2021 was a milestone year for women around the globe. It demonstrated not only what we can achieve in the face of crisis, but also the increasing need for female leadership in our world. 

According to a UN Women report, female leaders responded more rapidly with measures to help ‘flatten the curve’ of the pandemic (isolation, social distancing and widespread testing). And female-led countries like Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland and Slovakia have also been internationally recognized for their transparent and compassionate communication of fact-based public health information. Essentially, female leaders have handled things better!

At a less macro level, we know that women in 2021 have conquered challenges like working from home (and the increased household work it often brings), subconscious bias in the workplace, anxiety, imposter syndrome, and the pressure to ‘do it all’. 

It’s been tough work, yes. But these are the moments that define us. 

From a year riddled with stories of female resilience and success, we’ve selected five defining moments for women. May these moments inspire you to stay strong, strive for more, and achieve your unique version of success in 2022.

1. The moment the AstraZeneca vaccine was launched

In January 2021, an 82-year-old man was the first in the world to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Millions of lives have no doubt now been saved thanks to this vaccine, which has been a vital defence against COVID-19.

But what many people don’t know about the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is that the technology underpinning it was led by research from Professor Sarah Gilbert and a team of amazing women at Oxford University. Their work, started well before the pandemic kicked off in 2019, truly came to a head this year as the vaccine was released and rolled out for use across the world.

(We’ve already paid tribute to Özlem Türeci for her role in developing the Pfizer vaccine, which has also been pivotal. What a time for female scientists!)

2. The moment a company was taken public by the youngest woman ever

Whitney Wolfe Herd took the cake in February 2021. With a baby on her hip, no less. This is a serious win for women in tech, and for seriously under-funded female-founded startups.

Dating app Bumble’s soaring stock price made Wolf Herd a billionaire at 31 years of age – impressive enough in its own right. But what impresses us most about all of this is that the tech brand empowers women to make the first move in relationships, defying age-old gender norms. 

To top it off, Bumble invested in video technology to enable people to keep meeting and dating virtually throughout the pandemic. 

3. The moment a big tech company took a stand for women’s rights

You probably will have caught wind of the controversial Texas SB8 abortion law that came into force in September this year. Bizarrely, it encourages citizens to ‘dob in’ anyone who assists a woman to get an abortion after six weeks gestation, including medical professionals and even the people driving them to get an abortion.

Rideshare company Lyft took its response to the next level, issuing a powerful statement:

“This law is incompatible with people’s basic rights to privacy, our community guidelines, the spirit of rideshare, and our values as a company.”

And it wasn’t just empty words in a blog post. 

They pledged to cover legal fees of any Lyft driver sued for driving a woman to an abortion, and donated $1 Million to Planned Parenthood to help “ensure transportation is never a barrier to accessing healthcare”. 

4. The moment New Zealand promised free period products in schools

Following on from Scotland’s landmark move to end period poverty by introducing free period products late last year, New Zealand made its move early in 2021. 

The government promised free sanitary products at schools across the country in an effort to fight period poverty and boost period acceptance. Research found that over 20,000 students in New Zealand had inadequate access to period products, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern reiterated that one in 12 girls miss school because of it.

5. The moment the US got its first female Vice President

Perhaps one of the most inspiring moments for women and people of color happened on January 21st this year, when Kamala Harris became the first woman (and notably, the first woman of African American and Asian descent) to be sworn in as Vice President of the United States.

This kicked off a major goal of President Joe Biden’s: to install people of color and women in powerful positions in his administration. These positions have historically been held by men.

The future’s looking bright for women in tech. But of course we need to see continued advocacy and action from women, men, organizations, and countries to see a true shift in gender equality.

Given this, it seems fitting that the Commission on the Status of Women is focusing its priority theme for the year 2022 on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in the context of climate change, environmental and disaster risk reduction policies and programmes

As the world shifts its focus to the looming issue of climate crisis (the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report making it ever more urgent), the value of women is being thrust into focus. As it must. 

Stay tuned for more defining moments from women as we step up and make change in 2022 –– and well beyond.

We’d love to hear about your defining moments of 2021. Tell us what happened for you.