With so many of our rights in jeopardy, social justice advocates have had to work even harder to stand up for the causes they believe in.
Tackling voting rights, public health, reproductive justice and much more, here are Ms. magazine’s picks for our top feminists of 2022.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Best. Speaker. Ever.)
This November, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that while she will continue to serve as a member of the House, she will be stepping down as speaker: “We must boldly move into the future.”
Pelosi made history in 2007 when she was elected the first woman speaker of the House, but her legacy extends far beyond this landmark feat. Pelosi is a staunch feminist, a tireless advocate for women’s equality and the rights and freedoms of all Americans. Her fierce determination and her ability to find a way forward when every path seemed blocked, will be hard to match. “Organize, don’t agonize” was her mantra.
Though Pelosi’s time as speaker of the House is ending, her feminist legacy will never be forgotten.
Mahsa Amini and Other Iranian Women’s Rights Activists
After being arrested by Iran‘s morality police for inappropriately wearing her hijab, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, died on Sept. 16 in police custody. Since her death, Iranian women’s rights activists and allies have vociferously advocated for women’s rights—sparking a global movement protesting Iran’s policing of women’s bodies.
“Despite two public executions, looming threats against protesters and hundreds of daily arrests, including raiding the homes of celebrities and intellectuals who publicly oppose the government, the protesters continue to show up. The resistance continues. Strikes are taking place in every major industry. University students stage sit-ins, art installations or boycott classes. Eyewitness images and videos on social media capture the extent of unthinkable violence,” wrote Parisa Saranj in Ms. “The eyes of the world are on Iran.”
Abortion Providers and Clinic Workers
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, abortion providers and clinic workers have faced unprecedented hardship: Research from the Guttmacher Institute reveals 66 clinics across 15 states have been forced to stop offering abortions, and today, there are 14 states without a single abortion clinic.
Firsthand witnesses of the devastating effects of overturning Roe, abortion providers, clinic workers and women’s healthcare providers have continued to provide critical healthcare services like abortion and fight against abortion bans.
“It has become devastating to practice medicine,” said Dr. Ellie Ragsdale, an ob-gyn who specializes in high-risk obstetrics and fetal therapy at an academic medical center in Cleveland. “You come to work every day and hope that the decisions you make are the best decisions for your patients, and that those decisions don’t land you in jail.”
Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson
In June, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson officially took her seat on the Supreme Court, making her the first-ever Black woman to serve as a justice in the Court’s 233-year history.
“Though Jackson has served on the federal bench for nearly a decade, her career delivering equal justice for all is only beginning,” wrote the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “And just like the trailblazing jurists before her, Justice Jackson’s judicial legacy will inspire generations to come.”
During this year’s midterm elections, voters defended the right to abortion in six ballot measures and elected pro-choice candidates across the United States. A record number of women voters—especially young women—showed up for democracy and helped fight off a predicted “red wave.”
“If you put together the sheer size of the women’s vote, the intensity of the issue and the fact that, unlike inflation or the economy, the two parties have stark differences on the issue, you get a powerful driver of the vote,” wrote Elaine C. Kamarck and William A. Galston in Ms.
Women also make up 80 percent of election officials. Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election inspired threats and harassment against these officials. An eye-opening survey commissioned by NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice in mid-2021 found that “one in three election officials feel unsafe because of their job, and nearly one in five listed threats to their lives as a job-related concern.”
“Ahead of the midterms, many were concerned that election workers and voters would face intimidation or threats at polling places,” wrote Gowri Ramachandran in Ms. “How was it that this election, conducted in the midst of grave threats to our democracy, went so smoothly? In short, because many of the people who needed to step up did so.”
Over the years, Beyoncé has connected women across genders, races, sexualities and communities through her music art. But this year was one for the books.
Janell Hobson broke down Beyoncé’s monumental year in Ms.:
First, she performed her Oscar-nominated “Be Alive” (featured in the movie King Richard) on the same tennis court in Compton where the celebrated Williams sisters got their start.
