As we come to the end of 2019, it’s easy to look back and remember the bad, be it politics or environmental issues. But what is also clear is the role women have had in shaping our world for the better. Take Gina Miller and Baroness Hale, who stopped undemocratic politics in its tracks, or Greta Thunberg who, aged 16, has spearheaded the international climate change movement. There’s Lizzo who has served as a majestic poster child for body-positivity, while Phoebe Waller-Bridge has not only made us laugh and cry, but also proven how popular female-led, nuanced narratives are. Here, we celebrate and recognise 10 women who have influenced the way we live and think in 2019.
Just 18 months ago, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a waitress and bartender. Today, she represents the future of the US Democratic Party and is statistically the second most talked-about US politician after Trump. In November 2018, she became the youngest woman to serve in the United States Congress, winning the race for New York’s 14th district, aged just 29. Her tenure began this year, and the Hispanic activist and legislator has been hard at work, with highlights including the much-praised Green New Deal which battles economic and racial injustice while also fighting climate change. With her anti-poverty policy proposal and support of a single-payer healthcare system, combined with her progressive, inclusive slant on immigration, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – or AOC as she is also known – is a beacon of political hope, whose career is only just beginning. Photo: Getty
Jacinda Ardern’s sensitive and progressive handling of the March 2019 fatal terrorist attacks in two Christchurch mosques was a lesson to world leaders. Within of a week of the tragedy, in which an extremist shot 51 people in prayer, Ardern was prompted to drastically restrict New Zealand’s gun laws, banning the sale of all types of semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, she announced a period of mourning and made a powerful speech where she refused to refer to the attacker by his name, shifting the global focus from the gunman to the victims. Her decision to wear a hijab while meeting those affected by the incident was also seen as a mark of empathy and sensitivity. In the face of division, terror and hate, Adern was an example of hope, kindness and unity. Photo: Getty
This year, the fashion world has finally begun incorporating sustainable practices. Few have done so with as much passion or commitment as Bethany Williams, who tackles both social and environmental issues, reinventing the typical production process by turning it into a virtuous cycle. The unisex results are streetwear with a social conscience. Her talent and dedication have prompted widespread acclaim – in February, she was crowned the second recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Prize for Design, and to cap off a successful year, in December, she received the Fashion Awards’ prize for British Emerging Talent Menswear. While some of her peers’ approach to sustainability could be viewed as tokenism, Williams’ credentials are solid. She is living proof that luxury fashion need not contribute to the downfall of our planet, and an inspiration to brands that think it’s unsurmountable. Photo: Courtesy
What would the UK be like if it weren’t for Gina Miller? 2019 marked the second year that the businesswoman and campaigner took on the government and won. In 2018, she filed legal action against the government for trying to trigger Article 50 without parliament’s consent – and won. This year, she went up against Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament, a move she considered unlawful and undemocratic. Once again, the Supreme Court voted in her favour. What this meant was that Johnson was unable to push through his controversial Brexit plan without parliamentary scrutiny. For the second time, Miller, through sheer tenacity and passion, fought for British democracy. Photo: Getty
If Gina Miller led the legal proceedings against Boris Johnson’s attempted proroguing of parliament, Baroness Brenda Hale delivered the verdict. Ruling that the suspension was “unlawful, void and of no effect”, Hale stopped undemocratic politics in its tracks (while wearing a much-publicised spider brooch). The Leeds-born legal expert remains the first female head of the Supreme Court, and has long since fought for better gender representation among the UK’s high court. Photo: Getty
Anyone with an interest in popular culture will have been swept up by Phoebe Waller-Bridge fever in 2019. What began in 2016 with the first season of Fleabag and grew in 2018 with Killing Eve was amplified in 2019. The past 12 months have been Waller-Bridge’s year; in February, she gave us the second series of Fleabag and with it not only a hot priest, but also a sensitive, nuanced portrait of femininity, sisterhood and family. The ending (and you’ll find no spoilers here) was nothing short of perfect, a finale that redefined romance and what a happy ending really means in a modern age. At the 2019 Emmys, she won big, scooping three of the top categories including Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Hot off the back of her Fleabag success, she was enlisted to co-write the screenplay for forthcoming Bond film, No Time To Die, in the hope that she’d inject some of her signature wit and intelligence. Photo: Getty
Greta Thunberg, 16, has played a key role in the climate change movement that has swept the globe in 2019. She began skipping school to strike in late 2018, staging protests first solo – and later in huge numbers – outside the Swedish parliament. This year, she sailed to the US (avoiding carbon emissions caused by flying) and delivered a viral speech where she chastised world leaders for their treatment of environment. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she said. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you!” In December, she became the youngest individual ever to be named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. Photo: Getty
Lizzo is a joyful champion of body positivity. Her viral Glastonbury performance, where she was glorious in a shimmery leotard, resonated with people all over the world with perfectly-imperfect bodies. A poster child for self-acceptance and self-worth, the musician’s message is clear – be and love who you are and remember that your size doesn’t dictate what you want to wear. She has inspired and cheered millions with her empowered, uplifting song lyrics and her red-carpet choices have changed the way we look at beauty and style. She is, as she says herself, “100 per cent that bitch”. Photo: Getty
Elizabeth Warren may have dropped in the polls, but she still remains in the top three candidates to secure the US Democrat nomination in the 2020 presidential election. Could she be the woman who could finally take on Trump? Only time will tell, but for now she’s focusing on her campaign. Warren wants to bring about “big, structural change”, shifting power back towards working people and away from big corporations and the wealthy. A single parent turned Harvard professor turned senator, her key policy plans include cancelling student debt, creating a wealth tax and breaking up big tech companies. She has also attracted attention for her decision to forgo private fund-raisers and one-on-one meetings with big earners, traditionally used to cultivate a candidate’s relationships with the wealthy. Photo: Getty
If ever there was a clear indication of female achievement, it’s NASA’s first all-women spacewalk in October this year. Led by Jessica Meir and Christina Koch, the mission was delayed by a few months as there were no suitable-sized spacesuits available – only large, rather than the medium needed by the women, proving that space travel was formerly designed with men in mind. Refusing to be deterred, Meir and Koch still made the trip happen. On 18th October, they spent seven hours outside the International Space Station (ISS) replacing a failed power control unit. The history-making moment was recorded all round the world, highlighting what it meant in terms of gender parity. Writing in a piece for The Washington Post, the duo astronauts said: “The real achievement is the collective acknowledgment that it is no longer okay to move forward without everyone moving together. Photo: Getty
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR UK.