Our History - Equality Now

Let's use the law to change the world

Our History

Domestic violence was just life. Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was a cultural rite of passage. Child marriage was a local custom. And rape was seen as an unfortunate but inevitable consequence of war and civil unrest.

But three lawyers, Jessica Neuwirth, Navanethem "Navi" Pillay, and Feryal Gharahi, believed in a different, better future for women.

They saw that by directing public and media attention from all over the world on individual cases of abuse, while also advocating with policymakers and at the United Nations, they could put significant international pressure on governments to enforce and enact better, fairer laws.

In 1992 they founded Equality Now, with a mission to use the law to protect and promote the human rights of women and girls all over the world.


In 1993, UNICEF was spending just $100,000 USD/year to combat FGM, which affected more than 100 million girls at the time. Equality Now launched a global campaign calling for increased funding and UNICEF stepped up its efforts. Currently UNICEF/ UNFPA budgets nearly $91 million to end FGM. In 1993, Equality Now mounted an investigation into Radovan Karadzic’s horrific campaign of torture, rape and forced pregnancies during the Bosnian war.

We testified before Congressional hearings and helped recruit women attorneys to gather evidence on behalf of the UN War Crimes Commission. Radovan was indicted in 1995 and in March 2016, was convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity by a UN tribunal in the Hague.

In 1996, Equality Now became one of the first organizations to take on sex tourism. We began a series of campaigns against U.S. companies exploiting women and girls through overseas which ultimately led to indictments, convictions, and laws that made sex tourism a crime.

In 1999, Equality Now launched our first campaign to put an end to laws that treat women and men unequally. Since then, we’ve continued to push governments to make all laws gender equal – and we’re bringing more and more organizations and individuals to the cause. To date, more than 50 of the sexist laws Equality Now has highlighted over the years have been repealed or amended by their governments.


Over the decades since, Equality Now has grown from a small group of dedicated activists into a global organization with partners and supporters in nearly every country in the world, and staff in New York, London, Nairobi, Amman and Washington, D.C.

“When we launched in 1992, we had a deep conviction that we could and must act against the violation of women’s rights around the world. Equality Now has become a standard for activism on the ground where we try to translate women’s needs into national, regional and international law, policy, and practice…”