The Year We Woke Up

An Illustrated Guide to 2019: The Year We Woke Up

From climate rallies to pro-democracy movements, young people stood up across the region with a unified message: enough is enough.

VICE Asia is calling 2019 "The Year We Woke Up." This year, we saw young people stand up, push back, and take matters into their own hands. We celebrate the fighters, the change makers, the movements that have shaken us wide awake and reminded us of our own roles in realising change. This story is part of a series.

The last 365 days were eventful to say the least, but it wasn’t difficult to see a common thread in the major events that happened across Asia-Pacific, or the rest of the world for that matter. Quite frankly, this was the year young people got fed up.


On this side of the world, we saw a slew of protests, particularly in Hong Kong, Australia and Indonesia. We saw women break barriers in India and Japan. Filipinos supported the LGBTQ community in droves. And we applauded laws that were passed in Taiwan and Korea.

This year, we met extraordinary young individuals, like Monica Baey in Singapore, and we were awed by the energy, passion and commitment of our generation.

There’s no way we can encapsulate all the actions that inspired us, but here’s an attempt at it. Here’s an illustrated guide to the year that was, a year that arms us with hope for the decade ahead.

Hong Kong's democracy protests


Illustration by Badiucao

This year, the young people of Hong Kong took China – and the world – by storm. Now on its 6th month of protests, pro-democracy activists show no signs of stopping. It all started in June, when the government introduced a controversial bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects on a case-by-case basis to mainland China, which was seen to undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and its people’s civil liberties. By the time the bill was withdrawn in September, after 13 weeks of consistent protests, it was too little, too late. Protesters stayed on the streets and demanded that the government retract its characterisation of the protests as riots, release and exonerate arrested protesters, establish an independent investigation into police conduct during the protests, and that Chief Executive Carrie Lam resign. In November, the people of Hong Kong further made their voices heard by electing the pro-democracy camp by a landslide. Protests have since turned violent but the ongoing movement has maintained widespread public support. We'll all keep watching. - Natashya Gutierrez, APAC Editor-in-Chief


Student-led demonstrations in Indonesia


Illustration by Bobby Satya Ramadhan

Oligarchy was a trending word in Indonesia throughout 2019 – and the target of young Indonesians this past year. Whether through memes and games, or by starting hashtags to organize protests, thousands of young people with different ideologies came together to demand change. Tired of the small group of political elites who moved to weaken the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), revise the Criminal Code (KUHP) and over commercialize the mining and land sector, students across Indonesia triggered a series of large-scale demonstrations across the country. The September protests proved somewhat successful: President Joko Widodo agreed to postpone some of the controversial bills, at least momentarily. With such active youth participation, political elites should watch their backs after having seen the immense power of the people. - Ardyan Erlangga, Indonesia Managing Editor

Climate rallies in Australia

Australia climate protests

Illustration by Madison Griffiths

Something changed this year. Maybe it was the drought that finally got the wheels turning, or maybe it was the fires and carcinogenic sunsets. Or maybe it was the re-election of a government that has no plan for the future beyond hoping it’ll be like the past. But finally, somehow, the mood shifted. Suddenly our occasional rallies for climate action morphed into near-constant agitation and made Extinction Rebellion a household name. Even the lexicon evolved, as “climate change” became superseded by the far more desperate moniker “climate emergency.” And obviously this was a movement mirrored globally, with Greta Thunberg’s glare as its logo, but it feels like things are moving particularly fast in Australia. Fast enough to avert a global temperature rise below 2.C pre-industrial averages? Well, hopefully. - Julian Morgans, APAC Senior Editor


India's indomitable female athletes


Collage by Prianka Jain

In India, we still have a long way to go when it comes to levelling the playing field for women—especially in a country where gender discrimination is hardwired into social reality—but 2019 has seen several India female athletes do great things. Teenage cricket sensation Shafali Verma broke Sachin Tendulkar’s record to become the youngest Indian cricketer to score a half-century in an international match. Sprinter Hima Das won five successive golds in a span of three weeks. Ace shuttler PV Sindhu not just became the first Indian to win the badminton World Championships gold but also earned a spot on Forbes’ 2019 list of world’s highest-paid female athletes. India women’s hockey captain Rani Rampal scored the winning goal in the Olympic qualifiers, thus taking her team to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And para-badminton star Manasi Joshi clinched her first gold at the BWF Para World Championships. The year might have been a weird, weird one for India but these star athletes are giving us at least some golden reasons to toast it as we wrap up. - Dhvani Solani, APAC Associate Editor

