Women around the world who made a difference in 2019

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Across the globe from South Africa to Japan, these women were changing things for the better this year.

TAKING A STAND AGAINST HIGH HEELS, JAPAN

At the time of writing, 32,000 people had signed a petition to ask the Japanese government to ban dress codes that force women to wear high heels to work. The woman behind it all? Actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa, who launched the #KuToo movement – an amalgamation of kutsu (shoe), kutsuu (pain) and #MeToo – at the beginning of the year after her tweet complaining about having to wear high heels for a job went viral. “I hope this campaign will change the social norm so that it won’t be considered to be bad manners when women wear flat shoes like men,” she said. 

Many women have come forward, sharing photos of their bloodied and bruised feet on social media and comparing it to the ancient tradition of foot binding, highlighting the lack of progress in women’s rights. While the government has remained silent on the matter, Ishikawa hasn’t, launching her own brand of flat shoes.

Yumi Ishikawa is behind the #KUTOO movement
Yumi Ishikawa is behind the #KUTOO movement

FEARLESS LEADER, AFGHANISTAN

This year, Zarifa Ghafari became mayor of Maidan Shar in central Afghanistan. Not only is she the youngest person to take on the role at 26, she’s also one of the first women to do so. Her appointment in the conservative province of Wardak proved so controversial that it was delayed by nine months, after the mayoral office was mobbed by angry men brandishing sticks on her first day. Ghafari has received death threats from the Taliban and Islamic State, telling The New York Times, “I know I will be assassinated.” Despite it all, she is determined to do her job and empower women everywhere.

Mayor ZAfira Ghafari on the phone in the car
Mayor Zafira Ghafari took office amid death threats

TACKLING VIOLENCE, SOUTH AFRICA

When Uyinene Mrwetyana was brutally raped and murdered in August, it sparked nationwide uproar about the levels of violence against women in South Africa. Leading the charge against femicide was activist Lucinda Evans, who spoke at a march outside the country’s parliament in September. After a day of police brutality and arrests, Evans used a megaphone to demand that officers stop “beating up” the protesters. She also founded the #AmINext movement, exposing just how many women live in fear of murder or assault, and is a coordinator for One Billion Rising, a global campaign fighting for the rights of women and girls.

South African activist Lucinda Evans
Lucinda Evans has spoken out about femicide

POWERFUL PROTEST, RUSSIA

Lyubov Sobol has brought a wave of pressure against President Vladimir Putin this year. After opposition activists were barred from local elections in Moscow, Sobol refused food for almost three weeks and posted videos of herself being dragged by the police. Her protests have brought the plight of opposition activists in Russia to the attention of the world.

Activist Lyubov Sobol
Activist Lyubov Sobol has protested against Putin

A NEW PERIOD, UK

Founder of the Pink Protest, Scarlett Curtis has been working since 2017 to persuade the British government to take action on period poverty, teaming up with Amika George on her #FreePeriod campaign. After countless protests, speeches and social media awareness campaigns, in March it was announced that free sanitary products would be provided in all English secondary schools from early 2020.

Activist and writer Scarlett Curtiss stands at a podium
Scarlett Curtis wants to end period poverty

CLAUDIA SAYS: I want to highlight some of the women who did amazing things in 2019, all around the world.

Images: Getty Images, Rex Features

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