While a multitude of 2020’s problems will continue to plague us in 2021, with the end of the Trump administration in sight and the arrival of the COVID vaccine, there’s a sense of hope and possibility in the air as the new year approaches—and we’re clinging onto hope like our lives depend on it.
As 2020 draws to a close, Ms. asked some of our favorite feminists—from our fave feminist lawyers and activists fighting for abortion and health care access for all, to scholars doing invaluable research on gender disparities in the U.S. and on a global scale—what they see as top priorities and what changes they’re hoping for in 2021.
“I wish that a Biden-Harris administration would bring our country’s women’s rights framework into the 21st century. We are one of the few countries—alongside Iran and the Sudan—that has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). We are also one of the few countries without an equal rights clause in our constitution. It’s time to give women the same legal rights as men.”
—Jennifer M. Piscopo, associate professor of politics at Occidental College.
(Read more about how the U.S. brings up the rear when it comes to gender equality laws.)
“I wish that the lame-duck Trump administration would cancel the execution of Lisa Montgomery, scheduled for January 12, a mere eight days before President Biden takes office. Born with brain damage, Montgomery suffered severe and traumatic mental, physical and sexual abuse throughout her life at the hands of her mother, step-father and others and her pleas for help were ignored by those who should and could have saved her. She should not be put to death but should be granted the clemency that she will request in December 2020.”
—Michelle Onello, a human rights lawyer focusing on gender equality, international law and reproductive rights, and senior counsel at the Global Justice Center and a principal at Cetana Consulting.
(For more information on how to help, see www.savelisa.org.)
“I wish that the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights will decide in favor of Tanzanian girls who, through their government’s policy, are currently denied their right to education if they get pregnant. And I wish the government will make schools safe for girls and equip them with comprehensive sexuality education and access to sexual reproductive rights and services. Access to safe schooling and education will ensure that girls will be empowered and enjoy other socio-economic rights which are necessary for their human development.”
—Faiza Jama Mohamed, the Africa region director at Equality Now, has more than 20 years of experience advocating for the legal rights of women and girls at the national, regional and international levels.
(You can read more about how COVID-19 threatens decades of progress on world gender equality, and learn more about the human rights issues facing women and girls in Africa here.)
Violence Against Women
“We need to pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) with key enhancements. It hasn’t been reauthorized since 2013 and so much has changed since then. Just in the last few months because of COVID and the economic crisis, Latinas and immigrants are experiencing increased isolation, misinformation, lack of access to health care and workplace protections, and lack of sufficient access to community-based resources and support. All of this increases risks to domestic violence and makes efforts to access safety and well-being so much harder. An improved and reauthorized VAWA will save lives by providing advocates, practitioners, and survivors of domestic and sexual violence with updated and more comprehensive resources and options.”
—Patti Tototzintle, CEO of Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities
(For more information about VAWA, including how to get involved in reauthorizing it, visit 4vawa.org. Check out casadeespereranz.org for ideas on how to support Latin@ survivors and immigrant communities and visit immigrantsurvivors.org for more information on policy advocacy on behalf of immigrant survivors.)
“Donald Trump’s presidency represented an enormous setback in the ongoing struggle to reduce our society’s appallingly high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence. With Joe Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice-president, we will once again have the opportunity to see leadership from the White House on these critical issues.
“Specifically, I would love to see the new president use his stature and unparalleled platform to highlight and expand the multiracial, multiethnic movement of men committed to working to end misogyny and all forms of men’s violence against women. This movement already exists – in the U.S. and globally — but has not yet reached the critical mass required to make transformative change. With leadership from the highest level we can accomplish a great deal more – and we must.”
—Jackson Katz, Ph.D, author, activist and creator and co-writer of the new documentary film “The Man Card: White Male Identity Politics from Nixon to Trump” (co-produced by the Media Education Foundation).
(If you are interested in learning more, check out this important campaign to engage men by the DC-based organization Vital Voices. Read more about Donald Trump and the impact of his administration on masculinity here.
Reproductive Rights and Health Care
“I wish that the FDA would remove the REMS restriction on the abortion pill and that all states would allow telemedine abortion so that people can receive the abortion pill by mail from their health care providers, without having to travel long distances or pass through anti-abortion protesters to get abortion health care. Telemedicine abortion and distribution of the pill to patients by mail will make abortion access quick, convenient, private, and affordable to people no matter where they live.”
