Equality Now provides community, it magnifies strength, it gives you accurate information and it allows you to become a force in the world.
-Gloria Steinem, Board Member
Since 1992, Equality Now has tirelessly worked to ensure equal rights for women and girls through legal advocacy, the raising of global awareness of human rights violations and by promoting activism. Though there is still much work to be done to end violence and discrimination against women and girls, Equality Now is proud to share our key achievements and milestones on the path to gender equality.
Leadership on issues of trafficking and sex tourism – using the law to end demand:
1996: 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.
2003: Equality Now launched a campaign to protest the role of the US military in promoting the demand for prostitution and thereby increasing sex trafficking. In 2004, following discussions with Equality Now, the US government changed its Uniform Code of Military Justice to specifically prohibit solicitation of prostitution.
2004: 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.
2005: Equality Now convened the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition that played a central role in formulating a strong anti-trafficking bill that was passed in 2007 following years of intense advocacy.
2006: Equality Now brought the case of Jump Off Destinations, a sex tour company operating out of NY with trips to the Dominican Republic, to the attention of the Manhattan DA. In 2007, the owner was found guilty, making this the first time that New York State law prohibiting the promotion of prostitution had been used to prosecute a sex tour operator and the first conviction of its kind in the US.
2011: Equality Now spearheaded the case of four Brazilian girls who had been exploited by US sex tourists on fishing tours on the Amazon and helped file the first known civil action on behalf of victims of sex tourism in a US federal court. This action got significant media coverage in the international press (including the NY Times) and Brazilian press. While the suit has been stayed pending a criminal investigation, the Brazilian government's investigation is progressing.
Calling for better investigations and prosecutions of crimes of sexual violence and systems to address such crimes:
1993: Equality Now issued an action calling on the UN to take action to stop the rape and killing of Bosnian women, including a “Wanted” poster of Radovan Karadzic years before there was even a thought of an international criminal tribunal. The UN subsequently created the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1995, which indicted Radovan Karadzic, who was eventually arrested in 2008 and is now facing trial.
2002: Equality Now launched a campaign on rape, abduction and forced marriage in Ethiopia highlighting the case of a 13 year old girl who had been abducted and raped. In 2005, the Ethiopian government repealed the law that provided a rapist exemption from punishment if he married his victim. The case was mishandled by the government and is currently before the African Commission. It received significant media attention and was included in Nick Kristof’s book Half the Sky.
2008: Equality Now took on the case of rape of a 13 year old schoolgirl by her teacher in Zambia, which resulted in a landmark decision by the Zambian High Court holding the government accountable for sexual violence in schools. Equality Now continues to work with the Zambian Ministry of Education to implement guidelines on preventing sexual violence in schools and has launched a project supported by the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women to build a grassroots coalition against sexual violence in schools in Zambia.
2009: Equality Now took on the case of 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 are using the case to advocate for a law against incest.
Challenging traditional assumptions – taking on female genital mutilation (FGM):
1996: 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. As a result of our advocacy, Fauziya was released from detention and subsequently granted asylum in a precedent- setting case that recognized FGM as persecution under refugee law.
2004: Equality Now launched a campaign for a law against FGM in Mali, a country with 94% prevalence, highlighting the case of five year old Fanta Camara who had severe health consequences as a result of the procedure, including incontinence. In 2007, Equality Now arranged for medical procedures for Fanta in Paris which completely altered her life. We continue to work for an FGM law in Mali.
2003: Equality Now held its FGM meeting in Atlanta, the location of the first documented case of FGM in the US, in order to conduct advocacy for a law against FGM in Georgia. The law was passed in 2005.
2009: 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, sending an important message that will serve as a deterrent.
2010: Equality Now issued an urgent alert immediately following the issuance of a revised policy statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsing a ritual nicking of girls’ genitalia as a less severe form of FGM. Due to tremendous pressure, including by several UN agencies that we rallied, the AAP rescinded its statement that same month.
2011: 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 and the Liberian government has expressed willingness to ban the practice.
2011: Equality Now named Secretariat to the United Kingdom’s newly-formed All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on FGM in recognition of its expert knowledge and strategic work on FGM in the UK and in Africa. Equality Now provides advisory support to the APPG, which will work with the British government and NGOs to raise awareness of the issue in the UK and abroad and create an actionable strategy to prevent and eliminate the practice.
Tackling discriminatory laws so women can reach their full potential:
1996: Equality Now issued an action on restrictive abortion laws in Nepal, highlighting the case of a 32 year old widowed woman with five children who was imprisoned for undergoing an abortion. In September 2002, the Nepali government legalized abortion.
1999: Equality Now launched its first thematic women’s action campaign Words and Deeds: Holding Governments Accountable, asking for the repeal of all sex-discriminatory laws which was presented at the fifth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action at the UN. This was followed by reports in 2005 and 2010 and after five years of vigorous campaigning, ultimately resulted in the creation of a Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice at the UN Human Rights Council in 2010. More than half of the laws highlighted by the three reports have been repealed by their respective governments.
