1. Thuli Madonsela named ‘extraordinary’ woman

Just days before leaving the office of the Public Protector in the last quarter of the year, advocate Thuli Madonsela was named one of five “five extraordinary women who are responding to leadership challenges of the 21st century” by Swedish foundation Tällberg. Thuli, who – during her tenure – bravely challenged President Jacob Zuma on the Nklandla case and his dealings with the Gupta family, was selected from 260 nominees around the world and recognised for her efforts in fighting corruption and pursuing justice.

‘At a time of growing doubts about the efficacy of leadership in many countries, these five women demonstrate that individual leaders who are innovative, ethical, determined and willing to take great risks are capable of coping with the challenges of the 21st century,’ says the foundation. #Womanpower!

2. Beyoncé performs ‘Formation’ during the Super Bowl (and drops Lemonade a few months later)

Beyoncé used her platform at the Super Bowl half-time show to bring attention to Black Lives Matter with her electrifying performance of ‘Formation’, which also paid homage to the Black Panthers and Malcolm X. The pop star’s music affirmed black identity and black power in a year that has been marked by heightened racial tension and anger over police brutality. Beyoncé’s Lemonade — hailed by Billboard as a ‘revolutionary work of black feminism’ — released as a visual album, was called the best album of the year by Rolling Stone.

3. Lady Gaga performs with victims of sexual assault

Lady Gaga shed light on sexual assault with her powerful song ‘Til It Happens to You’, which she co-wrote with Diane Warren for the Hunting Ground documentary about college campus sexual assault. Her performance at the Oscars was even more breathtaking: Introduced by vice president Joe Biden, who has led a nationwide initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses, Lady Gaga appeared on stage with 50 survivors of sexual assault (and the musician herself is also a survivor). “It gets better, it gets better, in time,” she sang.

4. #RememberKhwezi silent protest

Four women made history in 2016 when they stood in front of President Jacob Zuma as he made a speech at the election results centre in August. Holding placards that made reference to his rape charges 10 years ago by a woman known publicly as Khwezi until her death in October, when her name was revealed: Fezekile ‘Khwezi’ Kuzwayo. Zuma was acquitted. Before being physically pushed out the venue by bodyguards, the activists held placards that read ‘khanga’, ’10 years later’ and ‘remember Khwezi’ as well as ‘I am 1 in 3’, in solidarity with Fezekile, who fled South Africa after the trial.

At the time of the protest, Fezekile was thankful for the solidarity shown, according to a report.

‘Khwezi really appreciates the solidarity. She really appreciates the fact that there’s this community of women that she’s part of, that are pro-women, that are feminists and that will fight to liberate this country,’ said the campaign’s Kwezi Mbandazayo.

5. The Supreme Court makes landmark abortion ruling

Though abortion rights may once again be in peril due to president-elect Trump’s promise to appoint pro-life judges, the Supreme Court protected abortion rights in a landmark ruling that found that a Texas law requiring abortion providers meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers and doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals placed an undue burden on those seeking an abortion. The law, if upheld, would have resulted in the closure of 75% of the state’s abortion clinics. The ruling was a significant victory for abortion rights, which have been threatened across the country by hundreds of similar laws.

6. Hillary Clinton makes history as the first female presidential nominee of a major party

Although Clinton didn’t end up becoming the first woman president of the United States, she broke a major barrier by becoming the first presidential nominee of a major party. She did so by putting women at the center of her platform, offering progressive policies such as enacting paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, and fighting for reproductive rights. Celebrating her historic nomination at the DNC, Clinton said, ‘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.’

