Image: A protest against Donald Trump in Minneapolis, Minnesota / Fibonacci Blue / Wikimedia Commons
Let’s come out and say it: 2016 has been a very tough year. From political upheaval to a proud misogynist (among many, many other horrifying things about him) being elected Leader of the Free World to the rise of hatred and the far right to what seems like every beloved cultural icon dying, it often seemed like the year was one long, continuous nightmare. Thankfully it’s over, and while we certainly hope 2017 will be better, we shouldn’t forget what’s happened in the past 12 months. So for our last news round up until January, Villainesse takes a look at the top 10 stories of the year.
We may look back on 2016 as the year democracy in the United States died once and for all – assuming we’re still alive to look back on things. Because the reality is, Americans decided not to vote for the most qualified person – female or male – to run for the presidency ever (Hillary Clinton), and instead gave the codes to the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons on earth to the most unqualified person to ever run, a man so unstable his campaign staff had to take away his Twitter privileges. It’s a decision scholars centuries from now will undoubtedly be scratching their heads over – just as we are now. Let’s just hope Trump’s America does not get any darker than it already is.
Before Trump’s shocking victory, the world was shocked by a plurality of UK voters deciding to leave the European Union. The so-called “Brexit” campaign left Europe reeling, and we could be forgiven for now wondering if this is the beginning of the end of the idea of a united Europe.
John Key resigns
In a year of shocking events, it would only make sense Aotearoa would have its own unexpected development. Prime Minister John Key announced in early December that he’d be stepping down as PM and as National Party leader – a move that shocked political experts, especially considering his consistent popularity and the fact he would likely have stood a good chance of winning re-election in 2017 if he stood. The decision meant Bill English would become PM, but beyond that, it throws the 2017 election into doubt. It remains to be seen if Labour, the Greens or other parties can benefit from the shock decision.
The civil war in Syria raged on in 2016, and the world continued to look on but do little as the conflict surpassed the half-decade-mark. Millions fled for their lives. Thousands died. ISIS continued to terrorise any and all regions it conquered. The government of Bashar al-Assad continued to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity against its own people by deliberately targeting schools and hospitals and using chemical weapons and barrel bombs. And Russia continued to support Assad with air strikes against Assad’s enemies – also by targeting schools and hospitals and even aid workers. All this came despite Russian president Vladimir Putin declaring earlier in the year that combat operations were “over” and Russian forces would begin to withdraw. Instead, he increased Russia’s troop presence by more than double.
Arguably the most serious crisis to hit New Zealand since the 2011 Christchurch Earthquakes struck in November, when a magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck North Canterbury near the town of Kaikoura. The deadly quake caused widespread damage in the region and up north in Wellington and, like the Christchurch quakes, has resulted in thousands of aftershocks. Repair costs are expected to be in the billions of dollars, and fixing the damaged infrastructure – including major highways completely destroyed by landslides and the road buckling – could take years. We can only hope the next year is free of such devastating natural disasters.
Chiefs abuse scandal
Entitlement, privilege, toxic masculinity, rugby culture and more were all thrust to the forefront in early September, when it emerged that members of the Chiefs Super Rugby team allegedly abused a woman named Scarlette who had been hired to perform at an end-of-season function. Sponsors such as My Food Bag cut their ties with the organisation, and it emerged that Scarlette was not the first woman who had been allegedly abused by the players. The lack of serious action from New Zealand Rugby to discipline the Chiefs sparked outrage, including from the Human Rights Commission, which sent an open letter signed by some of Aotearoa’s most prominent women, including Dame Susan Devoy, Sue Kedgley from UN Women, many Māori and Pasifika women’s leaders and MPs. Thousands of people added their name to the letter, and the hashtag #loverugbyrespectwomen went viral. The letter’s conclusion said it best: “As much as New Zealanders love rugby – we need New Zealanders to respect women.”
