The start of a new year is usually reason enough to take a positive new look at the world and the potential of the next twelve months. But in the week of 2021 that we've had so far, there doesn't seem much to be optimistic about. Whether it's a new lockdown in the UK, or a political riot in the USA, it is clear that we're not leaving the issues of 2020 behind us. It may seem that negativity abounds, but - and hear me out on this one - last year wasn't ALL bad. By taking a look at the pockets of progress and positivity from 2020, we can approach this new year with a slightly brighter outlook and a determination to maintain and further the gains we've made. I'm not going to ask you to be optimistic about 2021, but here - at least - are a few reasons not to be a pessimist.
1) Bloody good progress
In November, Scotland made history as the first nation in the world to guarantee free and universal access to period products. This followed years of campaigning by Labour MSP Monica Lennon and others, including charity Bloody Good Period, and will end period poverty for many who previously struggled to afford tampons and sanitary towels. Landmark announcements in both the UK and Germany reduced or removed the infamous "tampon tax", recognising that sanitary products are not, in fact, luxury items. All in all, 2020 saw some bloody good steps towards menstrual equity - and gender equality in general.
2) Countries across the world saw significant advancements in healthcare
While Covid-19 was undoubtedly the biggest health headline of 2020, a number of landmark gains were made in other areas. WHO declared Africa free of wild polio, which had paralysed an estimated 75,000 children across the continent in 1996 alone. Following a vaccination programme launched by Nelson Mandela and decades of work by the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, August 2020 marked four years since the last recorded case. We also saw major breakthroughs in the development of HIV prevention methods, with potentially more to come in 2021. In England, the number of people with a new HIV diagnosis dropped by 10 per cent, from 4,580 cases in 2018 to 4,139 in 2019. Malaria deaths have dropped to the lowest level ever recorded - with a massive 7.6 million malaria deaths averted globally between 2000 and 2019. WHO also noted a reduction in tuberculosis deaths, with 60 million deaths averted since 2000. And, of course, the coronavirus vaccine became the fastest-developed vaccine ever.
3) Tackling child marriage
Around the world, 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children - but 2020 saw decisive action to tackle this practice. Saudi Arabia and Palestine both banned child marriage, making 18 the minimum age to be married. Bangladesh also reported progress, with the proportion of girls married before the age of eighteen dropping from 64% to 50%. There is still clearly work to be done, but it is definitely cause for celebration that 10 million girls in Bangladesh have been saved from child marriage in the past decade.
4) The environment got a boost...
... on a number of different levels. Politically, Biden's win in the US means that the world's second-biggest CO2 emitter is set to re-join the Paris agreement, while climate leaders Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey were re-elected. Internationally, South Korea made history as the first Asian country to set a 2050 net-zero emissions goal, with Japan and China also making similar pledges. Finland, Austria and Sweden all brought their net-zero dates forward, while the UK pledged to reduce emissions by 68% in the next decade. Locally, ungardening took off in gardens across the UK, with mini meadows left un-mown, ponds created, and log piles left alone to provide insect accommodation - all allowing wildlife to flourish. Nationally, renewable energy had a record year, making up almost half of Britain's electricity generation in the first three months of 2020. With all this momentum, we need to keep our environmental progress running in 2021.
5) Efforts to advance racial equality accelerated
In response to historic institutional racism and the killing of black people by police in the USA - including George Floyd and Breonna Taylor - 2020 saw a huge level of protests and activism. We engaged in national conversations about history, accountability, culture, and inequality. Calls for representation were, in some cases, answered - with the Oscars announcing new diversity guidelines and Netflix pledging to diversify its offerings. The UK's Equality and Human Rights Commission launched an inquiry into entrenched racism, with particular emphasis on the impact of Covid-19 on minority communities. These small steps are significant, but more must be done in 2021 and beyond.
Read the article linked for more of what went right in 2020. Hopefully, these good news stories will help to provide a little inspiration in tackling 2021.
Scotland made history in November by becoming the first nation in the world to guarantee free and universal access to period products. Campaigners welcomed the move, claiming Scotland was setting a “bloody great example” for other nations to follow.