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28 Years of Equality Now

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Equality Now is turning 28! It’s made us reflect on the progress we’ve made collectively towards gender equality over the last few decades. Here are some of our favorite moments of moving the dial towards a more equal world for women and girls.

1992 The beginning…

The world wide web was only a few years old and the ability to successfully attach a document to “electronic mail” was just introduced. Politically, the Maastricht Treaty was signed, leading to the creation of the European Union. The Cold War officially ended just as the Bosnian war began. South Africans voted for political reforms to end apartheid and the Queen of England started paying income tax for the first time ever. 

Among all this, three lawyers, Jessica Neuwirth, Navanethem “Navi” Pillay and the late Feryal Gharahi, with a deep conviction to act against the violation of women’s rights around the world, officially opened Equality Now’s doors. With a small dedicated group of volunteer activists in a few countries, Equality Now set out to put significant international pressure on governments to enforce and enact good laws – laws that defend women’s rights.

1993 Taking Action: Calling on UNICEF to  recognize female genital mutilation as a human rights violation 

Equality Now issued an action on UNICEF’s failure to fund efforts to end female genital mutilation, when UNICEF was spending a mere $100,000 per year to combat a practice affecting millions of girls and women. UNICEF and other international organizations stepped up their efforts and currently UNICEF/ UNFPA budgets nearly $27 million USD to end FGM.

1993 Taking Action: Calling on the United Nations to act to stop the rape & killing of Bosnian women

In 1993, Equality Now issued an action calling on the UN to stop the rape and killing of Bosnian women, including a “Wanted” poster of Radovan Karadzic. Karadzic was eventually arrested in 2008 and in 2016 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia affirmed rape as a crime against humanity in his conviction.

1995: UN’s 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing

In 1995, at the UN’s 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, governments from around the world agreed on a comprehensive plan to achieve global gender equality, known as the Beijing Platform for Action. Our founders were in Beijing 25 years ago, and every day since we’ve continued to call for the recognition of the fundamental human rights of women and girls, including legal equality. In fact, in 1999, we began our Word & Deeds report process, which we update every five years. The report highlights explicitly sex discriminatory laws affecting women and girls and other vulnerable people over the course of their lives that need to be reformed. In 2020, we released our 5th Words & Deeds report, with a special focus on family law and launched the Global Campaign for Equality in Family Law. To date over 50 discriminatory laws that were cited in our reports have been amended or repealed.

1996 Taking Action: Shutting down sex tourism

Equality Now issued an action on sex tourism, calling for the shutdown of NY-based Big Apple Oriental Tours. Following an unprecedented civil case, the operators of the company were indicted by a grand jury for promotion of prostitution in 2004. This represented the first prosecution of a sex tour operator under the New York State “promoting prostitution” statute and led to the statute’s amendment to include operating sex tours as a form of promoting prostitution.

1996 Justice Served: Advocating for asylum seekers

Equality Now campaigned for the release from US detention of 17 year old Fauziya Kasinga of Togo who was imprisoned for 16 months while seeking political asylum based on her fear of being forced into a polygamous marriage and genitally-mutilated. Fauziya was released from detention and subsequently granted asylum in a precedent-setting case that recognized FGM as persecution under refugee law.

2003 Sparking a Movement: Joining forces across Africa to protect the rights of women and girls 

Equality Now’s Africa office spearheaded the formation of a continent-wide coalition to push for the adoption and ratification of the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (known as the Maputo Protocol). In 2005, the Protocol came into force. Today, 42 African countries have ratified it, largely due to the efforts of the SOAWR Coalition, of which Equality Now serves as the Secretariat.

2004 Law changed: In response to an Equality Now campaign launched in March 2004, Hawaii passed the first law in the US explicitly making sex tourism a crime.

2008 Creation of our Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund

In 2008, we created our Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund to spotlight the most extreme, pervasive abuses and prevent girls from being re-victimized by the legal systems that are there to protect them. To keep girls safe at home, in schools and in communities, we’ve taken on cases that have set precedents and changed laws, court procedures, and lives.

2009 Justice served: Ending incest in Pakistan

Equality Now took on the case of a 15 year-old Pakistani girl who was raped by her father. While Pakistan does not have a specific law against incest, we were successful in getting the highest penalty for the perpetrator in 2011 and used the case to advocate for a law against incest.

2009 Justice Served: Implementing FGM Laws

Equality Now took on the case of an 11 year old Maasai girl who had bled to death due to FGM in Kenya. While Kenya had an anti-FGM law, it was not implemented in the Maasai region. After significant pressure was put on the police to arrest the perpetrators, in 2010, the court finally sentenced both the father and circumciser to 10 years in prison.

2011 Justice Served: Banning FGM in Liberia

Equality Now issued an action on FGM in Liberia highlighting the case of Ruth Berry Peal who had been forcibly mutilated by women belonging to a secret society. The case was won in 2011. In 2018, former leader Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed an executive order before stepping down banning FGM for one year. However, two years later, there is now no law banning FGM in Liberia and we continue to call on the government of Liberia to enact a comprehensive anti-FGM law.

