Some Good Things That Happened in 2016
When I started thinking about this article, I was going to entitle it “Reasons to be cheerful”. As well as the 1979 song, it is the title of piece of homework the children were told to write in Jacqueline Wilson’s novel, Vicky Angel. Vicky’s essay was a beautiful piece of writing that celebrates the simplest and happiest aspects of being alive. As I started writing, however, thousands of people were being slaughtered in Aleppo as the Assad regime moved in on rebel-held territory, cornering innocent civilians before, allegedly, shooting them like dogs. Suddenly, “Reasons to be cheerful” sounded horrendously perverse. I was watching a horror film play out and I could scarcely believe my eyes. I didn’t want to believe my eyes.
2016 has undeniably been shit. From as early as March, people were already labouring in disbelief. “This year’s round-ups are going to be bleak,” people said. There is no way around it. We sat and watched as on-going fighting in Syria claimed the lives of thousands. We sat and watched as families continued to drown in the Mediterranean, fleeing war, violence, dictatorships and poverty. We sat and watched as the far right gained power across Europe and America. We sat and watched as newspapers peddled lie after lie, fabrication after fabrication. We sat and watched as we voted to leave the EU with absolutely no plan and very little in the way of non-racist justification. We sat and watched as a man who said “grab them by the pussy” about women won the US Election. We sat and watched as xenophobic violence increased in the UK. We sat and watched as a hardworking politician was shot at her own constituency surgery.
And that is just the preventable tragedies. Huge cultural and sporting icons that inspired generations of young people were also lost. Bowie, Muhammed Ali, Prince, Victoria Wood, Carrie Fisher, to name but a few. I am only too happy to see the back of 2016. I hope, however, we at least try and learn from it. I hope 2017 sees people change their attitudes. And I hope 2017 sees global leaders, reporters and anyone else with the dangerous ability to manipulate public opinion start doing their jobs with integrity and honesty. We can all live in hope.
In the end, then, I didn’t entitle this article “Reasons to be cheerful”. Nonetheless, there are plenty of people who have worked hard, changes that have been made, and events that have happened which can and should give us hope for the future. Perhaps we can look back on 2016 in horror, but take comfort in the fact that along with the shit bits, the extraordinary events below also occurred. And this list is by no means definitive.
1) The Pan African Parliament endorsed a ban on female genital mutilation
A new action plan was signed in August by Pan African Parliament (PAP) representatives and the UN Population Fund to end both FGM and underage marriage. The PAP has 250 members representing the 50 African Union member states and the signing of the plan will add momentum to on-going work to ban the practice. As it stands, FGM is practiced in 26 of 43 African countries. The PAP has set up a working group which will oversee a move towards writing a ban into law, with areas of priority including engaging the community, mobilizing resources and implementing the plan at regional and national levels.
2) Spain started renaming Franco-era streets after important women
Street names have been an extremely contentious issue in recent Spanish history, with many opposing street names bearing the title of the fascist dictator and leaders in his government. Now, perhaps, they have found the perfect solution. Forty-one years after Franco’s death, local governments are choosing to re-name the streets after famous and influential women from around the globe, with officials in León asking the public to choose from a list that included Rosa Parks and Frida Kahlo, amongst others. Although a law was passed in 2007 calling for all fascist symbols to be removed from public spaces, the rise of the left wing in Spain has made this a more pressing priority over the past year.
3) Taiwan may be the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage
Slowly but surely this year, bills have been moving through Taiwan’s legislative system that could make the island the first place in Asia to achieve marriage equality. President Tsai Ing-wen has spoken in favour of same-sex marriage and in May Kaohsiung became the first city in the country to register same-sex couples, with Taipei following suit soon after. The governing Democratic Progressive Party, the opposition Kuomintang, and a smaller New Power Party have all proposed same-sex marriage bills, which are currently in the hands of the Legislative Yuan judiciary committee. The bill has a good chance of passing in the next legislative session in February.
4) The number of women of colour in the US senate quadrupled
While Trump’s victory was shocking, the US election in November wasn’t all bad news, with victories in California, Illinois and Nevada boosting the number of women of colour in the senate from one to four. Democrats Tammy Duckworth, a woman of Asian heritage, Kamala Harris, who identifies as both black and Indian-America, and Latina Catherine Cortez Mastoall beat their opponents to Join Japanese American MazieHirono in the senate.
5) Simone Biles left the world dumbstruck with her performance in the Olympics
If any woman was the one to inspire young people the world over this year, then it was Simone Biles, a member of the US Gymnastics team who took home an incredible five medals, four of which were gold. The 19-year-old has just received the title of Associated Press Female Athlete of the year, winning 31 out of a possible 59 votes. Despite difficulties in her childhood, which saw her being taken into foster care as her mother struggled with drug and alcohol addictions, she has risen through the ranks to become one of the most incredible athletes out there. As she said herself: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps. I’m the first Simone Biles.