This year has felt like a giant step backward for supporters of gender equality and women’s advancement. Instead of its first female commander-in-chief, the United States got a president-elect who won the White House even after being caught on tape bragging about groping women. Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president, was ousted from power, and South Korea’s first female president, Park Geun-hye, now seems poised to meet that same fate. The United Nations failed to vote in its first-ever female security general, despite having seven qualified women candidates. (It did, however, manage to briefly appoint the buxom and scantily-clad character of Wonder Woman as honorary ambassador for women’s empowerment to the horror of UN staff).
Meanwhile, the IMF’s first female chief, Christine Lagarde, was convicted of negligence in a trial over a government payout in 2008—though she will keep her job. And some bright, still rising business stars, including Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, plummeted like fireballs back to earth. Even what seemed like glimmers of hope—Lebanon created a ministry of women’s affairs, for instance—were tainted with misogyny: The nation’s first-ever minister of women’s affairs is a man.
But behind these attention-grabbing headlines women were at work, fighting for equality, defying cultural stigmas, and delivering everyday acts of courage that are often still necessarily to succeed in what remains a man’s world.
So as this year mercifully comes to a close, let’s honor the moments when 2016 gave women something to celebrate.
1. When Icelandic MP Unnur Bra Konradsdottir breastfed while responding to a bill in Parliament and no one cared.
2. When Swedish activist Maria-Teresa Asplund stared down neo-Nazis during street marches—twice.
3. When the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, stepped out in the United Arab Emirates with this all-woman security team.
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Her Royal Highness with her all-female protection team during #RoyalVisitUAE From left to right: Shaima al Kaabi, Basima al Kaabi, Hannan al Hatawi, Nisreen al Hamawi and Salama al Remeithi. Earlier this year Shaima, Nisreen and Hannan also achieved the remarkable feat of conquering Mount Everest. ©Clarence House
4. When women in Iran were banned from bicycling because the Supreme Leader of Iran said it threatened a woman’s chastity, but they bicycled anyway.
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من اهل مشهد هستم یکی از مذهبی ترین شهرهای ایران، اینجا مردم خیلی روشن تر از مسولان هستد ولی باز هم دوچرخه سواری برای زنان و خود بودن آسون نیست خصوصا با وجود فتوای جدید حرام بودن دوچرخه و علم الهدی ها و … ولی ما حق خودمون رو خودمون باید پس بگیریم و شهرمون رو و خودمون رو خودمان باید با شجاعت هر روزه آزاد کنیم. I am from Mashhad, one of the most religious cities in Iran. Here, [although the city is very religious], people are more open-minded than the officials. This being said, it still is not easy to ride a bicycle specially after the Supreme Leader's Fatwa [banning women from doing so]. However, we have to be brave and free our city and ourselves from all these restrictive laws and do away with these limitations. #من_عاشق_دوچرخه_ام #IranianWomenLoveCycling #mystealthyfreedom
5. When hundreds of women in yoga pants paraded past the home of a man who wrote a letter saying women should stop wearing them.
6. When the largest-ever all-female expedition sailed to Antarctica to study climate change and promote women in science.
7. When Shirin Gerami became the first female athlete to represent Iran in the Ironman triathlon, and she did so while wearing a hijab.
9. When the women of this lesbian motorcycle gang started delivering breast milk to babies in need.
10. When Unionen, Sweden’s largest union, introduced a hotline to which women could report incidents of ‘mansplaining.’
11. When a woman at Alphabet’s annual meeting called out a male attendee for referring to the company’s chief financial officer Ruth Porat as “the lady CFO.”
12. When startups finally realized women deserve a better breast pump.
13. When activist investors pushed Wall Street banks to close their gender gaps.
14. When high-school dropout Susan Kiefel was named Australia’s chief justice.
15. When Ginella Massa became the first person wearing a hijab to anchor a major nightly newscast in Canada.
16. When Peggy Whitson, 56, became the oldest woman to fly into space.
17. When women in Congress called for a new Smithsonian museum of women’s history.
18. When Ellen DeGeneres received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and didn’t hide her emotions.
20. When Hollywood stars like Emmy Rossum, Gillian Anderson, Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron, and Robin Wright fought for wage equality—and won.
21. When the most successful female Everest climber of all time—Lhakpa Sherpa, who works at a 7-Eleven in Connecticut—broke her own record by summiting Everest a seventh time.
22. When ex-Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson accused the network’s former chair and CEO Roger Ailes of sexual harassment and other women at the broadcaster backed her up.
23. When women in France and Iceland walked off the job to protest their nations’ persistent gender pay gaps.
24. When German nun Sister Lioba Zahn started playing the stock market to keep her convent afloat.
25. When Serena Williams protested the gender qualifier in the title of “greatest female athlete of all time.”