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Celebrating International Women’s Day: 12 Months of Female Firsts

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(IMAGE: ModenShau by Hannah Höch, German Dadaist, 1889 - 1978)

Today we’re celebrating International Women’s Day. The day is dedicated to saluting women’s achievements across all spheres, be they cultural, social, political, or economic.

While there is still so much to do on all of these fronts, it is true that over the last few years women have been standing up, speaking out, and succeeding in reaching specific equality-enhancing goals. 

Last year (2018) was particularly eventful. It started out with the continuation of the #MeToo movement that had begun to spread virally from the previous autumn and brought a fierce reckoning to perpetrators of sexual harassment and abuse across all industries.

It also kickstarted a long-overdue national conversation about the prevalence of this behavior in the workforce and women’s lives in general.

But there were so many other occurrences of women standing tall, together, and making history between the last International Women’s Day and this one today.

I wish I had space to high five each and every one of these small steps forward.

I don't, so instead, I’ve picked just some of the many awe-inspiring incidents across the last 12 months that show us just how far women have come in their search for equality and fairness - and how far they’re prepared to go.

Here's to the history-makers!


March 8 (2018)

To celebrate International Women's Day, Mattel releases its "Shero" line of Barbie dolls. A far cry from the traditional tall, blonde Barbie they are based on female role models such as Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo,ballerina Misty Copeland, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, gymnast Gabby Douglas and plus-size model Ashley Graham.


April 14

Beyoncé makes music history when she becomes the first black woman to headline the Coachella festival. Her 27-song set is a further record-breaker: It’s the most-watched live-streamed performance to date, with 41 million viewers.


April 16

New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey win the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service alongside Ronan Farrow for the New Yorker, for their in-depth reporting on Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood.

Their reporting triggered an outpouring of women’s experiences of sexual harassment across industries in the US (and then the world). And finally forced the dark secret of sexually predatory behavior behind professional doors into the open.

The winners were awarded their prizes by Dana Canedy, the first woman and first African-American to administer the prizes.


May 9

The Associated Press reports that women make up a majority—60%—of commencement speakers at the US’s top colleges for the first time in at least 20 years.

Hilary Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, director Ava DuVernay, writer Joyce Carol Oates, and entertainer Queen Latifah are just some of the many women who had stepped up to the podium.


May 25

Stacey Cunningham makes waves and history by becoming the New York Stock Exchanges first female present in the organization’s 226-year history. 

With Adena Friedman as head of Nasdaq, it’s the first time in history that the world’s largest stock exchanges are helmed by women.


May 24

Mia Mottley becomes the first woman Prime Minister of Barbados since the country became independent from Britain 52 years ago. 

The 53-year-old claims she told her teacher in secondary school that one day she would be the country’s Prime Minister. Looks like she kept her word! Mottley is also only the fifth woman in the English-speaking Caribbean to be elected to a head of government position.


July 1

Mexico sees women sweeping through the national elections to gain 51% of the Senate and 49% of the house.

The Central American country is ranked fourth globally for gender parity in legislative representation and the only country with an elected senate that is majority female.


August 7

Rashida Tlaib wins the Democratic primary in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, securing her place in history as the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.


August 19

In her first competition since the 2016 Olympics, four-time Olympics gold medallist Simone Biles becomes the first woman to win five all-around titles at the U.S. national championships.

She wears a teal-colored uniform (the designated color for sexual-abuse survivors) as a symbol of her solidarity with the hundreds of gymnasts who, like herself, were abused by Larry Nassar.


September 13

State primaries ahead of the 2018 midterm elections end with a record-smashing 257 women nominated. Equally impressive on the history-making front is the fact that more than a third of all female nominees are women of color.


October 2

Canadian physicist Donna Strickland becomes the first woman in 55 years to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, and the third in history, to win the physics prize.


October 5

Nadia Murad, the 25-year-old Yazidi woman who was abducted by ISIS in 2014 and subjected to physical and sexual abuse while in captivity, jointly wins the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to end human trafficking.

The first Iraqi to win the Nobel Peace Prize, Murad donated her $500,000 winnings to her charity, which helps thousands of Iraqi women held captive by ISIS.


October 25

This is the day that Sahle-Work Zewde becomes the first female president of Ethiopia. In doing so she also becomes the only current female head of state in the entire continent of Africa. Prior to this role, Zewde served as a representative of the UN’s secretary-general and head of the UN office to the African Union. 


November 6

Women are the huge winners in the US mid-term elections with Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Ombar securing their place in history as the first Muslim women elected to Congress in the United States.  

Tlaib, whose parents are Palestinian immigrants represents Michigan’s 13th congressional district and Omar, who immigrated from Somali to America at age 12, represents Minnesota’s 5th congressional district.


December 8

Australian woman Irene O’Shea jumps out of a plane on her 102nd birthday, becoming the oldest skydiver in the world. She made the 14,000-ft. dive in honor of her daughter who died of Motor Neuron Disease, using the record-breaking feat as a means of raising awareness and funds for the illness.


January 3

The new face of power in American politics is female as a record 102 women are sworn into the US House of Representatives. Thirty-five of the women were elected for the first time in November, including Deb Haaland, of New Mexico, the first Native-American women elected to Congress, Sharice Davids, the first openly LGBTQ member representing Kansas, and Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia, Texas’ first Latina representatives.


February 24

Ruth E. Carter becomes the first African American woman to ever win a Best Costume Design Oscar, picking it up for her work on Marvel’s Black Panther. She’s also the first African-American woman to win a non-acting Oscar in 30 years.



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