International Women’s Day: A day to step back and reflect on the the accomplishments women have made throughout history, and the work they’re doing now to make the world a better place for women (and a better place in general).
The holiday itself sprang out of the civil unrest in the early 20th century, with women in Europe and the United States struggling for the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1975 that the United Nations officially celebrated International Women’s Day, which is now an official holiday in dozens of countries.
Here are just a few women who’ve made a difference in the world since last year’s International Women’s Day:
The U.S. Olympic Gymnastic Team
All eyes were on the “final five” as they led the U.S. Olympic Gymnastic Team to a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics. Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, and Madison Kocian didn’t just win the world’s heart, they also raised the bar for athleticism and determination.
“Teenage girls are often portrayed, even today, as rather vapid creatures,” wrote Megan O’Rourke for New York Magazine. “Here, we get to see them take themselves incredibly seriously.”
A former refugee, mother of three, and devout Muslim, Ilhan Omar made history in 2016 when she became the first Somali-American lawmaker in the U.S.
“This really was a victory for that 8-year-old in that refugee camp,” Omar told NPR. “This was a victory for the young woman being forced into child marriage. This was a victory for every person that’s been told they have limits on their dreams.”
Leading up to the 2016 premiere of the all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, Leslie Jones, who starred in the film alongside Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Kate McKinnon, became the target of racist abuse on Twitter. Jones publicly called out her abusers to bring awareness to rampant racism on social media, sparking the viral hashtag #LoveForLeslieJ—ultimately leading Twitter to tighten up its abuse policies.
“I’m tired of everybody not believing they can change something,” she tweeted. “We can change anything if we want.”
LaDonna Brave Bull Allard
An enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux and a Lakota historian, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard was a driving force in the protest to prevent the Dakota Access pipeline from being routed through Native American land.
“I’m the closest landowner. It’s me who is facing the devastation of the pipeline,” she told journalists. Allard founded Sacred Stones, the movement’s first resistance camp, on her property. “I come from a long line of bigmouthed women,” she says. “My grandma, my mom—they always stood up.”
A makeup artist by day, Michelle Carter won the U.S. a shotput gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. She is fiercely body positive, advocating against society’s tendency to worship one “ideal” body.
“You have to understand everyone’s body was built to do something,” Carter said. “I was built to do something, and that’s how I was built. I think the world is realizing we were promoting one body type and there have always been many.”
She is also the founder of You Throw Girl, a sports confidence camp aimed at helping young girls develop athletic skills and maintain self esteem.
Elaine Welteroth took over the title of Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue in May of 2016. She is the first African American woman to hold the position, and the second African American to become editor-in-chief of a Conde Nast publication. Since then, the magazine has covered far more social, cultural, and political issues, proving that teen girls are smart and formidable, and that women of all ages can care about lipstick and the state of the world’s economy, concurrently.
While visiting a teen LGBTQ+ resource center in December, Lady GaGa revealed that she suffers from PTSD (from when she was raped at age 19).
“I’ve been searching for ways to heal myself, and I’ve found that kindness is the best way,” she told the kids. As she continues to rock the world as one of its biggest stars, GaGa is helping eradicate the dangerous stigma surrounding mental illness and sexual assault.
The Women Going to Mars
Anne McCain, Nicole Aunapu Mann, Christina Hammock Koch, and Jessica Meir make up 50 percent of the team training to become the first humans to walk on Mars. And it’s the first team in NASA history to have an equal-gender split. The training will take more than 15 years to complete, so we have to wait a while until the first woman sets foot on the red planet.
“If we go to Mars, we’ll be representing our entire species in a place we’ve never been before. To me it’s the highest thing a human being can achieve,” said McCain.
So here’s to another year of women changing the world.