To say that 2020 has been an eventful year is an understatement. Many unprecedented things have happened; things we couldn’t have imagined. But 2020 has also been a year of remarkable moments that have put women in the spotlight, and how.
From strides in STEM to having an almost visceral presence in politics and media, women have truly outdone themselves in 2020. There were also moments where our unequal status came into the limelight – massive layoffs affected women workers disproportionately, the lockdown placed an unfair burden on women to juggle work, domestic responsibilities, and childcare, and nurses and ASHA workers went on strike for fair compensation during COVID times, just to name a few. Regardless of it all, women made one thing clear – their work needs to be acknowledged, appreciated, and counted for.
Here’s a list of (non-exhaustive) moments in 2020 that shaped our year as women.
1. USA Gets Its First Female Vice President
Winning by a landslide, Kamala Harris became the first-ever woman – and the first-ever woman of colour – to hold the position of Vice President in America’s 231-year history.
She will work alongside newly elected President, Joe Biden.
2. Shaheen Bagh’s Bilkis Bano Made It On TIME’s ‘Most Influential People’ List
One of the most important moments in modern Indian history, the Shaheen Bagh protests began in December 2019 in New Delhi.
The protests, which had over 1,00,000 participants, were led by 3 elderly women.
One of them was Bilkis Bano. Bilkis made it into TIME’s ‘Most Influential People’ list this year.
3. The Protesting Women Farmers In The ‘Dilli Chalo’ Movement
In September this year, the Centre introduced three controversial farm laws in Parliament. Fearing the impact of those laws on their livelihoods, farmers across the country decided to protest by heading to the national capital, calling it ‘Dilli Chalo’. While it may seem like men are at the forefront of these protests, women farmers and supporters have emerged as a significant part of it.
Out of the thousands of farmers protesting at the borders of New Delhi, women form at least 15,000 of them so far.
4. An Online Petition Was Launched To Address The Unfair Burden Of Unpaid Work On Women During COVID-19
Subarna Ghosh started an online petition to counter the burden she was facing at home. In the petition, she asked the Prime Minister to urge men to take up household chores “in his next speech”. Ghosh, who runs a charity that works towards reproductive justice, encouraged people to sign her petition to bring forward a crucial problem women across the country were facing at the time.
The petition, which called for 75,000 signatures, had already reached 69,756 signatures at the time of reporting the news.
5. Rhea Chakraborty’s Vilification Showed Us The Ugly, Misogynistic Side Of The Indian Media
Perhaps one of the most distressing things to have happened in 2020 was the public media trial of Rhea Chakraborty, a Bollywood actor who was falsely accused of conspiring to murder her ex-boyfriend and fellow Bollywood actor, Sushant Singh Rajput, who had reportedly died by suicide. The media took up the case and ran conspiracy theories around his death, with Rhea Chakraborty as the scapegoat.
From performing witchcraft on Rajput to forcing him to consume drugs, Rhea Chakraborty was accused of innumerable things and made the ‘bad guy’ overnight.
This episode was a dark reminder of the misogynistic society we live in. On the day Chakraborty went into questioning by the NCB, she was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read, “Roses are red, violets are blue, let’s smash the patriarchy, me and you”. This quote was shared by several celebrities on their social media handles in solidarity. So mighty was the uproar about her T-shirt, that #SmashThePatriarchy trended for days on Twitter.
- Bollywood Celebs Trolled For Sharing Rhea’s ‘Smash Patriarchy’ Quote
- Of Women’s Clothes, Morality, And Media Trials
- Payal Ghosh, Anurag Kashyap, and the Limitations of Media Trials
- Why Do We Blame Women For Men’s Actions?
6. ‘The World Belongs To Us: An Anthology Of Queer Poetry From South Asia’ Was Published
A first-of-its-kind anthology, this book was published in July 2020. The book aims to bring contemporary queer poetry from South Asia, with contributions from well-known and celebrated individuals such as Ruth Vanita, Hoshang Merchant, Suniti Namjoshi, and Kazim Ali.
From loneliness and desire to sexual intimacy, caste, and language, this anthology runs on a multitude of themes.
7. #DalitLivesMatter Trended After The Hathras Gangrape Incident
The Hathras gangrape incident shook the country this year. A 19-year-old Dalit girl was raped in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, and she succumbed to her injuries due to medical negligence. To add to it, the Uttar Pradesh police manhandled the body and burned it without the family’s consent. The incident sparked nationwide protests, with the hashtag #DalitLivesMatter flashing across media portals and with Dalit women taking the mic to voice their rage against the casteist, patriarchal system that continues to govern us.
The outrage was a reminder for us to have an intersectional approach to understanding oppression and violence.
8. K.K. Shailaja’s Handling Of COVID-19 In Kerala Won Her Several Accolades
K.K. Shailaja, the current Health And Social Welfare Minister of Kerala has won numerous accolades this year for her tremendous handling of COVID-19 in the state. Known fondly as Shailaja Teacher, she managed to contain the virus proactively, with a confident approach to the problem.
Shailaja Teacher took immediate action from the beginning.
Known as a Rockstar Health Minister, Shailaja Teacher has been named one of the most influential women of 2020 by the Financial Times.
She was also featured in BBC News on the list of Asian women COVID-19 fighters. In June 2020, she was invited by the United Nations to participate in a discussion on United Nations Public Service Day 2020.