7. Women make Olympic history

Simone Biles, 19, made history in her first Olympics by becoming the first US gymnast to ever win four gold medals and has been hailed as the ‘greatest gymnast of all time’ by the New Yorker. Swimmer Katie Ledecky, who at 19 is the youngest person on the US swim team, broke the world record in the 800m and 400m freestyle, and became the second woman ‘to sweep the 200, 400 and 800 frees at an Olympics’ since Debbie Meyers in 1968, according to Sports Illustrated. Other impressive firsts: Simone Manuel became the first black woman to win gold in an individual swimming event; Michelle Carter, 30, became the first American woman to win gold in shot put; and Ibtihaj Muhammad, 30, became the first American woman to medal while wearing a hijab. Allyson Felix, 30, became the most decorated female track and field athlete in Olympic history, earning her seventh Olympic medal at the Rio games. Kim Rhode, a 37-year-old double trap and skeet shooter, became the first woman to medal in six consecutive Olympic Games.

8. Ashley Graham covers Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit Issue

Model Ashley Graham (and Cosmopolitan’s August cover girl) made history when she landed the cover of Sports Illustrated’s illustrious swimsuit issue this year. Graham, who at size 14 is one size smaller than the average American woman, wants to do away with the term plus-size with the hope that the modeling industry moves toward accepting all body types. ‘I hope in the next year people will stop saying “plus-size”, and they’ll just say, “She’s a model.” I think that the day is coming,, she told the Daily Beast in February. ‘There are all kinds of descriptions for models. My favourite is curvasexalicious. And I taste good.’

9. Hijab-wearing Muslim women go mainstream in fashion

In a year that has seen the rise of Islamophobia, it was heartening to see mainstream magazines and major fashion outlets embrace the hijab. Playboy featured its first hijab-wearing Muslim woman, as did Women’s Running. Dolce & Gabbana started a hijab and abaya line for Muslim women and Indonesian designer Anniesa Hasibuan made history at New York Fashion Week when she cast every model of her show in a hijab. For the first time ever, CoverGirl put a hijab-wearing woman, beauty blogger Nura Afia, in its ads. Somali-American Halima Aden, 19, became the first woman to compete for the Miss Minnesota USA title while clothed in Muslim attire — a hijab and, for the swimsuit competition, a burkini. Though Aden did not win the competition, she may have been successful in her goal to challenge stereotypes. “For a really long time I thought being different was a negative thing. But as I grew older, I started to realize we are all born to stand out, nobody is born to blend in,” she told CBS News. “How boring would this world be if everyone was the same?”

10. Anti-tampon tax legislation gains traction

Activists in America (and across the world) have been calling out their governments for taxing feminine hygiene as luxury goods. The effort is complicated in the United States, where taxes are regulated at the state and local level; as of early 2016, only five states exempted tampons from taxation. The movement saw some success in May when New York repealed the tax and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation that made feminine hygiene products free in public building restrooms. Chicago has also scrapped the tax, as have Washington, D.C., Illinois, and Connecticut. President Obama even criticized the tax during an interview with YouTuber Ingrid Nilsen. “I have to tell you — I have no idea why states would tax these as luxury items,” he said. “I suspect it’s because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.”

11. Michelle Obama delvers a rousing, emotional speech about sexual assault

Michelle Obama delivered a raw, poignant speech against Donald Trump and rape culture while campaigning for Hillary Clinton. The speech was quickly hailed the best speech of the election season, and expressed the pain and anger of millions of women who’d been troubled by Trump’s comments boasting about sexual assault and the numerous sexual assault allegations that have come out against him since. While it’s horrifying that a presidential candidate (and now president-elect) stands accused of multiple incidences of sexual assault, Obama’s speech validated the fear and anger felt by millions of Americans, and gave strength to survivors who all too often face stigma for speaking up.

12. More women of colour move into the senate than ever before

California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto, and Illinois’s Tammy Duckworth were elected to the Senate in 2016, quadrupling the number of women of color in the Senate. Since 2012, Hawaii’s Marie Hizono has been the only woman of color in the Senate. Furthermore, each of these newly elected women made history: Harris as the first Indian-American woman in the Senate; Cortez Masto as the first Latina; and Duckworth as the first Thai-American woman. On that note, Washington’s Pramila Jayapal also made history, becoming the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives, as did Minnesota’s Ihan Omar — the first Somali-American to be elected to a state legislature.

Via Cosmopolitan US