Asia’s largest pride parade


Illustration by Gerilya

The Philippines has a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ rights. To this day, the country still has no laws protecting members of the community, let alone one that legalises same-sex marriage. 2019 also saw multiple incidents of discrimination against trans women, like Gretchen Diez who was banned from using a women’s restroom in a mall. However, things are getting better. In November, popular budget airline Cebu Pacific was lauded for becoming the first in the Philippines to hire trans women as flight attendants. Queer Filipinos also continue to make waves in local media and international competitions. The event that encapsulated the improvements best was the Metro Manila Pride March in June. More than 70,000 people attended, making the most Catholic nation in Southeast Asia, the site of the biggest Pride celebration in the region. - Therese Reyes, APAC Editor


Legalisation of abortion in South Korea


Illustration by Yeoin

On April 11, South Korea legalised abortion after a 66-year ban and decades of campaigning for women’s rights. It was a long and tough battle, especially against the backdrop of South Korea’s patriarchal society. Behind the scenes, many young Korean women – including middle and high school students – were in the frontlines to make it happen. Along with 23 civic organisations, women actively called for the repeal of the anti-abortion law through protests, press conferences, and photo exhibitions. They turned to Twitter and YouTube to spread empowering messages and hashtags: “My Body, My Choice”; “My Abortion, My Health”; and “Safe Abortion for All”. There were also solo protests for 133 days up until the day before the decision. And when abortion was finally legalised, women burst into tears, and danced and partied by the Constitutional Court. - Junhyup Kwon, Korea Editor

Taiwan's nod to same-sex marriage


Illustration by Sadewa Kristianto

This year in Taiwan, love won. Taiwan made history by becoming the first Asian country to legalise gay marriage on May 17. After the law passed, we saw somewhat unfamiliar scenes for Asia of same-sex couples celebrating their weddings or holding up their wedding certificates. “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country,” Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen told media. Taiwan’s same-sex legalisation was a victory not only for the Taiwanese but also for Asia’s LGBTQ community. - Junhyup Kwon, Korea Editor


Thailand says yes to medical marijuana


Illustration by Dimas Adiprasetyo

While Thailand’s legalisation of medical marijuana technically happened on December 26, 2018, we include it as part of this list because it was this year that we saw the law come into practice… and the Thai government called it a New Year gift to the Thai people. Thailand became the first Southeast Asian nation to approve the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, and in June, Asia’s first marijuana clinic opened in Bangkok. It was a milestone development not just for the Buddhist-majority country, which has been ruled by the military for over four years, but also for drug laws in the broader region. While some Asian countries remain conservative in their attitudes towards cannabis, other countries in the region are discussing the possibility of following in Thailand’s footsteps, including Malaysia, Laos, and the Philippines. - Natashya Gutierrez, APAC Editor-in-Chief

Japan's #KuToo movement


Illustration by Nojimi Arakawa

In January 2019, writer and former swimsuit model Yumi Ishikawa made a splash when she shared the now famous #KuToo hashtag on Twitter, which combines the Japanese words kutsu (shoes) and kutsuu (pain). She tweeted about her painful experience working for a funeral home, where she was forced to wear high heels, and commented that women would be much more comfortable if they could wear flat shoes like men. The hashtag quickly turned into a movement to reject mandatory high heels for working women, with support from the Japanese public. Just this month, Ishikawa sent a letter to the government requesting for revisions to the national power harassment laws which include discriminatory practices towards women. - Yuichi Abiko, Japan Editor

Spotlight on sexual violence in Singapore


Illustration by Dimas Adiprasetyo

This year, a light was shone on the ugly reality of sexual misconduct in Singapore’s top universities. It was discovered that there were more than 56 cases of sexual misconduct over the last 3 years, 25 coming from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and 20 from Nanyang Technological University, two top-ranking universities in the World. One of the survivors, NUS student Monica Baey, finally spoke up. In Instagram posts, she condemned the light sentence given to her perpetrator and the inadequate actions taken by the university. This sparked widespread debate and public outcry. The universities, which at first seemed uncaring and even defensive of the offenders, eventually admitted that there are no proper systems in place for those who have experienced sexual violence. Because of Baey, Singapore is finally on its way to addressing these issues more seriously. - Aditya Rodrigues, Asia writer