It was a tumultuous year, and many were glad to see 2016 come to an end. Despite the struggles and the long list of icons who passed on, there were many events and people who will make 2016 memorable in a positive light. Here we list the women who made an impact in the year 2016, from the inspiring Olympics athletes to the victims of crimes who not only survived, but have committed themselves to bettering the lives of others. Read on to find the silver lining of 2016.
The 20-year-old Chinese swimmer captured the hearts of everyone watching the 2016 Rio Olympics as she gave the most genuine and candid interviews during the Olympic games. She won bronze in the 100m backstroke and hadn’t even realized it until a reporter let her know, and her reaction was comedic. “Whoooaah! I was so fast!” The video of the interview went viral and was watched thousands of times in the first 24 hours.
In another post-race interview, Yuanhui expresses her disappointment having finished fourth in the 4×100 meter medley relay, and reveals that she has her period and wasn’t feeling well because of it. “Yes (my belly hurts) because my period came yesterday. I’m feeling a bit weak and exhausted, but this is not an excuse. Anyway, I didn’t do well.” Any woman can appreciate her openness on the subject and perhaps showing men part of the struggle that even the best female athletes in the world have to endure every month.
The First Lady was inspiring and eloquent from the beginning to the end of her husband’s term as the 44th President of the United States. Michelle Obama is not only an excellent role model to her two daughters but for women everywhere. “Like I tell my daughters, women and girls can do whatever they want. There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish,” she said in a speech for the Let Girls Learn Initiative.
The initiative helps address the challenges that adolescent girls face across the world and helps ensure that they receive an education and the same opportunities as their male counterparts. She went on stage at the BET “Black Girls Rock” awards and reiterated the statement of the event, “Black girls rock!” We will miss having this poised and powerful woman in the White House.
The Dakota Access Pipeline was one of the hot button issues for 2016. It eventually hit mainstream media after a long and largely deliberate delay. While news stations sat back from reporting the issue, Amy Goodman stepped up. The award-winning journalist traveled to the battlegrounds in North Dakota to report on the protest and expose the harsh response by police enforcement to the peaceful protesters. Morton County issued an arrest on Goodman September 8, 2016, for criminal trespass at Standing Rock.
Her independent news program, Democracy Now aired footage of protesters being attacked by dogs and pepper spray. Her footage and arrest finally caught the attention of the American people and went viral on social media. “This is a complete vindication of my right as a journalist to cover the attack on the protesters, and of the public’s right to know what is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline,” she said.
“You should resign,” Elizabeth Warren told Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. The senator from Massachusetts used the opportunity to lay into the executive during her allotted time to question Stumpf at the Senate Banking Committee hearing in September of 2016. It was her stern questioning that went viral, as she chastised him for firing 5,300 employees but refusing to step down from his executive position or give the money back to the customers who were scammed.
Although many thought she would be Hilary Clinton’s chosen running mate in the 2016 presidential election, she stayed in her seat on the senate, and declared that we need more women in politics, “Washington works for those who have power. And no one gives up power easily, no one. … Nobody’s just going to say ‘women have arrived and let’s just move over.’ We have a chance but we have to fight for it.”
When Flint, Michigan experienced a crisis of water contamination, it took too long to bring the issue to light and too long to solve the problem. Mona Hanna-Attisha was one of the individuals who blew the whistle on the crisis and demanded that the U.S. do something about it, and quickly.
A pediatrician of Flint, Hanna-Attisha was the first to make the connection between the population’s deteriorating health among children and the high levels of lead in the water supply and led the charge against officials who were widely ignoring the problem. More than 8,000 children under the age of six years old have been affected by the water crisis. The water still remains poisonous and undrinkable in 2017.
The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team
The women’s soccer team of the United States has three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals to their name, but as everyone was made aware in 2016 when five members of the team filed a wage discrimination suit with the EEOC, they are severely underpaid compared to the men’s soccer team. While the women’s team is generating $20 million more revenue than the men’s team in 2015, they are paid about a quarter of the men’s salary.
30 million people watched the women’s soccer final in 2015, making it the highest rated soccer match in American history, male or female. President Obama declared, “This team taught all America’s children that playing like a girl means you’re a bad ass.” Even with their success, the women players were not paid equal to the men’s earnings. “We win. We’re successful. Should get what we deserve.” Carli Lloyd told 60 Minutes.