She then released a summer anthem, “Break My Soul,” for the body-and-soul-weary world as we ventured outside on the other side of COVID, and ushered in a return to the dance-club sounds of yesteryear with her seventh solo album Renaissance, dedicated to the LGBTQ community, including her late “Uncle Johnny.”
Beyoncé also led a lovely farewell tribute to Serena Williams, courtesy of Gatorade, on the occasion of the G.O.A.T.’s “evolution” from tennis.
Even her encouraging text message to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, as captured in the Netflix docuseries, Harry and Meghan, illustrates how the Queen Bey is indeed the “queen of inspiration.”
U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team
In a historic victory, the U.S. Women’s National Team finally secured equal pay. The gender pay gap is a persistent issue within the U.S. and other nations, making the victory a monumental step towards eventually eliminating the pay gap. (Recent reforms are also helping to move the needle.)
“The USWNT has been agitating for equal pay for the last six years, as have fans,” wrote Susan Shaw in Ms. (You may recall the 2019 World Cup, after the women’s team’s won their fourth World Cup victory, the stadium erupted with chants for “equal pay! Equal pay!”)
“It’s so good. It’s such a proud moment for all of us,” USWNT forward Megan Rapinoe, who served as a face of the equal pay fight, said after the bargaining agreement was signed. “That same ‘never say die’ attitude we had on the field, that’s the same vibe we brought to this. So, it’s a super proud moment. Really excited for everyone and really excited to see where this pushes the game up.”
Afghan Women’s Rights Activists
Since the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, Afghanistan’s women—many of whom dedicated their lives and careers to working for equality—have experienced a systematic campaign of violence and subjugation. Over the last year, the Taliban have continued to decimate women’s rights, issuing edicts forbidding girls from attending secondary school and adult women from working outside the home, and mandating full-body coverings for women in public.
Many women have taken to the streets to protest, and in turn have been beaten, arrested, tortured and murdered.
“My friends and I continued to fight for our rights and freedoms until we were kidnapped by the Taliban intelligence department and thrown into prison,” Mursal Ayar, a human rights defender and CNN journalist, wrote in a firsthand account for Ms. “When I entered the cramped and dark Taliban prison, I had lost the hope of life and freedom. I did not think that I would be released. I did not believe I would see my family again. … During these 13 days full of persecution and pain, I felt as though I had lived 13 years of my life.”
“Afghan women activists said … the Taliban’s newly intensified attacks and threats against women are partly a response to Afghan women’s sustained demands and protests for basic rights—and to the high-profile women’s rights uprising in neighboring Iran,” wrote Belquis Ahmadi.
No Black woman has ever served as U.S. governor. A prominent Black woman lawmaker and activist, Stacey Abrams of Georgia was one of five Black women to run for the position during this year’s midterms.
Making history is nothing new for Abrams: In 2007, she became the first ever woman leader in the Georgia General Assembly and the first Black person to lead in the Georgia House of Representatives. And after witnessing the mismanagement of the 2018 election by Georgia’s secretary of state, Abrams launched Fair Fight to register voters and train voter protection teams in battleground states.
We can’t wait to see what she does next.
Vice President Kamala Harris
This January marks the two-year anniversary of Vice President Kamala Harris’ ascension to the second highest office of the United States. Vice President Harris is the first woman vice president and the first Black and South Asian vice president. Harris has been the target of gendered and racist criticism, but she has remained steadfast in her dedication to protecting democracy and furthering equality.
In office, she has helped to champion efforts ranging from the Inflation Reduction Act to the expansion of medication abortion and contraceptives. She also helped Biden pass the American Rescue Plan in 2021 and the Build Back Better Act in 2022, and has been the tie-breaking vote in the Senate on a number of important issues.
The Justices in Dissent of Dobbs
“With sorrow, we dissent.”
These were the words presented by three U.S. Supreme Court justices—Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—in dissent of Dobbs. Their counter-opinion blasted the conservative justices for overruling Roe and Casey “for one and only one reason: because [they have] always despised them, and now [have] the votes to discard them.”
