I don’t know if 2018 was truly the Year of the Woman as many are calling it, but it was definitely the year that saw a lot of people talking about women’s issues, thanks in part to a plethora of jaw dropping moments brought to us by President Trump, a perplexing U.S. judicial system, and a morally wayward entertainment industry. (Note to reader: Never have I so openly embraced the stereotypical notion that Canadians are just a wee bit boring, nor appreciated so dearly our understated and well-mannered process for appointing justices to our Supreme Court.)
There were definitely too many low moments for women in 2018 – the Harvey Weinstein scandal that resulted in a tsunami of #MeToo revelations across numerous industries, the Brett Kavanaugh nomination hearings that broadcast for all the world to see (literally and figuratively) why sexual assault victims often don’t come forward, and the sickening revelation that Dr. Larry Nassar of USA Gymnastics was allowed to abuse hundreds of young girls for more than 25 years because those in charge refused to believe his victims, some of whom spoke up as early as 1997. These were stark reminders that the fight for equality is far from over.
If something good came out of such tragedies, it was perhaps the fact that issues long swept under the carpet became topics of conversation not only on weekly talk shows, but at board room and kitchen tables all across North America and beyond. Fathers, brothers, husbands, uncles – many thoughtful and caring men took the time to ask about the lived experience of their daughters, wives, sisters, friends and colleagues, often hearing firsthand, and some for the first time, the banality of everyday microaggressions that women have long endured.
Fortunately, it wasn’t all bad news in 2018. There were incredible moments that celebrated remarkable women, including:
- Emma Gonzalez, survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, who bravely delivered an emotional and stirring call-to-action speech during a Florida anti-gun rally, and in so doing, gave voice to a new generation of young people, not afraid to challenge the status quo;
- Nadia Murad, a 25-year-old Yazidi woman, who turned the horror of being held captive by ISIS into a Nobel Peace Prize, awarded for her campaign to free the Yazidi people and end human trafficking;
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a political novice who beat 10-term incumbent Joe Crowley to secure the Democratic nomination, going on to become the youngest woman (age 29) ever elected to the United States House of Representatives. (Canadian shout-out, however, to Lauren Liu who, at the age of 20, was the youngest woman elected to the House of Commons in 2011, representing the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.);
- Dr. Donna Strickland, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo, who shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics for her pioneering work with chirped pulse amplification (Note to reader: I looked it up but I still don’t get it), making her only the 3rd woman in history to win the esteemed award. (Fun fact: Dr. Strickland’s daughter Hannah Dykaar thought her mom’s phone had been hacked when she received the early-morning text from her mother telling her about winning the prize.);
- Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs and, according to the Globe and Mail, honorary “warrior princess”, who brought an unflappable and skillful approach to NAFTA renegotiations, leading to her be named 2018 Diplomat of the Year by Foreign Policy magazine;
- Ausma Zehanat Khan, author and alumna of our dear Trafalgar Castle School, who, this year, published two (yes, two!) new novels, A Dangerous Crossing and The Black Khan, adding to her growing list of literary achievements. Ausma uses her background in international human rights law to explore sensitive and provocative topics such as religion, identity, immigration, genocide and politics. She is a role model for our Trafalgar students, demonstrating the importance of bravely using one’s voice to foster deeper mutual understanding in an increasingly divided world.
These are just a handful of women. I highlight them because their stories spoke to me at some point during this past year. They are but a few in a long list of women across Canada and around the world who did great things in 2018. Some received media attention and public accolades for their work but most did not.
Most women I know demonstrated their greatness this year in very ordinary but important ways – volunteering in their community, striving to bring meaning to the work they do in the workplace or at home, giving of their time to causes that are important to them, mentoring younger women, supporting and being supported by friends, and trying (only sometimes successfully) to model self-care while tirelessly caring for others. It is to these women that I say thank you for bringing meaning to 2018. Happy New Year, and may your everyday greatness continue to shine throughout 2019 as you deliver yet another 365 days of remarkably ordinary yet ever-so-important achievements.