2009: Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is signed into law
After years of fighting for equal pay, women still make on average 77 cents for every $1 a man makes. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed by President Obama in January 2009, allows women to file for wage discrimination suits within 180 days of their most recent paycheck, rather than from their first paycheck on the job. The law was named after Goodyear employee Lilly Ledbetter, who was awarded $3.3 million after discovering she made less than a male manager.
2010: First woman wins Oscar for Best Director
Kathryn Bigelow took home two of the Oscars’ biggest prizes—Best Director and Best Picture—for “The Hurt Locker,” a dramatization of the Iraq war. Lauded by critics for her tight, suspenseful action sequences and realistic depictions of soldiers at war, she bested a cadre of well-known male directors (including her ex-husband, “Avatar” director James Cameron) and shattered the stereotype that women can only be successful directing films about women.
2011: Saudi Arabian women protest driving ban
Saudi Arabia was the last country in the world that prevented women from taking the wheel. But in 2011, Saudi women's rights activists used social media to organize a protest of this rule and grabbed the world's attention. They made some headway—one female driver was given a ticket rather than being arrested when she was pulled over—and the ban was finally lifted in 2018.
2012: UN passes resolution to ban FGC
Female genital cutting (FGC) is a traditional but harmful cultural practice in many countries that affects an estimated 100 to 140 million women and girls around the world. Ending FGC has become a key issue for human rights advocates internationally, and on Dec. 20, 2012, they scored a huge win in the United Nations, when the General Assembly unanimously voted to ban the practice. It set Feb. 6 as the International Day of Zero Tolerance, but the practice persists since the UN has no means to enforce it.
2013: Pentagon announces end to ban on women in combat
The formation of the Women's Auxiliary Corp in the 1940s marked the first time women could officially serve in the U.S. military in some capacity, but even as more roles opened, women were still banned from direct combat. The Pentagon announced plans to lift the final official barrier for women in the military in 2013, in an effort seemingly driven by the military itself. It went into full effect in 2015.
2014: Malala Yousafzai wins the Nobel Peace Prize
Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai had been an advocate for girls' education from a young age, but she came to global notice at the age of 15, when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for her outspokenness. Yousafzai gave a powerful speech at the United Nations on her 16th birthday, stating "We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” In 2014, she became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and she continues to use her global platform to speak out while continuing her own education at Oxford University.
2015: Emma Sulkowicz carries her mattress across campus
Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz's year-long visual arts thesis, “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight),” became a flashpoint in the ongoing conversation about sexual assault on college campuses. Sulkowicz—who uses they/them pronouns—carried a dorm mattress from September 2014 to May 2015, using art as a way to protest the school's failure to remove the student they alleged sexually assaulted them from campus. Since then, they've continued using art to bring attention to issues of sexual violence and harassment while universities continue to grapple with an issue that affects 23% of women in college.
2016: Hillary Clinton becomes first female presidential candidate for a major party
Eight years after losing the 2008 Democratic presidential primary to Barack Obama, former First Lady Hillary Clinton wrote her own name into the history books when she beat Bernie Sanders to win the 2016 Democratic nomination. Gender played a role throughout the election; the late-breaking tape showing Donald Trump making lewd comments about women made Clinton the clear favorite for many in the campaign's final days. The 2016 election saw the biggest gap in men and women's voting in history.
2017: #MeToo movement takes off
In October 2017, The New York Times and The New Yorker released stories detailing horrific allegations of sexual assault against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, and a pervasive culture of sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. A few days later, actress Alyssa Milano reignited the #MeToo movement started by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, encouraging women to share their stories. As more stories emerge, #MeToo continues to spark an international conversation about sexual assault and harassment, and what the world can do to fix it.
2018: Record-breaking number of women are elected to Congress
1992 was America's first “Year of the Woman” after Anita Hill's Senate testimony inspired record-breaking numbers of women to run for—and win—seats in Congress. Donald Trump's presidency, the #MeToo movement, and Christine Blasey Ford's Senate testimony about an alleged assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, were among the factors that drove record gains by women in the House, as well as historic firsts at the state and local levels.
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