The kick-ass women who rallied against inequality and fearlessly campaigned for the sisterhood in 2014

There's little doubt about it, 2014 has been a great year for feminist campaigning and the shattering of glass ceilings.

Women across the world have spoken out loud and clear to cast a spotlight on injustice and highlight key issues of inequality, from street harassment in New York to FGM practises in the UK and casual prejudices surrounding rape in Brazil. 

These bold and fearless activists have taken a stand against realities they deem unacceptable, whether that's Malala Yousafzai working to allow girls access to education, Emma Watson joining the gender politics fray on behalf of the UN or a Chinese feminist hiking 2,000 kilometres to raise awareness of sexual abuse. 

These are also the singular and talented women who've challenged conventions and made history by taking on new roles in the military and beyond.

Clearly we still have a long way to go and many battles to fight, but we've selected moments of triumph - small and large - where women have questioned the status quo and started conversions to conquer everything from body insecurity to gender-based violence.

From lifelong warriors and activists to everyday heroes, these people have individually shouldered responsibility to make the world a better place for women - and for everyone. Remind yourselves of their victories and add your own suggestions of 2014 heroes in the comments section, below. 

  • Afghanistan appoints first female police chief

    "I am ready to serve, I am not scared nor am I afraid"

    (January 2014) Colonel Jameela Bayaz stared down danger and prejudice as she became Afghanistan's first female district police chief, in a landmark move for the former Taliban stronghold. Fewer than 1% of the country's police officers are women, but the mother-of-five was determined to overcome formidable barriers, including discrimination, societal disapproval and the constant threat of attack from insurgents who single out women in public office. 

  • Lupita Nyong'o's speech on colour and beauty

    "I hope that my presence on your screens and in magazines may lead you, young girl, on a similar journey. That you will feel the validation for your beauty, but also get to the deeper business of feeling beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty."

    (February 2014) The 12 Years A Slave Oscar-winning star packed an emotional punch with a powerful and moving speech at the Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, as she talked about how model Alek Wek helped convinced her that being black was beautiful, after years of wishing she had lighter skin. But compassion is the most beautiful feature of all, she concluded. 

  • Anti-FGM activists step up a gear

    "They say it makes you a woman; it’s a rite of passage. But as you start to grow up and learn about feminism, you start to realise this is about control and fear."

    (February 2014) Campaigning against FGM found a renewed voice this year, starting with the International Day of Zero Tolerance on February 6. Under pressure by a a movement spearheaded by Leyla Hussein and Nimco Ali of the anti-FGM charity Daughters of Eve, the UK government has pioneered a series of initiatives aimed at raising awareness of FGM and cracking down on its perpetrators.

  • Ellen Page comes out at Las Vegas conference

    "I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission" 

    (February 2014) Ellen Page inspired legions of fans after she declared she was a lesbian during a live, filmed conference in Las Vegas. The Juno actress said she felt "a personal obligation and a social responsibility" to come out, as she addressed a a conference on teenage homosexuality hosted by the Human Rights Campaign. The video of her doing so, quickly went viral amid a flood of positive feedback. 

  • Disability campaigner Francesca Martinez secures milestone parliamentary debate

    "Disabled people have never been under such attack. The welfare cuts are hitting people everywhere they turn"

    (February 2014) Comedian Francesca Martinez, who suffers from cerebral palsy, worked with the War on Welfare (WOW) campaign group for a year to get the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a milestone parliamentary debate on welfare reform and its impact on disabled people. The debate went ahead in February but WOW remain convinced of "a conspiracy... to hide the effects of this government's austerity programme on sick and disabled people" and are continuing their campaign to raise awareness of government cuts.

  • Women of Brazil's anti-rape campaign

    "I don't deserve to be raped."

    (March 2014) Thousands of women in Brazil united in a viral campaign to challenge a study which found that 65% of the nation agreed that "if dressed provocatively, women deserve to be attacked and raped." Women and men posted provocative pictures of themselves on Twitter with the hashtaq "#NãoMereçoSerEstuprada" - which translates as "#IDon'tDeserveToBeRaped" - in a protest that quickly went viral. 

  • Teenage girl chases down a flasher

    "I was running after him for ages - about 30 minutes - but I just didn’t want him to get away."

    (March 2014) Jodie Schofield, 16, was so enraged after a man exposed himself to her on an alleyway near her home in Manchester, that she ran after him for two miles. The offender, in his 50s, was eventually detained by a group of builders alerted by Schofield's shouts, and police arrested him. 

  • Chinese feminist walks 2,000km in sexual abuse protest

    "This is not an arduous walk. Each step represents a female protest at society."

    (March 2014) Chinese activist Xiao Meili successfully completed a 2,000 km march across her country to raise awareness of commonplace sexual abuse and harassment against women. The 24-year-old spent four months walking from Beijing to the southern city of Guangzhou and asked women to put her up or walk with her along the way, as she posted letters to local governments and collected signatures for her petition. 

  • Iranian women unveil in Facebook campaign

    "Hoping for the day when all my nation’s women can taste freedom with their whole bodies and souls."

    (May 2014) Hundreds of women in Iran united by posting photos of themselves without their hijabs, in a Facebook page titled "Stealthy Freedoms". Wearing the hijab has been compulsory for women in Iran since the 1979 revolution. The group's founder, London-based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, said she wanted to give women choice and spark a wider debate on personal freedom in the Islamic state country. 

  • #YesAllWomen hashtag documents everyday abuse

    "The #YesAllWomen hashtag is filled with hard, true, sad and angry things."