2013 & 2016 Report Released: The State We’re In: Ending Sexism in Nationality Laws  

Since 2013, there has been significant progress, both in terms of the amendment of discriminatory laws at the national level and the growing global movement for an end to discrimination within nationality laws. Equality Now is a co-founder and Steering Committee member for the Global Campaign for Equal Nationality Rights, a coalition advocating since 2014 for international action to reform laws in countries where women are prevented from passing their nationality to their children or spouses on an equal basis with men.  

2014 Report Released: Protecting the Girl Child

Our advocacy report Protecting the Girl Child: Using the Law to End Child, Early and Forced Marriage and Related Human Rights Violations, looks at the whole life of a girl when examining “child marriage,” exploring the factors that contribute to it, e.g. female genital mutilation (FGM), and illustrating the impact on a young girl’s life. Since releasing this report in 2014, there has been progress. Disturbingly though, a few of the countries highlighted in our report have moved backwards from the goal of increasing the minimum age of marriage to 18, without exception. To view these updates click here.

2015 Partnership formed: Ending Child Sexual Abuse in Bolivia

In 2015, we began our partnership with Brisa de Angulo, her organization, A Breeze of Hope, the Human Rights Advocacy and Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School and the law firm of Hughes Hubbard & Reed to pursue litigation and advocacy in support of Bolivia’s girls. 

2016 Justice Served: Ending Sexual Violence in Ethiopia

In a precedent-setting decision, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights officially informed us that it had ruled in our favor in the case of “Makeda,” who was abducted, raped and forced into marriage in Ethiopia at age 13. This case, which started in 2002, was one of our first and longest-running campaigns under our Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund.  Unfortunately, the Government of Ethiopia has requested the African Commission to review its judgment, so we continue to advocate for the Africa Commission to uphold and enforce its decision.

2017: Report Released: The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic

In 2017, we released a global report, The World’s Shame: The Global Rape Epidemic, that examined rape and sexual assault laws in 82 jurisdictions within 73 UN member states. The report identified seven key gaps in global rape laws and called on governments and policymakers to fix them and to ensure justice for survivors of sexual violence.

2017 Laws changed: Later that year, Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia overturn provisions that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims!

2019: Report Released: Roadblocks To Justice: How The Law Is Failing Survivors Of Sexual Violence In Eurasia

In January 2019, Equality Now released our groundbreaking report Roadblocks to Justice: How The Law Is Failing Survivors Of Sexual Violence In Eurasia. The report showed how rape and sexual assault-related laws and practices of the 15 countries of the former Soviet Union effectively deny access to justice for survivors of sexual violence. Since then several countries have taken significant steps to to better protect women and girls’ right to be from sexual violence.

2019: Advocating for survivors of sexual violence in Bolivia

In May 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held its 172 Period of Sessions in Kingston, Jamaica. Equality Now and several of our Bolivian partner organizations testified at an impactful hearing. The emotional testimony from several Bolivian survivors of sexual violence demanded their rights; they told Bolivia, the Commission and the world that, despite numerous commitments to make change very little in Bolivia has actually changed; the legal, systemic and social barriers that Brisa faced 18 years ago still exist today. This is the third time since 2012 that Equality Now and our partners have presented this very same issue before the IACHR.

2020 Virginia ratified the Equal Rights Amendment

In a watershed moment, both chambers of the Virginia State Legislature voted in January, 2020 to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This makes Virginia the 38th state to ratify the amendment, a pivotal number because 38 states are needed to pass the amendment in order to reach the three-quarters threshold required by Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution.

2020 Report Released: Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A Call for a Global Response

According to official UNICEF figures (2020), FGM/C affects at least 200 million women and girls in 31 countries worldwide. This figure only includes countries where there is available data from large-scale representative surveys, which consist of 27 countries from the African continent, as well as Iraq, Yemen, the Maldives, and Indonesia. It is widely acknowledged that this presents an incomplete picture of this global phenomenon. This year, we released a new report with our partners, End FGM European Network and the US End FGM/C Network, that calls for the acceleration of global action to end the FGM. 

2020 Law changed: Sierra Leone lifts discriminatory ban on pregnant school girls from attending school

The government of Sierra Leone finally lifted the discriminatory ban that prohibits pregnant schoolgirls from attending school, effectively heralding the beginning of a remarkable era for adolescent girls. This declaration follows the ruling by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice on December 12, 2019, which found the ban to be in violation of the right of pregnant girls to education. The Court found the government of Sierra Leone to be in breach of Articles 2, 3, 17, 18, 25 of the African Charter; Article 21 and 28a of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Articles 1 and 3 of the Convention Against Discrimination in Education.

Together, we’ve changed 50+ sex discriminatory laws, continued to hold governments accountable to enact these laws and advocated for survivors of sexual violence, FGM, child marriage and other human rights violations. 

We still have so much to accomplish to achieve legal and systemic change that addresses violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. Will you help us by making a gift of $28 to ensure another year of fighting for gender equality?