On Jan. 1, 2019, more than 3 million women in India joined hands to form a 385-mile-long human wall of protest calling for equal rights for women.
They are among the many extraordinary women we have written about in Goats and Soda this year — women on the front lines of political and social change, women who sometimes quite literally put their life on the line to take a stand and to do their job.
Here are some of the women we've interviewed and written about in 2019.
Gulalai Ismail fled Pakistan in May after facing death threats for protesting the Pakistani government's extrajudicial killings and sexual violence. When she spoke with NPR in September, after resurfacing in New York City, she was resolute. "I was glad I am seen as a threat to all these institutions of oppression," she says. "Why not? The system should feel threatened by a woman." Ismail is a friend of Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, who attended the girls' empowerment organization Ismail founded, Aware Girls.
Dr. Marie-Roseline Bélizaire is a field coordinator for the World Health Organization's Ebola response teams in Congo. This year alone, WHO reports that 11 Ebola responders have been killed and more than 80 injured. "As doctors we have committed ourselves to saving lives," Bélizaire says. "This is what we do. We cannot leave people to die."
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario is known for her coverage of war (and has been kidnapped twice while on assignment). But that is far from her only topic. Addario has spent the past decade documenting a subject that many photographers and editors shy away from: maternal mortality. "Most people just don't realize what a big deal this is," she says. Her images were featured in this year's Visa Pour L'image festival in Perpignan, France.
Fatou Jallow won a beauty pageant sponsored by the Gambian president when she was 18 – and says she was raped by President Yahya Jammeh. This year she testified before Gambia's Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission about her experience. "I call it a revolution," says pro-democracy activist Madi Jobarteh. "It was totally brave on her part and explosive for all of us."
Zozibini Tunzi of South Africa, who took the Miss Universe crown, took a stand on "natural" beauty, gender equality and climate change. Addressing the world's beauty standards, she said, "I want children to look at me and see my face, and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine."
NPR interviewed 10 participants in the Girl Up 2019 Leadership Summit about challenges — and obstacles. Ayesha, a gender equality activist from Sierra Leone, says community members are threatened by female empowerment. "If that's making your girls bad," she says, "please, can I make your girls bad?"
To those who might ask why a Global Girls' Bill of rights is needed, one of the framers has an answer. "Many girls in my country don't even know what their rights are," says 22-year-old Kanchan Amatya of Nepal. So "they are without resources" or recourse when they face discrimination.
Conflict over whether or not women of menstruating age should be allowed to enter a sacred Hindu temple inspired a record-breaking protest on New Year's Day 2019. Between 3.5 million and 5 million women joined hands in what is believed to be the largest public gathering in the country in support of gender equality.