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Milestones in women's history from the year you were born

  • 1979: UN adopts the Women's Bill of Rights

    The United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women netted another huge win for women's rights when the General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on Dec. 18, 1978. The most comprehensive document the office has produced to date, the treaty defines equality, lays out clear steps on how to achieve it, and requires countries that sign CEDAW to actively work for women's rights. As of 2015, 189 countries adopted the resolution, making CEDAW the second most ratified UN human rights treaty.

  • 1980: First democratically elected female president takes office

    Five years after a women's strike ground Icelandic society to a halt, citizens elected their first female president, the first democratically elected female president in the world. Vigdís Finnbogadóttir's 16-year-long presidency put her in a mostly ceremonial role, but she enjoyed actively promoting her country abroad. After her victory, Icelandic women's representation in their government shot up to the highest levels of any country without a quota system, and Iceland is now one of the most gender-equal countries in the world.

  • 1981: First woman is appointed to the Supreme Court

    Even though Sandra Day O'Connor graduated third in her class (and a year early) from Stanford Law School, the Texas-born lawyer struggled to overcome gender discrimination and find work in her field. She eventually earned her way into the courtroom, then began a career in Texas state politics. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan nominated her to the Supreme Court, and she was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Before her retirement in 2006, O'Connor was known for defending women's rights from the bench, even blocking a case that would have overturned Roe v. Wade.

  • 1982: First African American principal ballerina leads a U.S. company

    When Debra Austin joined the Pennsylvania Ballet as its principal dancer, she became the first African American woman to lead a major American ballet company. Others have attributed the title to Lauren Anderson, who rose to the same position in Houston the same year Austin retired in Pennsylvania. In an art form that has long struggled with racism, both women were history-makers and positive influences for aspiring ballerinas today.

    [Pictured: Ballet Dancer Lauren Anderson, arriving at ABC's "Scandal" 100th Episode Celebration on April 8, 2017, in West Hollywood, California.]

  • 1983: Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space

    The U.S. might have won the Space Race by putting a man on the moon, but the Soviet Union put the first woman in space in 1963, two decades before the Americans managed the feat. Of course, that doesn't make Sally Ride's trip to the stars any less monumental. As the first American woman and youngest astronaut to go to space, Ride inspired generations of girls and worked to promote women in science long after she hung up the space suit for good.

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  • 1984: First woman is selected VP candidate for a major political party

    Geraldine Ferraro's career as a lawyer in New York, and later as a leading Democratic politician, was marked by her dedication to women's rights. She established a special victims unit as an assistant district attorney in Queens and kept her seat in a conservative New York House district despite her progressive voting record. Ferraro's ambition helped her climb the ranks of the party before she became Walter Mondale's running mate in his 1984 presidential campaign against Ronald Reagan. Reagan was re-elected in a landslide, but Ferraro remained an important voice in party politics until her death in 2011.

  • 1985: Guerilla Girls forms

    The Guerilla Girls were formed in New York City by a group of anonymous female artists tired of sexism and racism holding back women and people of color in the art world. Wearing gorilla masks and going by the names of famous deceased female artists, the collective still works today in hopes of using art to reveal “gender and ethnic bias, as well as corruption in politics, art, film, and pop culture” to the wider public.

  • 1986: Oprah becomes first woman to own and produce her own talk show

    After overcoming an abusive childhood, a young Oprah Winfrey briefly worked in radio and TV broadcasting. Later, she landed her own chat show in Baltimore, Maryland, which eventually became the area's #1 show. She went on to star in Steven Spielberg's 1985 adaptation of “The Color Purple,” and Oprah used that success to launch a nationally syndicated talk show. Running until 2011, the program turned Oprah into a household name. Though many fans want her to run for president, she's fine with running her OWN TV network instead.

  • 1987: First woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

    Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and one of the most powerful singers of modern music, received the r-e-s-p-e-c-t her talent deserved when she became the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. One of the most awarded artists in history, her induction opened doors for other black female musicians. Of the 50-plus women inducted after Franklin, more than half are African American.

  • 1988: Switzerland establishes Federal Office of Gender Equality

    Swiss civil law still explicitly said that women's roles were as traditional homemakers until 1988. That year, new changes went into effect that wrote gender equality between the sexes into law and established the Federal Office of Gender Equality (FOGE) to enforce the mandates. Though it has struggled at times, FOGE took home the 2018 United Nations Public Service Award due to its ongoing commitment to ensuring equal pay in Switzerland.



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