- This Woman Rows 18 km Daily To Help Pregnant Women and Newborns
- A Delhi Hospital Sacked 84 Nurses After They Demanded Protective Gear
- Doing Too Much For Too Little: How Nurses Have Gone From Being Underappreciated To Attacked And At Risk #KoolKanyaNews
9. 15-Year-Old Gitanjali Rao Was Named TIME Magazine’s ‘Kid Of The Year’
Indian-American girl Gitanjali Rao was the first-ever person to be named TIME magazine’s ‘Kid Of The Year’. She has been recognised for her work in inventing technologies that combat issues ranging from cyberbullying and opioid addiction to contaminated drinking water.
TIME has been honouring individuals since 1927. The title was first called ‘Man Of The Year’, which was later changed to ‘Person Of The Year’.
This year, Gitanjali Rao is the first and only person to have received a new title, ‘Kid Of The Year’. Rao was selected among 5,000 applicants for the inaugural title.
10. Dr. Priya Abraham Developed A COVID-19 Diagnostic Tool Validated By WHO
Dr. Priya Abraham, who joined the National Institute of Virology (NIV) in November 2019, spearheaded the development of a COVID-19 diagnostic tool that has been validated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) with a 100% performance rating.
With the help of her team, Abraham isolated and sequenced strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. NIV was the only laboratory that could detect COVID-19 until mid-February.
11. Oxford Dictionary Changed Its Dated Definition Of ‘Woman’
After a petition filed in 2019 that criticized the derogatory terms associated with ‘woman’ in the dictionary, Oxford University Press has changed its definition of the word.
Started by Maria Beatrice Giovanardi, the petition reached 30,000 signatures and immense support.
The dictionary definition presented women as “subordinate or an irritation”.
Among the changes made, Oxford University Press eliminated the heteronormative idea of a woman. Terms such as ‘bitch’, ‘bint’, and ‘wench’, which were previously associated with the term ‘woman’, are now labelled ‘derogatory’, ‘offensive’, or ‘dated’.
12. Emmanuelle Charpentier And Jennifer Dounda Won The 2020 Chemistry Nobel Prize
In October 2020, two female scientists won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, becoming the first women to jointly win the accolade.
The duo developed a CRISPR tool, which can change the DNA of animals, plants, and microorganisms with high precision.
There have been only 5 female winners of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the past.
13. India’s First Female Cardiologist, Dr. Padmavati, Died At Age 103
Dr. S. Padmavati, India’s first female cardiologist, died this year. She succumbed to COVID-19. During her time as a cardiologist, she paved the way for women in medicine.
Her name grew synonymous with the field of cardiology, which earned her the title, ‘God Mother of Cardiology in India’.
Dr. Padmavati was also a recipient of the Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan from the Indian government.
14. Women Artists Were More Visible In Film And Literature Festivals
This year has seen several women dominate the field of the arts. From women making up a sizable chunk of the JCB Prize for literature to women making up 44% of filmmakers in the Venice Film Festival, women have truly shone in this department. Two women authors of Indian origin feature in TIME’s ‘Best Fantasy Books’ list. Avni Doshi’s novel, The Girl In White Cotton, was longlisted for the Booker Prize.
15. 6 Lakh ASHA Workers Went On Strike Due To Underpayment And Lack Of Protection During COVID-19
ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activists) workers are essential arms of the healthcare system. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, ASHA workers went door to door conducting surveys and screenings of suspected patients across slums, hard-to-access areas, and even in containment zones, all without PPE kits and other protective gear.
In August, 6 lakh ASHA workers went on strike, demanding better pay and proper gear to conduct business as usual.
ASHA workers have also had to endure heckling and harassment from people who ostracised them for working with infected patients. Their demands were for the government to clear all their pending wages, adequate safety equipment, legal status to ensure minimum wages, free COVID testing for frontline workers, and sufficient insurance coverage for all deaths on duty just to name a few.
16. ‘Indian Matchmaking’ Re-opened The Conversation Around The Patriarchal And Casteist Roots Of Arranged Marriages
Many talked about Sima’s internalised patriarchy that showed when dealing with her female clients.
The clients – especially women – provided a millennial point of view regarding arranged marriages. While the American audience merely got a glimpse of the complexities of Indian matchmaking culture, the Indian audience felt a familiar sense of cringe and sadness. Whether ironically or not, ‘Indian Matchmaking’ surely made its dent in our minds in 2020.
17. Shaadi.com Removed The ‘Skin Tone’ Filter From Their Website
Speaking of arranged marriages, marriage portal shaadi.com removed its ‘skin tone’ filter from its website following a massive backlash online, along with a petition against the filter. The feature asked its users to choose among ‘fair’, ‘wheatish’, or ‘dark’, and they could find potentially compatible matches using the filter.
Two users, Hetal Lakhani and Meghan Nagpal started an online petition asking the site to remove this filter permanently to prevent users from indulging in colourism.
The petition received over 1600 signatures, and shaadi.com finally took down the option.
18. Number Of Female CEOs In Fortune 500 List Hit An All-Time High
In the Fortune 500 list of 2020, a distinguishing feature was that the list featured more women than its previous lists. The number of women running the largest corporations in America hit an all-time high.
The number of female CEOs in 2020 was 37, topping last year’s 33. For perspective, the number of women on the Fortune 500 list in the year 2000 was just two.
To say that 2020 was an eventful year is an understatement. Women, in particular, have had their own share of ups and downs – with this list, it’s clear that hardships or not, it’s time to take women and women’s work seriously.
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