Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong took one small step that forever changed the world. The history-making moon landing will always stand as a global victory, proving that the unimaginable is possible when people have access to the resources they need to succeed.
While the world celebrated reaching the skies, women and girls everywhere continued to be kept grounded. In 1969, women around the world could not work certain jobs, did not have equal legal protections, and faced blatant sexism. These and other forms of discrimination prevented most women from achieving their full potential.
Getting man to the moon would not have been possible without women breaking through these barriers. Margaret Hamilton and her team developed the in-flight software for Apollo 11. Margot Lee Shetterly, Christine Darden, and Katherine Johnson were also Hidden Figures whose work made it possible. These instrumental women have not received their deserved recognition until recently.
While there’s still a lot that needs to be done in the fight for gender equality, we must also celebrate women’s achievements since then (though there are far too many to put in one list!).
Here are some of the giant leaps women have taken since the moon landing:
In the past 50 years, women have made scientific discoveries that have saved the lives of millions.
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, working alongside Luc Montaigner, proved that HIV is the cause of AIDS. This knowledge proved crucial in the development of treatment methods.
Tu Youyou was able to extract artemisinin – a substance that inhibits malaria – from sweet wormwood. Many malaria drugs use this substance, leading to millions of people receiving treatment.
Gertrude “Trudy” Belle Elion and her team designed drugs that could kill diseases without harming human cells. Her inventions include treatments for malaria, leukemia, gout, meningitis, and other diseases.
All three women have received Nobel prizes for their invaluable work. Thanks to them, we are better able to win the fight against preventable diseases.
Fighting for Peace
Over the past five decades, women have championed human rights causes across the globe. Their activism led to essential changes and continues to inspire people worldwide to fight for justice. These are just three of the many women who have earned a Nobel Peace Prize for their work.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum became a leading fighter against oppression in Guatemala in the 1980s. At the expense of her own safety, she shared the struggles of Maya people with the world. She’s known globally for her work in human rights and cultural acceptance.
Professor Wangari Maathai fought for human rights and environmental conservation at the same time, seeing the essential ties between the two. She assisted in planting over 20 million trees across Africa, campaigned against land grabbing, advocated for debt cancellation, and spoke at the UN on behalf of women many times.
Malala Yousafzai is one of the most well-known advocates for education in the world. After the Taliban attempted to assassinate her for going to school, she became a global voice in the fight to get all girls a quality education.
The political world has seen many victories for women since the moon landing, in both elections and policies. In the past 50 years, 55 countries have had at least one female head of state, with only three ever being elected before then.
Great strides towards equality are also present in laws that support women. Six countries now give women equal rights as men, compared to none a decade ago. Dozens of countries have also introduced laws that combat gender-based violence, work discrimination, access to credit, and the ability to own land.
Keeping the Fight Going
This list of astonishing achievements is only a small sample of all the many steps towards equality we’ve made since 1969. Today, the fight continues worldwide as gender equality activists strive towards their own accomplishments.
If the moon landing shows us anything, it’s that we are capable of reaching seemingly impossible places, no matter how far the journey. A world with gender equality is one such place. These women have brought us closer to this destination, but we can’t stop fighting until we touch down.