The rise of bigotry and the far right
One of the most frightening developments of 2016 was the rise of intolerance, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, xenophobia, and other forms of hate. Groups formerly primarily found only online began to congregate in real life, from the meetups (which were later cancelled before they could take place, including in New Zealand) of misogynist Roosh V to American white supremacist Richard Spencer and the National Policy Institute – a group that played a key role in helping Trump win the US election. Describing mainstream media in terms previously unheard since the days of the Nazis and decrying what they saw as the waning power of cisgender white men, they viciously attacked anyone who did not agree with their beliefs both online (as Milo Yiannopoulos urged his followers to do to Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones – a campaign of hate which resulted in him being permanently banned from Twitter) and in real life (as evidenced in the explosion of hate crimes reported in the US and Europe).
Even the Ku Klux Klan reemerged, with a resurgence in popularity not seen in decades. Aside from Trump, the far right helped autocrats like Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines get elected, allowed Hungary’s Viktor Orban to remain in power, and almost won the election in Austria while at the same time trumpeting the praises of Russian president Vladimir Putin. In France, the extremist National Front became one of the most powerful political parties, while the equally extremist UKIP and Alternative for Germany (AfD) gained prominence in the UK and Germany, respectively. With views eerily similar to the fascists of the 1930s, many on the far right tried to rebrand themselves as the “alt right,” in an effort to make their hatred and bigotry seem more tolerable. Yet there are signs of internal dissent within many far right organisations, giving us hope that the movement could fall apart in the coming years. Regardless, the hatred they are spewing is certainly something we need to continue to resist.
David Bowie. Prince. Alan Rickman. Leonard Cohen. Zsa Zsa Gabor. Muhammad Ali. Glen Frey. John Glenn. Alan Thicke. Nancy Reagan. Florence Henderson. Harper Lee. Frank Sinatra, Jr. Elie Wiesel. Pat Summitt. Gwen Ifill. Fidel Castro. It seemed there was breaking news of another famous person dying almost every day. But while it seemed like a large number of celebrities met their end in 2016, the truth is it was about the same as always – simply that more deaths were being widely reported than ever before. While that’s somewhat comforting, the world seems a little less bright without Bowie singing Heroes or Prince performing Purple Rain.
Incidents in places like Berlin, Brussels, Nice and Orlando garnered the most headlines, but there were also terrorist attacks in Timbuktu (Mali), Bujumbura (Burundi), Maiduguri (Nigeria), Quetta (Pakistan), Mazar-i-Sharif (Afghanistan), Ankara (Turkey), Homs (Syria), Baghdad (Iraq), Sinai (Egypt) and many other locations. In fact, more people were killed in terrorist incidents in non-Western countries than in Western countries – begging the question why they did not receive the same amount of media coverage as attacks in Western cities.
Achievements by women and minorities and advances in rights
Amid all the negative news, there were also quite a few positives in the past year. Though she lost the general election, Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated by one of the two major parties (Democrats and Republicans) for president (oh, and she also received more votes than any candidate ever in beating Trump by about three million votes in the popular vote count). More women of colour were elected to the US Senate than ever before. The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro featured more female athletes than in any Olympics yet (and many countries even had more female competitors than men). In Germany, a “no means no” law was passed, finally recognising that sex is rape if a participant says “no” and it continues. In Gambia, child and forced marriages were finally banned. In the US, the Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt that states can’t place restrictions on abortion services that create an undue burden for women seeking an abortion. And the list goes on.
The point is, among all the chaos and sadness, there were also a lot of things to be celebrated in the past year. Take, for instance, Ilhan Omar, the first female Somali-American lawmaker (who was elected to the Minnesota State Legislature), or Richard Hills, the first openly gay Auckland Councillor. In the world of entertainment, we had a Star Wars film featuring an empowered, non-sexualised, kickass female lead (Felicity Jones in Rogue One), and Beyoncé’s Lemonade took the music world by storm.
That’s all from us. Have a happy and safe holiday season. We’ll see all of you back here for more feminist badassery in January, 2017.