With their words, the three dissenters gave voice to the millions of women harmed by the Dobbs decision.
“Above all others, women lacking financial resources will suffer from today’s decision. After this decision, some States may block women from traveling out of State to obtain abortions, or even from receiving abortion medications from out of State. Some may criminalize efforts, including the provision of information or funding, to help women gain access to other States’ abortion services.”
Brittney Griner—and the WNBA and Black Women Advocates Who Helped Her Get Home
After receiving a nine-year prison sentence to a Russian penal colony for possession of two marijuana vape cartridges, Brittney Griner spent 10 months living in the “land of prisons” in Russian custody before a one-to-one prisoner swap took place earlier this month.
“I was moved to tears,” LaTosha Brown, of the Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium, said of the moment she learned of Griner’s release. “I felt relieved; I felt hopeful. I always felt we would bring her home, I just didn’t know when. I believe Black women were instrumental in multiple ways.”
Griner played basketball in Russia for additional income during the U.S. WNBA’s off season. “This could have been wholly avoided if women were paid fairly in sports in the United States,” wrote Danesha Lewis for Ms. “WNBA players report a need to play overseas during their off-season for additional income. Griner has a maximum base salary of $227,900 in the WNBA, but in Russia, the 6-foot-9 star makes $1 million per season.”
Teachers on the Front Lines
Teachers—75 percent of whom are women—have faced numerous obstacles as students returned to in-person schooling. Now more than ever, teachers on the front lines are working hard to educate students in the midst of many global challenges.
As a result of time spent away from the classroom, many students have experienced gaps in learning. Educators across the country are also pushing back against laws that censor teachers and stifle classroom conversations.
Taylor Swift again broke numerous musical records this year with her new album Midnights, while speaking out against the misogynistic treatment of women in the music industry. And through her recent re-recordings, Swift has reclaimed ownership of her music and her name.
“Swift has grown more confident; she’s reclaimed (literally and symbolically) ownership of her name, works and ideas. She’s engaged more in feminist work. These parts of her were there all along, she says; she just needed more life experience and freedom from oppressive patriarchal systems to fully realize them,” wrote Juliette Holder in Ms.
House Champions of the ERA: Reps. Jackie Speier, Brenda Lawrence and Carolyn Maloney
The start of the new year will mark the 100-year anniversary of the introduction of the federal Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Reps. Jackie Speier, Brenda Lawrence, Carolyn Maloney and other feminists in Congress continue to advocate for a federal ERA, as they continuously call on the Senate to clear the way.
Though a federal ERA is yet to be ratified, 28 states have incorporated an ERA into their state constitutions.
Indigenous Women Activists Fighting the Line 5 Pipeline
Indigenous women continue to stand up for the protection of water, land and climate, by protesting the Line 5 pipeline—a project from Enbridge which has already spilled over a million gallons of oil.
“Over 80 percent of the biodiversity left on Earth is stewarded by Indigenous peoples, who are standing on the front lines to protect water, air, land, communities and the climate,” Osprey Orielle Lake and Katherine Quaid wrote in Ms. “This past year we’ve seen more of the terrible realities of the climate crisis around the world. Fossil fuels lie at the root of this worsening climate disruption, accounting for over 75 percent of global emissions.
“Communities continue to resist fossil fuel pipelines and infrastructure to avert the worst impacts of escalating interlocking crises. As Enbridge pushes ahead with its plans for Line 5, Indigenous women leaders and allied organizers are remaining vigilant, continuing to organize to prevent its development.”
For years, Amber Heard has accused Depp of psychological and physical violence and abuse, often triggered by drinking and drug use. The legal battle reached a head this summer when the two met in court over Depp’s lawsuit against Heard for defamation over a 2018 op-ed in the The Washington Post. In it, she urged support for the Violence Against Women Act and called for a change in how the U.S. treats survivors. Depp was not mentioned in the op-ed. In the end, the Fairfax County, Va., jury returned a split verdict; Depp won his suit against Heard; she won a smaller, $2 million judgement on a counterclaim she filed. Last week, Heard and Depp announced they would be settling the defamation lawsuits against each other.
