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As I look back on the past year, my lens is “radical hope”. It’s Dominican Junot Díaz’s advice and comfort to his sad and scared sister in a letter the author wrote her soon after the US presidential election last November.


I’m borrowing this framework (and Díaz got it from philosopher Jonathan Lear) because despite what many feel, this past year is not just all bad news. So it’s worth providing a reminder of the pretty cool things that also happened.


What to Remember


One of the under-reported stories last year was the women who won on Nov. 8. These include the first Somali-American Muslim legislator; the first Indian-American elected to Congress, the first Indian-American and the second black woman ever elected to the Senate; the first Thailand-born senator in the US upper house; and the first Vietnamese-American elected to Congress.


Another overlooked story was the 4,500 women across the US who registered to run for office after the US presidential election. Women signed up with the recently launched incubator program She Should Run to learn how to enter politics and hone leadership skills.


In Nigeria, 21 kidnapped girls were freed by the extremist group Boko Haram. About 200 girls were kidnapped two years ago, and more women, men and boys remain in captivity, but the unrelenting protests from women’s groups locally and around the world forced the Nigerian government to act.


A Guatemalan court sentenced two former members of the military to a combined 360 years in jail for crimes against humanity. The two men were found guilty of holding 15 indigenous women in sexual and domestic slavery, murder and forced disappearances. This is a “historic ruling for rape survivors” says the Global Fund for Women, because it is a significant step toward ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict.


Rights and Leadership


Supporting women to run for office was also an initiative in the Asia-Pacific region. A four-year outreach programme that ended last year provided civics and leadership training for over 200,000 women. Vietnam can attest that its female labour force participation is one of the highest in the region (73%), while the country wrangles with closing the wage gap and eliminating gender-based violence.


Although it happened in late 2015, it bears repeating that for the first time in Canadian history, a loud and proud feminist prime minister made his cabinet gender balanced. Around the world, women’s rights activists made legal and political advances in Brazil, Palestine, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Poland and elsewhere. This year this column visited bandwagons, effective altruism, targets, indicators, MEALs, opera houses, raggedy children, the meanings of words, panties, bacon, hybridity and ended up here… on hope.


Radical hope is not something you have but something you practice, says Díaz. There is much work to be done, but progress has been made. It needs to be celebrated as a vital fillip in our commitment to protecting the rights and dignity of all.


This is also my last column. Thank you to the Word editors and readers for the lively debate and tremendous feedback. I am grateful to have been able to help start a conversation or two.


Dana McNairn is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning nonprofit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk youth

Dana McNairn

For the last ten years Dana McNairn has worked for NGOs on the frontline of human rights and gender-based violence, as well as INGOs such as the Canadian Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. She is the CEO of KOTO, an award-winning nonprofit social enterprise and vocational training programme for at-risk and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.