Although she’s widely known as the wife of Microsoft Billionaire Bill Gates, Melinda Gates also worked at Microsoft (where she met her husband) and is co-chair of their foundation, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is the largest private foundation in the entire world. In June of 2016, the philanthropist pledged $80 million to eliminate sexist data on women in developing countries.
“You empower a woman and you change the world,” Gates said in a talk at the American Enterprise Institute’s Washington D.C. headquarters. “We know that if a woman is economically empowered inside her family, all kinds of magical things happen.” The foundation has also given $4.3 billion to provide contraceptives to 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries. In 2016 President Obama honored both Melinda and Bill with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for their philanthropy to important causes around the world.
We couldn’t get through this list without naming Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State ran a close election against Donald Trump in 2016 and is the first woman (two times over) to run for President in the United States. She was also the first, first lady to run for public office in the U.S.
Honorably fighting to improve the lives of families and those working hard, Clinton’s campaign included improving K-12 education, preventing children from being raised in poverty, paid family and medical leave, and improving women’s rights and opportunities. She ultimately won the popular vote over Donald Trump by nearly 3 million votes, but Trump was named President-Elect by the Electoral College results.
With climate change threatening our world as we know it, here is one woman who is dedicating her career to responding to the issue and preventing further damage. Christiana Figueres is a diplomat of Costa Rica and was appointed the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2016 she was awarded the Joan Bavaria Award for Building Sustainability into the Capital Markets, which awards individuals who make an effort to balance a healthy economy with a healthy environment.
She has led international climate change conferences that have opened discussion on the important issues and has led to one of the most important milestones in fighting climate change: The Paris Agreement. This agreement requires 200 countries around the world to take action on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.
First Ever Female Navy SEAL Candidates
In 2016 women in the military were first allowed to join training to be a Navy SEAL. Before then, women were excluded from this branch of the military, banning them from combat. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that he would lift the ban in 2013, and women were able to begin training to become a Navy SEAL in 2016.
That doesn’t mean the barriers will be broken down for women in the military who seek a position as a SEAL. Unlike other military branches, an Admiral has announced that they won’t change their standards for women, and they will have to meet the same running, swimming, sit-ups, pull-ups and push-up requirements as their male counterparts to be considered for a position.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Sitting on the Supreme Court since 1993, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has a long history in fighting for women’s rights. In the ’70s she co-founded the Women’s Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, which takes on hundreds of gender discrimination cases. Nicknamed the “Notorious R.B.G.” the Associate Justice and Brooklyn native is 83 years old and is not slowing her fight for gender equality.
When asked when she will retire from her position, Ginsburg told NPR, “When it’s time. When I can’t do the job full-steam.” Known for her strong and influential liberal stance, Ginsburg will be a key member of the Supreme Court as Donald Trump’s administration moves into the White House.
Unnamed Stanford Rape Victim
Although she chooses to remain anonymous, the rape victim of Brock Turner has made an impact in 2016. The 23-year-old college student became the voice of women who are victims of rape and sexual assault when she released a letter to her rapist that went viral and brought Vice President Joe Biden to tears.
Part of her decision to remain anonymous, she said, was to be the voice of “every woman.” In March of 2016, Turner was sentenced for the crime and then released four months later. The short sentence, along with the victim’s letter, sparked national outrage. The public demanded a tougher punishment and began to better understand the post-traumatic stress that victims experience. The case started the conversation of the damage of rape culture and let to a campaign against rape called “It Happened.”
First Latina in the Senate
Although we don’t entirely know what will come of Catherine Cortez Masto’s term as part of the senate, the Democrat from Nevada has already made history as the first Latina to serve as part of the U.S. Senate. With a background in law, she is also the first woman elected to represent Nevada, her home state.
One of her biggest battles straight out of the gates will be to defend the rights of immigrants in the United States, against President-Elect Donald Trump’s strong declarations that he will build a wall and force illegal immigrants out, as part of immigration reform.
Cortez Masto’s strategy is to fight at the state level, “If you are going to look down the path of sitting it somewhere in the state, then the state should be involved and all the key stakeholders in that state should be involved in accepting it. That’s how the process should work,” she said.
