Looking back at 2016 it is undeniable that we have had a disheartening year; from the trauma of a Brexit vote to the inhumane treatment of refugees and the election of a misogynistic xenophobe over in the USA. However, in the interests of optimism, let’s look at some of the little victories that the movement for social equality has celebrated this year.


Refugee athletes at the Rio 2016 Olympics. They are standing in a line in an airport, wheeling suitcases and smiling.
Refugee athletes who competed at the Rio 2016 Olympics {Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons}
 The 2016 Olympics were a very controversial topic this year but, whilst world leaders all but turned their backs on the millions of refugees that have been displaced by conflict, the International Olympic Committee extended a hand of solidarity by creating the Team of Refugee Olympic Athletes. Although doing next to nothing to combat the crisis itself, the gesture at least sent the inspiring message that refugees are still part of the international community – even if they aren’t receiving asylum, respectful treatment or basic human rights.


At the tail end of 2015, the American Dialect Society named singular “they”, a gender neutral pronoun, as the word of the year. In a dramatic turn of events, 2016 has been even better for the acceptance of non-binary people – those whose gender is neither male nor female.

National Geographic published a full issue on the “shifting landscape of gender”, presenting non-binary people as well as trans and intersex (those who do not match the typical biological characteristics of a male or female sex) people, effectively starting an international conversation about how societies perceive sex and gender.

Meanwhile, Merriam-Webster unabashedly added the term “genderqueer” to their dictionary, a term used to describe non-binary individuals. In June the annual Rabbinical Assembly, an association of Jewish rabbis, reaffirmed the rights and identities of non-binary people. Most recently, TFL revealed plans to scrap binary gender specific announcements such as “ladies and gentleman” after the Green Party of England and Wales Equalities (LGBTIQA) spokesperson and transgender woman Aimee Challenor was told she “didn’t sound like a miss” by staff. Speaking to Bright Green, Aimee said “Transport for London making its announcements across the network gender neutral gives the trans and non-binary community hope that even big companies are now willing to make changes to accommodate us.”

Body positivity

The diversity of human bodies finally achieved some level of recognition in pop culture this year – in particular in the form of toys as Mattel released 4 different Barbie doll body types including shorter and curvier versions of the original statuesque and impossibly thin model.

Sports Illustrated also stepped away from its typical representations of the perfect body, featuring model Ashley Graham – who is around the average size for a US female – on the front cover. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Graham hopes that 2017 will begin to recognise plus-sized models as ordinary models.

Sex and gender

This year possessing a uterus became a little less deadly as a report revealed that the number of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth has dropped by 44% since 1990, owing to progress in maternal healthcare worldwide. This would perhaps be one of the best pieces of news this year, if the same report did not also reveal that the distance between healthcare levels of the lowest and highest resourced countries had increased, contributing to global inequality.

Those with vaginas are also less likely to be illiterate than in previous years, as the number of those who the World Economic Forum identified as female who received some form of formal education increased by 5% in the previous ten years. UNESCO have even estimated that the gender gap in education will be closed by 2027, which is a comforting thought after the difficult year we have all faced.


 Meanwhile in Canada, the Ontario government have pledged a concrete plan to combat violence against indigenous women in the form of $100 million funding, including anti-racism training for civil servants, support and outreach for First Nations youth and families and comprehensive research into racist abuse against natives. Though this is nowhere near a national solution, we can only hope that other local and national authorities will be able to consider any success the programme has and implement similar structures.

 In the United States, a country well known for its problem with institutional racism, the racial disparity in incarceration has been reduced by two thirds in women and one quarter in men. Experts have theorised that this could be due to changes in popular drug use and a greater focus on catching sex offenders, who are disproportionately white, rather than any concrete reduction in the racism of the US criminal justice system however this is still positive news for the fight against racial inequality.


 Amazing scientific advances at the University of Minnesota saw human beings able to operate robot limbs to carry out tasks using their mind thanks to cutting edge Brain-computer interface technologies. Whilst still in early stages, the applications of the science for amputees could be totally life-changing.

This year also saw a 40% increase in the amount of convictions for disability hate crimes, suggesting that prejudice against disabled people is being taken more seriously. The Crown Prosecution Service claim that this is due to their efforts to push up rates in order to make it clear that incidents of discrimination and violence against disabled people would be taken seriously.


Thankfully, this is just a small selection of some of the good news that 2016 had to offer and I have saved the most hopeful and inspiring piece for last: 2017 probably cannot be any worse.

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