    (May 2014) Elliot Rodger, 22, rallied against women in a video posted on YouTube, before killing six people in a gun and knife attack in California. In response, Twitter users began using the #YesAllWomen hashtag, to talk about everyday scenarios that highlight discrimination and abuse against women. The hashtag quickly went viral, picking up 1.2bn impressions within a few days of its launch. 

  • Kickstarter project encourages women to love their bodies

    "Every day we feel we’re being judged on our appearance and how far away it is from an unachievable ideal"

    (May 2014) US-based mum Taryn Brumfitt set up a Kickstarter project titled the Body Image Movement, in a bid to encourage women to embrace their bodies as they are, instead of constantly feeling like they're not good enough. Her aim was to make a documentary highlighting how body-loathing has become a global epidemic.

  • Michelle Howard becomes US Navy's second in command

    "Whatever goals we set for ourselves we know we can go higher–I’m obligated to help set that legacy."

    (July 2014) Adm. Michelle Howard made history this year by becoming the first female four-star officer in the Navy's 236-year-history. Howard, who was the first African-American woman to command a Navy ship, was promoted to vice chief of naval operations. 

  • Beyonce gives a shout-out to feminism

    "We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet."

    (August 2014) Beyonce brought the full force of her celebrity weight to feminism at this year's Video Music Awards, when she appeared in front of a giant board spelling out the word "feminist" and featured an audio clip from Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's TED talk on feminism. Some deemed it a shallow PR stunt, but there's no doubt it raised awareness of the meaning and concept of feminism among a new generation of women. 

  • Emma Watson's rousing speech to the UN

    "We want to galvanise as many men and boys as possible to be advocates of change."

    (September 2014) The Harry Potter actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador launched the UN's He For She campaign with a pitch-perfect keynote speech urging men to help end global gender inequality. 

  • University student launches sexual assault protest

    "I am thankful for how I’ve learned to think clearly and critically about my situation, and for the opportunity to collaborate with inspiring student activists and a wonderful art faculty and community there"

    (September 2014) Frustrated with what she saw as an official failure to take action over her sexual assault claim, Colombia university student Emma Sulkowicz decided to take matters into her own hands. She pledged to walk around campus with a mattress in tow wherever she went until her alleged rapist was expelled. Her grassroots protest quickly gained the support of the student body and led to a national day of protest, which saw 28 mattresses dumped outside the office of the university president. 

  • The UAE's first female fighter pilot leads raids against Isis

    "Everybody is required to have the same high level of combat competence [in the UAE Air Force]. It is a time and effort-consuming field that requires a great deal of passion."

    (September 2014) Major Mariam Al Mansouri, the UAE's first female Emirati air-force pilot, led a six-nation air strike against Islamic State (Isis) in Syria. Sadly, she faced a few petty sexist jibes from a few petty, sexist TV presenters for the feat - but we doubt this would really bother someone of her experience and standing. 

  • Hollaback's street harassment video

    "I'm harassed when I smile and I’m harassed when I don't. I'm harassed by white men, black men, latino men. Not a day goes by when I don't experience this."

    (October 2014) Actress Shoshana B. Roberts highlighted the problem of casual everyday harassment for women, after her boyfriend filmed her being catcalled by strangers over 100 times in 10 hours on the streets of New York. The resulting video, commissioned by harassment awareness group Hollaback, was shared thousands of times, forcing a debate on something that is still a huge issue for many women in today's world. 

  • Lena Dunham's searingly honest memoir

    "Women are the best supports in my life. Women are a woman’s best friend"

    (October 2014) Stylist guest editor and feminist tour de force Lena Dunham made headlines with her brilliantly candid memoir Not That Kind Of Girl - a compulsively honest dissection of the issues facing twenty-something women, from bad sex to Twitter bashing and beyond. 

  • Swearing princesses star in anti-sexism video

    "I’m not some pretty f***ing helpless princess in distress. I'm pretty f***ing powerful."

    (October 2014) American activist T-shirt brand FCKH8 created a satirical video of cute little princesses in pink swearing voraciously. Their point? That instead of being offended by curse words, society should be horrified by the fact that  that women in America are paid 23% less than men for the same work and one in five American women are raped or sexually assaulted in gender-based violence.

  • Jennifer Lawrence's nude photo retort

    "It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change."

    (October 2014) Jennifer Lawrence made her voice heard - loud, angry and clear - after nude photos of herself and over 100 other female celebrities were leaked online earlier this year. J-Law laid into those who leaked the images, and those who looked at them, and adamantly refused to apologise

  • A barbie with curves, ambition and stick-on cellulite

    "Every one of our bodies is different, so we should not be aspiring to some idealized standard"

    (November 2014) All hail the "normal Barbie" complete with curves, an everyday wardrobe, book accessories and stick-on cellulite. The brown-haired Lammily doll was created to combat the "divas, princesses, and mermaids" that dominate the children's doll market and reflects what Barbie would actually look like if she had the measurements of an average 19-year-old woman’s body. 

  • Pregnant woman's rant at anti-abortion activists

    "It's wrong what you're doing. You don't know why people are doing what they're doing, but you want to be out here judging and filming."

    (December 2014) An unnamed pregnant woman became a hero on Twitter after this video emerged of her taking protesters to task outside an abortion clinic in London. Campaigners from Abort67 have long been accused of intimidating vulnerable women, sometimes by filming them, at abortion providers across Britain. 

  • Malala Yousafzai's Nobel Peace Prize

    "I will continue this fight until I see every child in school" 

    (December 2014) At 17, Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousafzai became the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, in a joint win with Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi. The triumph marked her heroic struggle for girls' right to education everywhere. 

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