Hailed by many as a “watershed” year for feminism, 2014 offered women and women-identified individuals a year full of firsts, renewing the vigor in the ongoing fight for women’s empowerment. To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we look back at the top 10 women’s rights victories of 2014:
1. For the first time in U.S. history, there are more than 100 women serving in Congress. The November 2014 elections brought the number of women currently serving in the House of Representatives to 81 and the number in the Senate to 20. Less than 100 years ago, only one woman was serving in Congress.
2. President Obama made paid maternity leave and affordable childcare a priority in his 2015 State of the Union address. Calling high-quality, affordable childcare “not a nice-to-have ,” but “a must-have,” the leader of the free world called upon the attendees in the House Chamber to recognize that childcare is a “national economic priority.” While it remains to be seen if any programs will be created, the president did display a near-unprecedented show of support for women-centric issues.
3. Pakistani activist for female education Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The 17-year-old was shot three times in the head by the Taliban in October of 2012 after she advocated for girls’ right to an education in the Swat Valley of Pakistan where the Taliban had tried to ban girls from attending school. After surviving the event, Yousafzai garnered international support and recognition for her tireless efforts and has continued her fight for girls’ access to education. In a speech to the United Nations in 2013, the Nobel Prize winner urged attendees to focus on the rights and opportunities young girls should have.
Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.
4. Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz garnered national attention for her performance art piece, titled “Carry That Weight,” in which Sulkowicz carried her twin-size mattress everywhere on campus in protest of the university’s decision to not expel her accused rapist. The protest inspired events like “Carry That Weight: Day of Action” across the nation and sparked an ongoing national dialogue about sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses.
5. #YesAllWomen became an international rallying cry for women and women-identified individuals to speak out against sexual harassment, misogyny and violence against women in 2014. Sparked in the wake of the Isla Vista shootings—in which Elliot Rodger posted a hate-spewing, violent manifesto displaying his intense resentment towards women and went on to kill six people and injure 14 others—the hashtag became emblematic of the shared experiences that everyday women are forced to endure. Reaching over 1 million tweets in roughly 48 hours, #YesAllWomen highlighted the pandemic nature of harassment and violence in the “rape culture” we live in and even led to the Obama Administration issuing a 20-page report aimed at combatting sexual assault on college campuses.
6. Women were on the front lines of protests across the nation, in the wake of the extrajudicial killings of 18-year-old Michael Brown of Ferguson and 43-year-old Eric Garner of Staten Island. Spurred by rampant police brutality and disproportionate state violence against people of color, the resulting protests, “die-ins” and conversations across the country provided an opportunity for disenfranchised communities to speak out. A prominent activist, Erika Totten, spoke about why women were leading the charge.
For actions that are actually being disruptive, and shutting things down, it’s Black women that are organizing, planning and leading these actions. Sometimes in many places we’re the better communicators. We don’t have a lot of ego that goes along with this, because we can connect with our sisters in knowing that this is my sister. What happens to her, happens to me.
To find out more about #BlackLivesMatter, check out Salon writer Brittney Cooper’s article about the women leading the movement in the latest issue of Ms.
7. Laverne Cox broke boundaries as the first transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy Award for her character Sophia Burset on the Netflix dramedy Orange Is the New Black, in addition to being featured on the cover of Time magazine. Cox, an ardent activist for trans rights, was also honored with the GLAAD Stephen F. Kolzak Award, given to “openly LGBT people who have made a significant difference in promoting equality for the community.”
8. British actress Emma Watson delivered her #HeForShe campaign speech at the United Nations, calling upon men to join the fight against gender inequality. With a slew of high-profile displays of support and the international media buzzing, Watson’s viral speech highlighted the importance of women’s empowerment in today’s world. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the campaign is “based in solidarity and a different insight into sustainability. It ‘flips the script’ so that men speak out for what we all know is right.” Although some feminists have been vocal about their critiques of Watson’s speech, #HeForShe shed light on women’s issues on an international level and increased public awareness on feminist issues.
9. California Governor Jerry Brown signed an affirmative consent bill into law, making it the first state in the nation “to have a clear definition of when people agree to have sex.” Also known as “Yes Means Yes,” the law states, “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.” As a result, other states are starting to discuss implementing similar laws, with a “growing revolution” of people engaging in the national dialogue about the importance of consent.
10. Beyoncé proudly displayed her feminism at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. Standing before a jumbotron with the word “FEMINIST” emblazoned behind her, the multi-GRAMMY Award winning artist redefined what it can mean to be a feminist in today’s day and age, brought feminism to the mainstream, and initiated a discussion about the merits and shortcomings of “Beyoncé Feminism.” Sampling Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech at TED talk, “We Should All Be Feminists,” Beyonce’s song “***Flawless” also features strong feminist undertones.