2000: Equality Now launched a campaign focusing on honor crimes in Jordan. The Jordanian government amended the law in 2001 and advocacy around this campaign led to the UN General Assembly adopting a resolution on honor crimes.
2001: Equality Now issued an action calling on the Kuwaiti government to grant women the right to vote and stand for election. After sustained advocacy, the Kuwaiti Parliament gave women these rights in 2005.
2009: Equality Now launched a campaign against the system of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, highlighting the plight of a happily married couple who had been forcibly divorced at the behest of the women’s half-brothers who were deemed her guardians. In 2010, after sustained advocacy, the decision of the court was reversed and the couple reunited.
2010: Equality Now launched a campaign asking for amendment of discriminatory nationality laws in Lebanon that did not allow Lebanese women to pass their nationality to the husbands and children. In 2011, Lebanon revised regulations, giving more rights to non-Lebanese spouses and children of Lebanese women. We continue to campaign for full rights for women to pass on citizenship.
Holding international organizations accountable:
1993: Equality Now issued an action on UNICEF’s failure to fund efforts to end FGM, when UNICEF was spending just $100,000/year to combat a practice affecting more than 100 million girls and women. UNICEF and other international organizations stepped up their efforts and currently UNICEF/ UNFPA budgets nearly $27 million USD to end FGM.
1996: Equality Now issued an action asking the Security Council to address gender imbalance in the UN Secretariat and appoint a female Secretary General. The campaign received global attention and although a woman was not elected, Louise Frechette was subsequently appointed the first female Deputy-SG and was later succeeded by Asha Rose Migiro of Tanzania after Equality Now did a similar campaign in 2005.
2009: Equality Now took on the issue of the UN’s internal system of justice failing to adequately address cases of sexual harassment and sex discrimination that were a barrier to the advancement of women within the UN system. We were successful in getting significant media attention on the issue, including on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and met with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to raise our concerns. Subsequently, in 2011, one of the women whose case we had been following won her lawsuit of sex discrimination against the UN.
Pushing limits – helping develop international law:
2003: Equality Now, together with a rape crisis center in Cuidad Juarez, requested that the CEDAW Committee conduct an inquiry under its Optional Protocol into the rapes and murders of women in Cuidad Juarez. In 2004, the CEDAW Committee issued the first report under its inquiry procedure on Ciudad Juarez, representing a significant milestone in human rights law.
2003: Equality Now Nairobi 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 (drafted with assistance from the Equality Now LAW project). In 2005, the Protocol came into force and through March 2012, 32 African countries have ratified it, largely due to the efforts of the SOAWR Coalition, of which Equality Now serves as the Secretariat. In 2011, Equality Now published a guide to using the Protocol and trained activists and lawyers from 14 countries to use it in domestic and regional litigation.
Working with grassroots organizations – recognizing that activists on the ground know what needs to be done to bring change in their communities:
2001: In an effort to end FGM, Equality Now started the Fund for Grassroots Activism to End FGM to provide core support for the work of grassroots groups across Africa working on the issue. During its operations, 41 groups from 21 countries received more than $2 million from the Fund, enabling local activists to innovate and implement local interventions on eliminating FGM that are appropriate to their socio-cultural context. In 2009, Equality Now produced the documentary film Africa Rising to highlight the work of five FGM Fund grantee partners.
2007: Equality Now launched the Fund for Grassroots Activism to end Sex Trafficking which supported 12 international organizations in their efforts to end trafficking and provide services to survivors during its operations. A number of the grantee organizations have become international standard setters on the issue.
Taking on difficult issues – not shying away from the seemingly unachievable:
2001: Equality Now, in collaboration with the UN, organized and convened the Afghan Women’s Summit in Brussels, providing a forum for 40 Afghan women leaders to discuss their role in the future of their country. This was the first international effort to highlight Afghan women’s role in decision-making and a significant step in the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325.
2007: Equality Now launched a campaign for the release of Kobra Najjar, an Iranian woman sentenced to death by stoning. In 2009, after sustained advocacy, Kobra’s stoning sentence was replaced with 100 lashes, but after further campaigning on her behalf, she was finally released from prison in 2009.
2008: Equality Now took on the issue of the destruction of girls’ schools in Swat valley Pakistan by the Taliban. In response to our campaign, the government of Pakistan issued a resolution against the Taliban and took action to drive them out of the region. Our opinion editorial in the Washington Post was responded to by the President of Pakistan.
2009: Equality Now issued an action to ban rape simulation games in Japan. The campaign led Amazon Japan and the makers of the game, RapeLay, to withdraw it from sale. The international attention raised by the campaign also pressured the Japanese government to begin addressing loopholes in child pornography laws.
2000: Opening of the Nairobi office with a region-wide consultative meeting of African women’s groups.
2005: Official opening of the London office with a global meeting on women in the media.