In an Instagram post, Heard called the settlement “an opportunity to emancipate myself from something I attempted to leave over six years ago and on terms I can agree to,” and she indicated it wasn’t an admission of guilt. “My unprotected testimony served as entertainment and social media fodder,” she continued. “I was exposed to a type of humiliation that I simply cannot re-live.”
Study after study shows just 2-10 percent of rape and assault accusations are proven false. In fact, official figures suggest unreported instances of sexual violence far outweigh the number of men convicted on fake accusations.
“In the Depp v. Heard trial, behaviors that are common to survivors were relentlessly mocked and misunderstood,” said Dr. Emma Katz, author of Coercive Control in Children’s and Mothers’ Lives. “These common survivor behaviors—including covering injuries with makeup and leaving your abuser then arranging to meet with them again—were widely condemned as signs of deception. Many survivors watched these public conversations unfold with dread, as the question, ‘Will I be believed if I come forward?’ seemed to be met with a resounding ‘no.’”
“When choosing what to believe, who to blame, and whether to care, even well-intentioned people are primed to dismiss allegations of abuse,” wrote Deborah Tuerkheimer in Ms.
Dr. Rebecca Gomperts
A Dutch physician, Dr. Rebecca Gomperts is a pioneer in the space of medication abortion, founding several organizations and innovating creative ways for increasing abortion access across the globe. Her latest, Aid Access, seeks “to create social justice and improve the health status and human rights of women who do not have the possibility of accessing local abortion services” and has helped over 30,000 people around the world receive abortion care.
“We provide an online consultation, where pregnant people are asked about their health condition, how long they’ve been pregnant and any possible contraindications to the use of the abortion pills, which are very few,” Gomperts told Ms. editor Carrie Baker. “Then the consultations are reviewed by a team of doctors. We also ask for identification … Then I prescribe the medication and the prescriptions are filled by a pharmacist in India. He ships it to the U.S. … The prescription is provided quite quickly after the online consultation and after receiving the payment, or if they cannot afford it, then it’s donated.”
Her work as taken on a new urgency in the wake of Roe v. Wade’s overturn.
“if you can prevent abortion, you can keep people poor. And when you keep people poor, you can control them,” said Gomperts. “Poor people have no voice in most places. In any normal-thinking democratic country, you would think, I can decide that for myself and somebody else can decide that for themselves as well. But the reality is with the way that religion in the U.S., it has been used to restrict people’s rights.”
Ukrainian Women on the Front Lines
After Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine earlier this year, Ukrainian women stepped up to resist Russian troops and bolster Ukraine’s defense.
Some volunteered as soldiers, taking up roles on the front lines of the war. Women constitute as much as 15 percent to 17 percent of the Ukrainian fighting force.
Ukrainian women have also experienced wartime sexual violence: Rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy are among the war crimes reportedly suffered by women and girls in Ukraine. Many have bravely spoken out about their experiences in an effort to end sexual violence across the globe.
Demonstrations continue. The resistance persists. “The International Criminal Court has launched an investigation, and we can hope justice will prevail,” wrote Jessica Neuwirth in Ms. “The way forward is through people power, and women are leading the charge.”
The CEO of Springboard to Opportunities, Aisha Nyandoro is a tireless advocate for change—starting right in her hometown of Jackson, Miss.
In the fall of 2018, Springboard announced The Magnolia Mother’s Trust (MMT), an initiative that provides low-income, Black mothers $1,000 cash on a monthly basis, no strings attached, for 12 months straight. Ms.’ Front and Center series provides a national platform for these women to share their experiences receiving a guaranteed income. In these essays, they share their struggles, their children, their work, their relationships, their dreams for the future, and how a federal guaranteed income program, coupled with expanding the child tax credit (CTC), could change their lives.
All of this would not be possible without Nyandoro—a social justice warrior dedicated to bringing Black women and their stories into the spotlight.
Editor’s note: Sophia Panigrahi provided research and editorial assistance for this article.
U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.