Although she was often unnamed in the stories that published the now nationally-recognized photo, Ieshia Evans is the woman who participated in the Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and her arrest went viral. Beautifully calm and poised in an elegant dress, Evans stood with her arms crossed, staring at police before they approached her, decked out in riot gear, and quickly arrested her and took Evans into custody.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Bachman
The 28-year-old mother and licensed nurse said she attended the protest to be able to tell her five-year-old son that she fought for his freedom and rights. The photo was taken by New Orleans photographer Jonathan Bachman. 132 protestors were arrested that day.
The actress, comedian, and beloved talk show host was one of 21 people Barack Obama honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the fall of 2016. She was given the award for her efforts in activism over the decades and was emotional as Obama cited her bravery in coming out as a lesbian in 1997, which was extremely controversial at the time and caused distress to DeGeneres’ career in the following years.
Obama announced in the White House, “It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far — where now marriage is equal under the law — just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago. Just how important it was. Not just to the LGBT community, but for all of us.”
Acting as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is no easy feat, but Cecile Richards has proven time and again, she’s the one for the job. Holding the position since 2006, Richards is known for her activism in women’s rights over the years. She was only 16 years old when she helped her mother campaign for Sarah Weddington, a lawyer for Roe v. Wade.
Richards said in a statement in the last days of 2016, “We will send a strong message to the incoming administration that millions of people across this country are prepared to fight attacks on reproductive health care, abortion services, and access to Planned Parenthood, as they intersect with the rights of young people, people of color, immigrants, and people of all faiths, backgrounds, and incomes.”
Standing at only 4’9″, American Gymnast Simone Biles is one of the ladies who made headlines in 2016. Biles is the first female gymnast to be all-around world champion three years in a row and has won more world championship medals than any American woman ever has: fourteen.
At 19 years old, her stunning performances at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics inspired young girls, especially young women of color, to join gymnastics and feel strong. “We can push ourselves further. We always have more to give,” she said. While she didn’t win Glamour’s Woman of the Year Award, she was named “BBC’s 100 Women” as well as 2016 “espnW IMPACT 25 Woman of the Year.”
Perhaps one of the bravest women of 2016, Nadia Murad was tortured by ISIS after they attacked her village in Iraq and thankfully escaped. Her family and many others weren’t so lucky, as six of her brothers and mother were executed and she was held captive for three months. Not only did she live to tell about it, Murad took her story to the International Criminal Court. Although ISIS has caught word of her attempt to seek justice and threatened her life, she says she is not afraid, and won’t back down.
Murad launched a website with the initiative to help women and children who are victims of genocide rebuild their lives after tragedy. She seeks to assist these communities by providing healthcare, education and psychosocial support. She’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian efforts.
Players of the WNBA
The women of the Minnesota Lynx made sure their voices were heard in 2016. After Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were killed by police in July 2016, the team joined the Black Lives Matter movement, and made shirts that read “Change Starts With Us, Justice & Accountability” with the victim’s names and movement on the back. They wore the shirts during warm-ups before games and continued to wear them even after being fined by the league.
It was named one of the most prolific political statements in sports history. Other WNBA teams followed suit, as the New York Liberty donned Black Lives Matter t-shirts and the Washington Mystics instituted a media blackout in protest. The league eventually withdrew the fines and the president of the WNBA expressed her support for their peaceful protests.
Umra Omar is dedicated to providing medical care to the people of the eastern coast of Kenya, whether it puts her in danger or not. Her group, Safari Doctors, pay visits to the region that is being threatened by an Islamist terror group, giving life-saving medical aid, immunizations, malaria treatment and whatever they need.
Although hard to access (the group travels by plane, boat, and air) Omar is fully dedicated to the caus and believes that these people should not be forgotten. At 33 years old, and with a toddler and another one on the way, she’s not putting the cause on hold for one minute.
While speaking at the Texas Conference for Women in November of 2016, International human rights lawyer Amal Clooney pushed the issue of addressing ISIS immediately. Clooney is the lawyer of the Iraqi woman mentioned earlier in the article, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and humanitarian activist Nadia Murad.
Both women spoke to representatives of the United Nations and pleaded them to take action against ISIS. Clooney used the gruesome details of how Murad was tortured by the Islamic State of Iraq as examples of brutality and acts against humanity. Her speech made headlines across media and is making the push to take the organization to International Criminal Court.