Some staggering truths still hold true for women in 2016. Less than 20% of members of the U.S. Congress are female (a statistic mirrored in parliaments around the world). There are more men named John running large companies than there are women. In Hollywood, only 15% of protagonists are female, and less than 2% of producers and directors are women. And some studies show that women still make 78 cents for every dollar men earn. Lily Allen wasn’t kidding when she said it’s hard out here for a bitch.
But 2015 also marked the twentieth anniversary of the historic Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women, when activists and officials from around the world adopted a historic declaration and to help achieve full participation for women and girls everywhere. And despite the serious roadblocks mentioned above, there were plenty of women who swam against the current and altered the course of history. Their personal successes should be celebrated by all of us. Cheers to the pioneers.
1. Muna AbuSulayman, Media Personality & Cofounder, Meeden.com
This Saudi Arabian #GirlBoss hosts Kalam Naweam, a nightly television show that highlights women’s issues, gender equality, sexual harassment, divorce, and other controversial topics often considered taboo in her part of the world. The View of the Arab World, if you will. She is also the United National Development Program Goodwill Ambassador, the first woman from Saudi Arabia to hold that post. AbuSulayman said “a lot has been accomplished to close the pay gap in gender inequality.. yet women still lag behind in income parity, opportunities for promotion, and the ability to tap into government resources to balance home and work duties. I look forward to the day when all those issues are no longer topics of conversation, seminars, and studies.” You and me both, sister.
2. Viola Davis
Source: Daily Makeover
Viola Davis made history last year as the first African-American to win an Emmy for best actress in a drama for her work as Annalise Keating in How to Get Away with Murder. At a time when the spotlight is on Hollywood for lacking diversity, the actress took the opportunity to send a subtle reminder there is much work still to be done: “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” And when Ellen DeGeneres asked her the secret to saying calm on the red carpet? “I just guzzled [a glass of Prosecco],” Davis said.
3. Samantha Power
Source: Politico Magazine
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers had a busy 2015. Her work with refugees in the U.S. from Syria, Iraq, and around the world was (and still is) an incredible undertaking. She had a refugee family over for dinner and watched their kids play. She made an incredible commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania reminding students, “You have the inclination and the ability to change your communities, and to change your slice of the world. Act as if. Know something about something. Bring others along. And humanize your cause. Franklin was right when he said the purpose of the education you have all just received is not to serve yourself—but to serve your community, your nation, your world.” Excuse me a moment while I go plaster this quote above my desk.
4. Angela Merkel
For Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, 2015 marked the start of her tenth year in office. And oh, what a year it was. She led Europe through a potential currency crisis and threw open Germany’s doors to a wave of refugees fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq, leading by example in a time where many European leaders were hesitant to open their borders to outsiders. One of her awesome Merkelisms from 2015 was: “Fear has never been a good adviser, neither in our personal lives nor in our society. Cultures and societies that are shaped by fear will without a doubt not get a grip on the future.” To top off a list of accomplishments last year, she was also named TIME’s person of the year.
5. Shaye Haver and Kristen Griest
Source: E Online
Quite possibly the baddest of the bunch. In December, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that all combat roles in the U.S. military would be open to women. United States Army First Lt. Shaye Hever and Capt. Kristen Griest became the first women to graduate Army Ranger School, which, for the record, has been called “the toughest combat course in the world,” and “the most physically and mentally demanding leadership school the army has to offer.” Female soldiers have long served alongside special operations units in Iraq and Afghanistan and it seems like these ladies will finally get the training, leadership skills (and credit!) they deserve.