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Women in 2017: Strength in Numbers

Amid the hustle of yet another year ending and the excitement of a new chapter beginning, it is worth pausing to reflect on the moments that made 2017—the steps forward, the breakthroughs, the admirable moments, and the lessons learned–and showcased the strength of women around the world.

The year started with the Women’s March, as between 3.5 and 5.5 million women across the United States and around the world, showing the power of women standing together, marching in peaceful protest. Facebook confirmed it was the social network’s largest moment recorded in 2017. The year ended with Time naming “The Silence Breakers” as person of the year, paying tribute to the women who had the courage to speak out about their experience with abuse–and in the process sparked an international conversation. And in between, the #MeToo movement sparked an international conversation on harassment and abuse, with the hashtag shared over 4 million times in countries around the world.

And throughout the year, women displayed incredible feats of strength, moments of courage, and acts of extreme generosity.

Here are a few of our favorites.

In February, American actress Viola Davis made history with her Oscar win for “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” for Fences, becoming the first black star to win an Oscar, an Emmy, and a Tony. In other news, American Cassie De Pecol became the first women known to travel to every sovereign nation around the world, going through four passports in the process. The trip took 18 months and 26 days.

In March, women around the world celebrated International Women’s Day, focused on the theme, “Women in the Changing World of Work.” On the eve of International Women’s Day, the Fearless Girl statue made its debut in New York, a young girl with her hands on her hips, seeming to boldly face down the Wall Street’s famous bull statue.

In April, MIT associate professor Evelyn Wang, along with her team, caused a stir in the scientific community, pioneering a new approach to providing fresh water to water-deprived areas. The model is for a solar-powered device to pull water out of air, powered by solar energy or an organic heat source. The idea was debuted in an April article by Wang and her colleagues in Science, portending a potential breakthrough in increasing access to fresh water for the up to 2.1 billion people who still lack it around the world.

In May, 22 year old Maria Lorena Ramirez beat out 500 runners from 12 countries to win the Ultra Trail Cerro Rojo in Pueblo, Mexico. Ramirez, who hails from Mexico’s Tarahumara indigenous community, ran the entire 31 mile race in sandals.

In June, the film Wonder Woman smashed box office records, as millions flocked to theaters–and millions of little girls and grown women watched a female superhero on the big screen. Not only did Wonder Woman become the highest grossing superhero film, but it is also the highest grossing film directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. Wonder Woman would go on to become the highest grossing film in 2017, followed by Beauty and Beast.

In July, India’s women’s cricket team proved that winning isn’t everything, defying expectations to make it out of the league round and advance to the World Cup final, capturing the attention of a nation in the process. While they lost the game, the team’s journey drew attention to female athletes in the sport and Indian cricket in the process. As one of the star players noted in an interview, when they left India for the World Cup, “there were hardly any journalists to see us off. But when we returned to India on July 25 having made the final, there were close to a hundred journalists at 2:30 in the morning. It was totally new.”

In September, perhaps the world’s most widely recognized female head of state, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, won reelection to a fourth term. The same month, Nirmala Sitharaman became India’s first Minister of Defence, heading the world’s largest defense force at 1.4 million employees.

In October, New Zealand elected a female prime minister in October, the youngest prime minister elected in the country in 150 years at 37 years of age. Ardern has spoken openly and candidly about taboo topics like anxiety, the sexism she has faced, and the right of women to keep their plans on having children private. Ardern joins a small (less than ten percent of UN member countries) but growing cadre of female heads of state.

In November, Glamour magazine honored astronaut Peggy Whitson at its “Woman of the Year” gala. Whitson’s space expeditions in 2002, 2008, and 2016 amounted to a combined total of 665 days in space, making her the longest orbiting American astronaut in a field that remains 90 percent male. That same month, Montreal, Canada elected Valerie Plante, the city’s first female mayor. She ran on the slogan, “the man for the job,” and promised among other things to build a new subway line–and name the stations on the new route after notable females in Montreal’s cultural life and history.

Also in November, Hilda Heine, president of the Marshall Islands, addressed the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) climate conference, held in Bonn, Germany and hosted by Fiji–the first COP to be hosted by an island nation. Heine has also achieved a list of firsts: the first individual in the Marshall Islands to earn a doctorate, and the first female president of the Marshall Islands, and of any Micronesian country.

In December, Lubaina Himid was awarded the Turner Prize, the most prestigious artistic award in England, becoming both the first black woman to receive the prize, and its oldest recipient to date. Born in Tanzania, Himid’s art focuses on the cultural contributions of the African diaspora. Also in December, German Chancellor Merkel, the country’s first female Chancellor, was awarded Finland’s inaugural international gender equality prize based on her “commitment to women and girls globally.”

For more stories on inspiring women in 2017, read on.