In 2019, women are taking charge more than ever before. Whether demanding equal pay, assuming leadership positions in government, or making history in film (or even in space), women have blazed new trails across every type of industry over the last 12 months.
With 2020 now in sight, here’s a look back at some of the inspiring figures who made a huge difference in the world this past year:
1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez left political veterans stunned when she beat out 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley in her congressional district and went on to become the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress. Since assuming her seat, AOC has become one of the most prominent liberal voices in the nation. From her unflinching questioning of Michael Cohen in his February hearing to her outspoken condemnation of ICE detention centers, Ocasio-Cortez’s impact has already been felt well beyond the halls of Capitol Hill.
2. Greta Thunberg
At only 16 years old, Greta Thunberg has become the face of the battle against climate change. The teenage activist from Sweden drew international attention in September after delivering a passionate speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, in which she castigated world leaders for their failure to take action in the ongoing climate crisis. That same month, she met with U.S. lawmakers to discuss climate change policies and led the biggest climate protest in history, which included millions of people across 185 countries, according to The Guardian. Now faced with the pressures of worldwide recognition, Thunberg remains unwaveringly committed to delivering the facts and calling attention to the sobering reality of climate change.
Perhaps no single entertainer had a bigger year than the flute-playing singer-rapper, Lizzo. Chances are you couldn’t go anywhere this year without hearing one of her empowering and impossibly catchy anthems blasting from a radio, appearing on a movie soundtrack, or serving as the backdrop to a commercial. In a culture of Internet trolling and Instagram filters, her message of body positivity and self-love is needed like never before. Plus, her relatable lyrics make it impossible not to scream-sing along. No one can resist the feel-good vibes of the opening bars of Truth Hurts — and that’s what makes her so appealing (not to mention that she’s the most Grammy-nominated artist of the year).
4. Brie Larson
After years of campaigning Marvel to make a female-led superhero film, fans seemed to reach peak frenzy ahead of the release of this year’s Captain Marvel. Though it’d be understandable for anyone to wilt under that kind of pressure, star Brie Larson seemed to take it all in stride. The actress underwent nine months of intensive training to play the role, according to Self — and the hard work paid off. The film grossed over $1.1 billion worldwide, making it the first female-led superhero film to gross over a billion dollars and paving the way for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
5. The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team
With a team full of badass, inspiring women, it’s impossible to highlight just one or two members. That’s why we’re giving a shoutout to the entire U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, who took home their fourth title at the Women’s World Cup in July. Along with inspiring some of the most memorable memes of the year, the victory also solidified them as the most successful women’s national team in the history of the event. As if that wasn’t enough to make you proudly don one of their jerseys, the team is also currently battling the U.S. Soccer Federation for equal pay — proving they know what they’re worth and they’re not afraid to fight for it.
6. Ghazala Hashmi
In 2019, Ghazala Hashmi, a former community college professor who immigrated to the U.S. as a child, ran for public office for the very first time — and won. The Democratic state senator unseated Republican incumbent Glen Sturtevant to represent Virginia’s 10th District, following a campaign heavily based on support for quality public education and gun safety legislation. The history-making victory makes Hasim the first Muslim woman ever elected to Virginia’s state Senate. “We sent a message that the status quo is no longer accepted,” she declared after the win.
7. Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi knows a thing or two about making history. The Democratic leader became the first woman ever to become Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2007, a position she assumed for a second time in early 2019. Her re-election to the role not only makes her second in line in the presidential line of succession (after the Vice President), but also the highest-ranking female elected official in national history.
8. Christina Koch and Jessica Meir
When it comes to exploring new frontiers, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir are leading the way — literally. The two NASA astronauts made headlines in October by taking part in the agency’s first all-female spacewalk. For seven hours, the pair ventured outside the International Space Station to fix a power controller, and the two are on track to shatter more glass ceilings in the future. Koch is already on her way toward completing 328 days aboard the International Space Station, making it the longest single space mission by a woman. With the first person to go to Mars likely to be a woman, these two could be in line to make more history in the future.
9. Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay not only preaches inclusivity and diversity in TV and film, she’s also one of the few Hollywood insiders to actually practice it. This year, the acclaimed director continued to put action behind her words, achieving full gender parity with her OWN anthology show, Cherish the Day. The series, created by and executive produced by DuVernay, employed a crew that was more than 50 percent women, including 18 female department heads. Earlier in 2019, she also drew a spotlight to the harrowing true story of the Central Park Five in the Netflix series, When They See Us, which earned a whopping 16 nominations at the Emmys this year.
10. Melinda Gates
As co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates remains one of the most powerful philanthropic leaders in the world. Through the foundation, she remains an active participant in solving some of the biggest challenges facing the globe today, from poverty to sanitation to access to education. This year, she released her bestselling debut book, The Moment of Life: How Empowering Women Changes the World, which outlines how supporting women leads to healthier societies. In that same vein, Gates recently committed $1 billion to promoting gender equality and expanding women’s power in the U.S over the next 10 years.
11. Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle continued to shake up the monarchy in 2019, straying from the royal rulebook in favor of more modern practices. After welcoming baby Archie in May, she and Prince Harry opted not to pose for the customary photo outside the hospital, choosing instead to bask in some quality family time. Following intense media scrutiny after the birth, Markle took action, filing a lawsuit against a British tabloid and publicly speaking out about her struggles to deal with life in the spotlight. Throughout her ups and downs, Markle remains a champion of the causes closest to her, recently launching a clothing line that benefits Smart Works, an organization that helps underprivileged women secure the clothing and support they need to become employed.
12. Sandra Oh
Sandra Oh kicked off the year by making history at the 2019 Golden Globes — a few times, in fact. In addition to being the first person of Asian descent to ever host the event, the acclaimed actress also became the first Asian woman to win multiple Golden Globe trophies when she took home the award for Best Actress in a Drama for Killing Eve. Her victory also marked the first time an Asian woman had won that category in nearly 40 years. She continued her banner year by making her hosting debut on Saturday Night Live in March. With season three of Killing Eve and more projects on the way, Oh continues to pave the way for women and actors of color with her work.