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Women in the News, September 2021: Fearless Female Leaders

It's time to celebrate our Lionesses This Month. Who made waves in September?

It takes courage to lead. To break away from the crowd, take charge or share your voice. For our Lionesses This Month, we’re featuring brave and determined thought leaders making their mark on society – in court, on TV or around the world. Meet our Lionesses and women in the news from September.

Dancing into history

Throughout its thirty seasons, the reality competition “Dancing with the Stars” has featured hundreds of celebrities and professional dancers. After all these years, the show can still make history. In its season premiere, social media personality JoJo Siwa launched into a quickstep with Jenna Johnson. Siwa and Johnson are the first same-gender team to compete in the American series. Their opening dance was an explosion of joy, landing them the top score of the night.

Siwa, who recently came out as pansexual, felt delighted to achieve this milestone, saying that it was a “dream come true” for her.

Meet Fortune’s new editor-in-chief

In May, we reported that Sally Buzbee would become the first female executive editor for the Washington Post. Now, Fortune will cross the same gender milestone. The company will appoint Alyson Shontell to editor-in-chief on Oct. 6, making her the first woman in the role throughout the magazine’s 92-year-history.

In its announcement, Fortune said that Shontell was the perfect journalist for the position.

“She has overseen award-winning coverage of some of the most important business stories of our time. She is rooted in the tech world, which is the fundamental driver of almost everything happening in business today. And she is a true digital native. As employee number six at Business Insider, she helped shape and build the most successful pure-play digital business journalism franchise of our time.”

Appointing “a champion for women and girls”

UN Women, an organization of the United Nations, advocates for gender equality across the world. By working with global governments, UN Women hopes to create opportunities for women and protect them from violence.

This month, the UN announced that Sima Sami Bahous would become the group’s new executive director. Bahous, a representative of Jordan, brings over 35 years of leadership experience. The UN said that she “[champions] gender equality and youth empowerment” and is “a keen advocate for quality education, poverty alleviation and inclusive governance.”

Survivors receive their time in court

Editor’s note: the following section discusses stories of sexual assault.

In the #MeToo era, few criminal cases have caught as much attention as the trials of coach Larry Nassar and singer R. Kelly. Both involve a systemic failure to protect young women and girls from predators. And both cases had major turning points in September.

On Sept. 15, gymnasts Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, McKayla Maroney and Maggie Nichols testified in court about the lingering trauma of Nassar’s abuse and the FBI’s failure to take action when they reported the assaults. Their testimonies are shocking and heart-wrenching.

“The scars of this horrific abuse continue,” said Biles. “The impact of this man’s abuse will never be over.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray apologized for the (in)actions of the bureau’s former leadership. He said that the “kinds of fundamental errors that were made in this case in 2015 and 2016 should have never happened, period … [I am] deeply and profoundly sorry that so many people let you down over and over again.”

Senators praised the survivors’ bravery in stepping forward. After years of trying to report the crime, the court finally heard and respected their voices.

A hand holding a #MuteRKelly sign, one of the stories of women in the news
#MuteRKelly” by Marc Nozell is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Less than two weeks later…

Courts found R. Kelly guilty of sex trafficking, child exploitation and racketeering (organized criminal activity) for his abuse.

While the legal allegations against him date back to 1996, multiple protests and court cases were unsuccessful in catching media attention. Many say that the delayed response was because Kelly’s accusers were young Black women who were not taken seriously.

What changed? In 2017, Kenyette Barnes and Oronike Odeleye launched the #MuteRKelly campaign to protest against radio stations and venues that continued to play Kelly’s music. Activists came forward to share their thoughts in the 2019 documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.”

These movements – launched by Black women – led to R. Kelly’s eventual arrest this month.

“To the victims in this case, your voices were heard and justice was finally served,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis.

Other women in the news from September:

  • Maia Chaka became the first Black woman to oversee an NFL game.
  • Asma Jan and Kanza Malik were the first women from Pakistan to compete in an international biking race – the UCI Road World Championship.
  • Sian Proctor became the first Black woman to pilot a spacecraft on Sept. 15 as part of the Inspiration4 mission.
  • In its recent election, Germany elected the first two transgender women to its parliament: Tessa Ganserer and Nyke Slawik.
To see more stories of women in the news, read last month’s coverage on Olympic athletes, Afghan reporters and more.

About the author

Laura Grant

Laura Grant is a recent graduate of Western New England University with a bachelor's degree in English Literature. She spent her undergraduate term developing her writing and communication skills through internships, tutoring, and student media involvement. Her goal is to publish a novel one day.

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