The year 2020 was unprecedented in its demand for courage, compassion, and a bold revisioning of the unjust systems that affect all of us. We saw with devastating clarity cracks in our health system, racist power structures on display, dangers to our democracy, and risks to low paid workers who have always been essential to our economy. The mandate to address gender, racial, and economic injustice at the heart of this perfect storm was never more dire.
This year proved that when we join forces — in all our diversity of experiences and collective power — to demand change in the name of equity, nothing can stop us. Our movement is powerful because it is made up of activists, attorneys, low-paid workers, students, immigrant families, survivors of sexual violence, nonbinary and trans advocates, BIPOC people, mothers and grandmothers, male allies, and many others. Our strength grows with our diversity. It empowers us to fight for each other more fiercely, no matter what obstacles stand in our way.
In a year that demanded the very best of our movement, we stood together. Here are Equal Rights Advocates’ Top 10 Gender Justice Victories of 2020. None of them would have happened without passionate support from people like you.
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1. Pandemic Prompts Long-Term Policy Change
Intent on ensuring families emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic stronger than they entered it, Equal Rights Advocates worked with partners across the country to drive emergency and permanent policy reform to protect essential workers, expand access to child care and paid leave, and promote income equality. Our Stronger California legislative agenda resulted in 4 new laws and 4 crucial budget items that helped families weather the pandemic, prioritizing immigrant families and pay equity.
2. National Reform, One State at a Time
2020 saw the launch of our national Women’s Agenda Initiative to support groundbreaking legislation across the country, including replicating in other states successful reforms in California and elsewhere to advance workplace gender justice and economic security for families. Our Women’s Agenda Digital Hub features thousands of legislative resources for advocates, including those in our 50-state Action Team. We also launched the Network of States to Stop Harassment and Anti-Harassment Rapid Response Policy Team with partners, bringing together 158 organizations across the nation to support bold policy reform, with the goal of ending rampant workplace sexual harassment. Together, we supported the passage of 20 new laws in 2020 (including reforms to address a sharp increase in domestic violence during COVID-19 isolation).
3. Protecting Worker Rights during COVID-19
As part of our COVID-19 Action Plan, ERA expanded our helpline services to ensure protection of low-paid workers. We also doubled down on our defense of essential workers in courts. We sued one of the country’s largest facilities management companies for ignoring severe sexual harassment and sexual assault for years. In our second lawsuit against ABM, we represented immigrant women night-shift janitorial workers in a lawsuit that will benefit workers across California.
4. Survivor-Led Systems Change To End Gender-Based Violence
We backed up our lawsuit against Betsy DeVos for student survivors with innovative organizing and policy reform in 2020. In California, a two-year long survivor led campaign resulted in the nation’s first state law protecting the rights of student survivors of sexual violence from federal rollbacks. Elected officials heard from ERA supporters about the bill 3,500 times. 2020’s work (including through the Network of States to Stop Harassment) culminated at a first-of-its-kind virtual Survivors’ Summit, with Equal Rights Advocates among its leaders and presenters. Experts, attorneys, elected officials, and survivors across the country came together virtually for three days to create a survivor-centered agenda of policy recommendations and advocacy priorities for 2021.
5. Leading on Black Women’s Equal Pay
As chair of the national Equal Pay Today Campaign, ERA worked alongside partner organizations to engage 46 million people in pay gap awareness-raising and policy advocacy on 2020 Equal Pay Days. On Black Women’s Equal Pay Day, thousands participated in our social media campaign and tuned into our virtual panel featuring Black women leaders from across the country. ERA’s Shannon Williams (Director of Equal Pay Today) was interviewed by CNN, Forbes, and co-wrote a piece about slavery’s legacy in today’s tipped subminimum wage. We also co-led campaigns for Latina Equal Pay Day and gathered a panel of Indigenous leaders on Native Women’s Equal Pay Day. Equal Pay Today also promoted hazard pay for essential workers in 2020.
6. Listening to Communities, Defending Democracy
To center and organize voters most impacted by COVID-19 and gender and racial injustice in 2020, ERA launched our New American Majority Telephonic Town Hall series to reach 50,000 Black and Latinx women and families across the country and learn their priorities for electeds in 2021. ERA worked with the Black Women’s Roundtable on the first in this ten-city series in Mississippi, followed by sessions with other partners in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Newark.
7. Protecting Rights of Pregnant Workers on the Frontlines
ERA reached resolutions in two additional lawsuits on behalf of pregnant frontline grocery workers and airport security workers that will benefit thousands of workers. ERA’s clients were denied reasonable, doctor-required accommodations — such as short sitting breaks — that put their health at additional risk as they also navigate COVID-19 exposure. Watch airport security worker Candice Branner talk about her case in this short video.
8. See you in court, Betsy: Suing the Dept. of Education
In August, the Trump Administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos flipped Title IX on its head so that it no longer protected student survivors of sexual assault, and instead helped assailants avoid accountability. So we sued. Five ERA student clients joined our lawsuit, speaking out on behalf of survivors everywhere. Hearings began in November, making ours the first of many similar lawsuits to make it to trial. While the presidential election results will show DeVos her exit, the case will guide future amendments defending our students.
9. Legal Advocacy Firsts for LGBTQI+ and Survivor Students
We expanded our Title IX services for students to feature radical new forms of legal advocacy and organizing attorneys for a cause. Our ENOUGH pro bono program is the nation’s first network of volunteer attorneys dedicated to providing free legal help to students who experience sexual violence. We also increased efforts to better serve LGBTQI+ students who experience sexual violence or discrimination based on gender identity.
10. Movement Leaders Speak at ERA Virtual Gala
Gender Justice icons and movement leaders Megan Rapinoe, Dolores Huerta, Anita Hill, Senator Lauren Underwood, and Rep. Barbara Lee spoke at our Virtual Gala on Nov. 13, alongside a few of our amazing clients, attorney volunteers, and supporters. We gathered to celebrate all we were able to accomplish together this year, to honor the everyday heroes who inspire our movement, and present the Legislator Champion Award to VP-Elector Senator Kamala Harris. The gala capped off a year of virtual events featuring movement leaders, including ERA’s Real Talk Series, where ERA Executive Director Noreen Farrell hosted elected officials, business leaders, and social justice thought leaders. In this year when we mourn the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, these movement gatherings grounded and inspired gender-justice supporters nationwide. You can check out all of these events on ERA’s YouTube channel.