advocate for a feminist foreign policy paradigm. According to Wallstrom, a feminist foreign policy will answer the following three questions: "Do women have equal rights?" "Are women at the decision-making table?" "Are resources equitably distributed to women?"
7The Final Five
The Final Five — Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas, and Simone Biles — are the members of the U.S. Women's Olympic Gymnastics Team who represented the country at the Rio Olympics this year. In addition to being a very diverse and talented group of strong young women, the team's unprecedented nine total medals marked a historic moment for the country and women athletes.
Murad is of Yazidi descent and escaped enslavement by ISIS. She now serves as a Yazidi advocate and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. She spent much of 2016 advocating on behalf of Yazidi women, including to the United Nations.
Gay is an author and professor at Purdue University who wrote the essay collection Bad Feminist and also recently released a collection of short stories called Difficult Women. The book tells the stories of multidimensional, modern women of highly diverse backgrounds and experiences.
Stanely is a body-positive yogi who has gained an immense following for breaking barriers and fighting stigma around fitness and the practice of yoga. Stanely has a body-positive yoga book set to be published in 2017, Every Body Yoga.
Power is the United States ambassador to the United Nations, and has long been a feminist foreign policy icon. This month, she made an impassioned plea to the U.N. General Assembly to protect LGBT rights. She also recently took Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and allies to task for the egregious humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Soliman is a priominent Egyptian women's rights activist who is the founder of the Egyptian Center for Women's Legal Assistance, which fights violence against women. Soliman was arrested this month by Egyptian police as part of a crackdown on "human rights defenders," as Amnesty International put it. Various local and international NGOs are working hard to secure Soliman's release.
GothShakira, otherwise known as Dre, is a Montreal-based woman who launched a feminist-meme-focused Instagram account this year which currently has over 40,000 followers. According to Latina.com, Dre's memes have "taken a turn into a mystic Latina feminist territory that is all her own."
Yuanhui, an Olympic swimmer representing China, became a bit of a feminist icon during the Rio Olympics this year after speaking candidly about her period and its impact on her athletic performance on the news. Her candidness about menstruation was somewhat unprecedented, and contributed to helping diminish stigma about openly discussing periods.
We are grateful for each and every one of you. pic.twitter.com/1igFbwD4— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) November 7, 2012
Obama is, of course, the ever-eloquent First Lady who has been especially active in feminist causes this year. As you may recall, she gave a particularly rousing and moving speech following then-presidential-nominee Donald Trump's cavalier remarks about sexual assault.
In her speech, Obama reminded women and men about the sexism and discrimination women have faced throughout history, saying "I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally, and I’m sure that many of you do too, particularly the women... The shameful comments about our bodies. The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman. It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts."
There are many women who made a significant impact in 2016 and served as inspiring feminist icons for women around the world. You can bet that they will only go on to accomplish many more amazing feats in 2017, as well as inspire a new generation of feminists to do the same.