As we gear up to welcome 2017, the voices from 2016 stay with us.
These are not just voices of women, but also of men who call themselves feminists and believe that both men and women can shoulder the responsibility to bring the change we need to see in the world.
Voices that inspired and motivated women, yet others made us angry and a few left us in tears. These are voices that women will remember; voices that made 2016 special. The voices that are vital because they remind us of what we have achieved and how far we still are from our goal.
Of the multiple speeches, talk shows, and events where Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States, spoke this year, what touched a cord was her speech during a campaign rally at New Hampshire, US, in mid-October, calling out Trump.
This isn’t about politics, it’s about basic human decency and wrong. We can’t endure it. Now is the time for all of us to say – enough is enough,
she said in her speech. Calling out Trump (at that time the Presidential candidate and now the President-elect) for his disrespectful attitude towards women and his shameful comments on women's bodies, their hopes, aspirations, and dreams.
Michelle highlighted the importance of women taking up a stand and speaking up. She pointed out, "If all of this is painful to us as women then how's it impacting our young girls and more importantly the men and boys in our country. Fathers, brothers, sons and husbands are worried about the impact it is having on our young boys who are looking for role models who can show what it is to be a man."
The best way to lead is to lead by example and Michelle did just that.
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg’s commencement speech at the Graduation of Class of 2016 at Berkley in May this year was inspiring.
A very emotional and tearful Sheryl opened up about her husband Dave’s death, the challenges of being a single parent that she had not understood while writing her book Lean In, dealing with grief, and how she was impacted by his loss.
Dave’s death changed me in very profound ways. I learned about the depth of sadness and the brutality of loss. But I also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, find the surface and breathe again. I learned that in the face of void and in the face of any challenge, you can choose joy and meaning.
Sheryl spoke candidly about being a single mom and the challenges single parents face.
“The loss of a partner often has severe negative financial consequences, especially for women. So many single mothers and fathers struggle to make ends meet, and don’t get the time off they need to take care of their families.”
While we often talk about finding lessons in life, Sheryl said she found hers in death. Though she continues to grapple with the loss and the void it brings, she has not lost track of the clouds with a silver lining in her life and that is inspirational.
Madonna has been called a slut and a whore. She has lived through being bullied and even harassed and raped. Recently while accepting the Billboard Women in Music Award, 2016, she bared her emotions and spoke about sexism, misogyny, and feminism in the music industry and how it connected with her own life.
She concluded with an important message: “As women, we have to start appreciating our own worth and each other’s worth. Seek out strong women to befriend, to align yourself with, to learn from, to be inspired by, to collaborate with, to support, to be enlightened by. As I said before, it is not so much about receiving this award as much as having this opportunity to stand before you and really say thank you as a woman, as an artist, as a human not only to people who have loved and supported me but to the doubters, the naysayers, to everyone who gave me hell, and said I could not, that I would not, I must not – your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, made me the fighter that I am today. Made me the woman that I am today so thank you.”
Barack Obama, President of the United States of America
I may be a little greyer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like.
President Barack Obama spoke candidly at the first White House, United States of Women Summit this year.
His message touched upon the contribution of American women across the generations, the work his administration had done in the context of women, his perspective as a father of two girls, and what needed to change.
He emphasised how a change in attitude would help us get to a society that we need. He said,
“We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive; that criticises our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to change the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality but gives men a pat on the back for theirs. We need to change an internet where women are routinely harassed and threatened when they go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing the diaper, stigmatises full-time dads, and penalises working moms. We need to keep changing the attitude that prioritises being confident, competitive, and ambitious in the workplace - unless you are a woman.”
The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau showed he was a true feminist. This year he spoke about being a feminist and showed the world how important and essential it is for men to be the harbingers of change.
In his acceptance speech for the Catalyst award in New York City in March, he spoke about the importance of empowerment, accountability, courage, and humility. He said, “Now many of you know that I am a feminist and proud to call myself one. I know and believe that women can do and be anything they want. But I also know that meaningful cultural change can’t and won’t happen when only half the population works towards change. Men need to act, to be able to set examples and be role models too. Men have a critical role to play in demanding and supporting the societal shift. We need to speak out in support of gender equality and gentlemen we need to get comfortable about identifying ourselves as feminists because at the end of that day it is accountability.”
