As we look ahead to the challenges we face in 2017, we also want to take a moment to recognize the many ways women won in 2016. Each of these headline stories is proof that when women and girls unite, they can spark positive changes, achieve justice, build a better world, and inspire others to do the same! Lead on, ladies!
7 Women Made History on Election Night
While Hillary Clinton lost the U.S. presidential election, seven women enjoyed historic victories in their state elections in November 2016. Kamala Harris (CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), and Tammy Duckworth (IL) were elected to the Senate. Elected to the House of Representatives were Stephanie Murphy (FL) and Pramila Jayapal (WA). Ilhan Omar also became the first Somali-American state legislator in the country, and Kate Brown became the country’s first LGBTQ governor for the state of Oregon!
Image Credit: Getty
U.S. Army Began Paying 12 Weeks Maternity Leave
Previously female service members were only given 6 weeks paid time off after having a child. Thanks to a new policy introduced in January 2016, women in the Army now enjoy a full 12 weeks paid maternity leave. These mothers no longer have to make a choice between enduring economic hardship and returning to work prematurely.
3 States Eliminated Tampon Taxes
For many years women in the U.S. have paid taxes on products like tampons and sanitary pads. Meanwhile, many other products like dandruff shampoo, and certain men’s products like Viagra, were considered “medically essential” and therefore tax-exempt. In 2016, Connecticut, Illinois, and New York all repealed their discriminatory taxes on feminine hygiene products, taking a small step toward symbolic gender equality.
Image Credit: G.L. Kohuth / Michigan State University
Sexual Assault Survivors Got a Bill of Rights
Under the new Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, signed into federal law in October 2016, victims of sexual assault can no longer be charged fees or prevented from getting a rape kit examination, even if they have not decided to file a police report. Whereas before states would often destroy rape kits without actually testing them, it’s now required that those rape kits be preserved. Furthermore, victims have the right to be notified of the results of their rape kit, including a DNA profile match and toxicology report. It’s a huge victory because it has created a national standard for the best practices in care and justice for rape victims.
Image Credit: IOC Newsroom, AFP/Getty, Mike Blake/Reuters
Women Rocked the Summer Olympics
The prestigious gold medal for women’s gymnastics went to the U.S. team at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro; the team, known as “The Final Five,” astounded viewers with their incredible performances while sending a message to girls around the world that women can be strong! Meanwhile, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad became the first female to compete in the games wearing the hijab, a brave statement against the current atmosphere of Islamophobia. Another athlete who showed us the amazing strength of women was Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee who swam for 3 hours to save the lives of 19 other refugees before coming to Rio to compete.
Image Credit: AP, Kathmandu Post, Reuters
6 Countries Elected Women World Leaders
In Taiwan, Myanmar, Nepal, Croatia, Mauritius, and Lithuania, women were elected, reelected, or took office as heads-of-state in 2016. Aung San Suu Kyi (State Counselor of Myanmar), Tsai Ing-wen (President of Taiwan), Bidhya Devi Bhandari (President of Nepal), Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović (President of Croatia), Ameenah Gurib (President of Mauritius), and Dalia Grybauskaitė (President of Lithuania) joined the ranks of powerful women officials leading their countries toward a bright future.
Image Credit: Birgir Ísleifur/VR
Women in Iceland Left Work Early to Protest the Gender Wage Gap
Although it’s illegal in Iceland to discriminate based on gender, there’s still a 14% wage gap between men and women’s incomes. This year, the national walk-out happened on the 41st anniversary of Iceland’s “Women’s Day Off” and thousands of women opted to leave work at 2:38 PM to show what it would look like if women worked exactly what they are paid for. At the current rate, it’s estimated that women in Iceland won’t be paid the same as men until 2068. “No one puts up with waiting 50 years to reach a goal,” said Gylfi Arnbjörnsson, president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labor. And when that goal is equal pay for equal work, no one should have to wait at all!
Image Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP
An Indian Woman Who Survived an Acid Attack Walked in a New York Fashion Show
Each year it’s estimated that hundreds of women are victims of acid attacks (vitriolage) in which acid is thrown at them (often by a partner) in an attempt to disfigure, maim, torture or kill. Reshma Quereshi survived such an attack, but was disfigured and lost her left eye. In an incredibly courageous act that brought this crime to the public’s attention, Quereshi joined supermodels on the catwalk of the Archana Kochhar show during New York Fashion Week in September 2016. She said to the Guardian that she hopes her participation would send a message of empowerment to other survivors.
Image Credit: Jonathan Bachman/REUTERS
A Peaceful Protester Became a Symbol of the Black Lives Matter Movement
In a photograph that has now become one of TIME’s top 100 photos of the year, a peaceful demonstrator stood up to a row of riot police during a protest after the shooting death of Alton Sterling. Her calm dignity has made her an iconic symbol of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and an inspiration for many who continue to struggle for justice.
Image Credit: Elle.com
A 12-Year-Old Collected Thousands of Books for Black Girls
When 5th-grader Marley Dias noticed that none of the books she was reading in class featured any characters who looked like her, she decided to take action. She launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign and asked people to donate books with black girls as the main characters. Her goal was to collect 1,000 books; as of November 2016 she’s received over 7,000 books and has donated them to school libraries in six cities across the U.S. Way to go girl!