We opened our doors during a pivotal time in history. The 20th century was coming to a close and the world was changing in dramatic ways. Let us set the scene and take you back to what the world and Equality Now looked like a quarter of a century ago, in 1992...
Everyday activism in 1992 (and Maya Angelou 1993 )
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. And three lawyers, with a deep conviction to act against the violation of women’s rights around the world, officially opened Equality Now’s doors in New York City. With a small dedicated group of volunteer activists in a few countries, and only on-the-street T-shirt sales to help with startup costs, Equality Now set out to put significant international pressure on governments to enforce and enact good laws – laws that defend women’s rights.
In the US, the first race riots in decades erupted in south-central Los Angeles after a jury acquitted four white police officers for the videotaped beating of African American Rodney King. In Kenya, 100,000 people attended protests demanding an end to one-party rule by the Kenya African National Union. In the UK, the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness was broadcast live from Wembley Stadium reaching an audience of up to one billion people in 76 countries around the world.
For women and girls, 1992 saw several high profile advancements. The Nobel Peace Prize went to Rigoberta Menchú in recognition of her work publicizing the rights of Guatemala's indigenous feminists and for promoting indigenous rights in the country. In the US, four more women were elected to the Senate, joining the two already there. The Church of England voted to allow women to become priests and in Ireland, a Supreme Court landmark ruling allowed a 14-year-old rape victim to travel to England to have an abortion. Hanna Suchocka became the first female Prime Minister of Poland and in pop-culture news, the female road film Thelma and Louise knocked sci-fi powerhouse Terminator 2: Judgement Day out of first place in movie rentals.
However, 25 years ago discrimination and violence against women and girls was not being addressed by the global human rights movement. The equal treatment of half the world was not considered a human right or a matter of global concern.
With a conviction to expose these violations to the general public, and to use the law to fight them, our founders - Jessica Neuwirth, Navanethem “Navi” Pillay and Feryal Gharahi - joined together to bring women’s rights to the forefront of human rights.
Navanethem “Navi” Pillay and Jessica Neuwirth
In Equality Now’s first year, our Women’s Action Network consisted of almost one thousand groups and individuals in twenty-five countries who took action in response to our public advocacy campaigns. We issued our first ‘Action’ shortly after opening our doors, by calling on the Polish Medical Society to protest a revision of its Code of Ethics prohibiting doctors from performing abortions, even though abortion was legal in Poland:
Equality Now's first "Women's Action"
Back then, our supporters put pen to paper to add their voices to the call. Today, we have supporters and partners in nearly every country in the world. Together through everyday activism we have achieved legal and systematic change that addresses violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. When women and girls, men and boys are treated equally under the law, we all benefit.