On the final day of the Democratic National convention, Hillary Clinton spoke about making history. As the first woman nominated by a major party to run for president, Hillary showed all women across the world that now more than ever, little girls can aspire to be anyone they want to be and do anything that they want, for sky's the limit.
She said, “Tonight, we've reached a milestone in our nation's march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for President. Standing here as my mother's daughter, and my daughter's mother, I'm so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers, and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too – because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit. So let's keep going until every one of the 161 million women and girls across America has the opportunity she deserves. Because even more important than the history we make tonight, is the history we will write together in the years ahead.”
In her speech she said, “Everywhere we look today, you can see the advancement of man, how the human mind has basically invented, created, and built a whole new world. Yet strangely, every time I have been on that field I’ve wondered how that same human mind continues to allow the exploitation of children across the world, where girls are being denied to go to school, where children are living without clean water, medical care, protection, even food. Where their bodies and minds are unprotected from violence, abuse, and exploitation. Where they are targets of war.”
Priyanka pledged her support to children and also appealed others to support this cause.
“I recently read a quote somewhere that ‘being human is given but keeping our humanity is our choice’. So let’s choose humanity. Let’s chose to act now. Let’s chose to fight now and let’s choose to create a better world for our children and their children and the generations to come. My wish for children is freedom. The freedom to think, the freedom to live.”
British actor, model, and activist Emma Watson was appointed as the UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador in 2014. The same year, she delivered a speech to the UN on feminism and the HeForShe campaign launched by UN.
This year, she started a feminist Goodreads book club: Our Shared Shelf and kept leaving free feminist books in the New York subways. This year, she addressed the "Together for the 2030 Agenda: Partnering for Women, Children and Adolescents, to Thrive and Transform the World” event at UN headquarters in New York.
She said, “As we leave home for the first time to study at the places we have worked so hard to get, we must not see or experience double standards. We need to see equal respect, leadership, and pay. The university experience should tell women that their brainpower is valued and not just that but that they belong within the leadership of the university itself and so importantly right now. The experience must make it clear that the safety of women, minorities and anyone who may be vulnerable, is a right and not a privilege. A right that will be respected by a community that believes and supports survivors, and recognises that when one person's safety is violated everyone feels their own safety is violated.”
American comedian, playwright, writer, and director Director Jill Soloway won her second consecutive Emmy Award for Transparent, a comedy series.
In her acceptance speech she said, “I’ve always wanted to be part of a movement – civil rights movement, the feminist movement, this TV show allows me to take my dreams about my unlikeable Jewish people, queer folk, trans folk, and make them the heroes. Thank you to the trans community for your lived lives. We need to stop violence against transgender women and topple the patriarchy. Topple the patriarchy.”
Veteran American actress and singer, Meryl Streep in her closing speech at the 2016 Women in the World Summit spoke about how far women have come in the years and how they are emerging stronger with time.
She said, “Women didn’t always used to be in the world. We used to be hidden, at home, in the harem, or held on a pretty short leash.
Although women still have a long way to go to truly achieve equality, Meryl wants to remind us that we’ve come a long way in the last century.
A little bit more than a hundred years ago, which is a fraction of a millisecond on the whole human clock, most of us, our priorities, our concerns, our achievements were invisible…. For thousands of years, in most cultures, the voices of women did not resound in the halls of justice, or from the pulpit or the podium, in parliament, at senates, at court, or in the very important meetings of very important men where the course of history was set.
Meryl said women’s inclusion in the world at large is a truly revolutionary accomplishment and technology to a large extent has made it possible.
You could make a case that, along with the technological revolution, the most provocative upending destabilising thrilling change in the course of human history is that we’re finally in it. There are people who are happy about it and there are those who are not, but we women can help those who can’t. We who are in the room have to make room. We who are at the table have to set a place for others. We’re here now, women are in the world, and we will not be bullied.
To the doubters, naysayers, and to all who want to keep women on the sidelines, the time is up. Women will not be pushed, bullied, or kept out is a clear message that not just these world leaders, actors, activists but so many others delivered this year. 2016 has set the tone for the change that we look forward to in 2017.