“More than 19 million women live in contraceptive deserts, yet access to contraception for those who need it most was consistently underattack. All people should have unfettered access to the full range of contraception options they need and that are right for them. My wish for the new year is that our fight for the full range of reproductive health services for people everywhere sees significant progress in 2021. Making this a reality means reversing all efforts that restricted people’s access to contraception and working to protect and expand coverage and access to it. This would get us closer to a world where all people have the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant.”
(Learn more about Power to Decide’s helpful tools for finding verified abortion providers here.)
“I hope that 2021 will bring a renewed sense of protection of reproductive rights. The last four years have brought many increased restrictions and fears surrounding reproductive rights. I am hopeful that we can continue to fight to uphold current precedent as well as expand access and support.”
—Dr. Staci Tanouye, a board-certified ob-gyn physician and advocate for expanded sexual education and reproductive rights.
(Learn more about the importance of widespread access to contraception here, or about the new and innovative ways ob-gyns are bringing sex ed to teens here. If you’re interested in supporting the cause, check out Power To Decide.)
“I wish the U.S. would recognize health care as a human right for all and provide health care coverage for all, including undocumented immigrants. This pandemic has shown us how we are all interconnected and how certain groups, such as Black, Latinx, and indigenous populations, are faring worse with higher hospitalization and death rates. The lack of access to health care in one of the richest countries in the world is unforgivable.
“At a time when Americans are losing jobs and associated health care coverage, the Supreme Court seems poised to uphold Medicaid mandatory work requirements. Medicaid is a vital program for millions of low income Americans. The majority of people who are on Medicaid are women. Work requirements make it more difficult for women and their kids to keep their health care coverage.
“I hope that the Georgia race results in a Democratic majority in the Senate and that laws and policies enhancing access to health care become a priority.”
—Seema Mohapatra, J.D., M.P.H., tenured faculty member at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and current visiting professor at Florida A&M University College of Law.
(Learn more about how the Trump administration’s expansion of the global gag rule has impacted global health here.)
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Inequity and Representation
“My wish for 2021 is a focus on issues affecting Black women in the workplace. Black women are less likely to feel supported at work during the COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, publicized incidents of racial violence in the U.S. exact a psychological toll on those women. Even before the pandemic, many Black women had already reported feeling excluded at work and ignored. Issues of racism have long eroded the psychological safety of Black women in the workplace. I hope the potential loss of Black women workers will prompt businesses to finally truly engage with the work of racial equity and inclusion.
“I urge President Biden to take action to pass transparency laws that would require businesses to disclose their diversity numbers yearly, along with pay transparency. I urge businesses to engage with diversity and inclusion professionals to take the temperature of their work climates and make necessary changes for better inclusion.”
—Dr. Ifeoma Ajunwa, J.D., Ph.D., associate professor with tenure at Cornell University and faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center at Harvard Law School.
“Despite record numbers of women running for office in 2020 the United States will likely rank 70th in the world for the percentage of women elected at the national level – other countries in that range include Afghanistan, Mali, Slovenia, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Bulgaria and Iraq.
To make serious and sustained progress toward gender balance in politics in the coming decade we need to learn from the countries electing more women to office – faster – and invest in data-driven institutional strategies that address the structural barriers women face as candidates and as elected officials.
My hope is that the democracy reform and women’s representation movements will forge partnerships to work together on systems strategies like ranked choice voting & the Fair Representation Act that will yield the reflective democracy we all crave.”
(She wrote about the power of voting systems to elect more women in this recent piece for Ms.)
“I wish for more inclusive representation of women, non-binary individuals, LGBTQ folx, and people of color in the film industry, on television, and in other visual media, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera. Popular culture resonates with our lived experiences by both reflecting where we are and showing us how things could be. The more women of color who work in these industries, the more opportunities there will be for other women of color. The more compelling and varied representations we see of characters who are often marginalized in society, the more we will see this diversity understood and acknowledged in our real lives.”
—Aviva Dove-Viebahn, Ph.D, assistant professor of film and media studies and contributing editor of the Scholar Writing Program for Ms.
(If you’re interested in learning more about why fair representation goes deeper than the faces you see on screen, check out the organization Women of Color Unite, a non-profit focusing on fair access and treatment of women of color in the entertainment and media industries).
My wish for the new year in books is that the Big 5 publishers listen to readers and writers when they express their concerns about #PublishingSoWhite. They (literally) need to put their money where their mouths are. We need more writers, editors, scouts, agents, imprints and BOSSES of color in order to ensure the industry reflects the broad spectrum of writers – this is what readers want!
—Karla J. Strand, Ph.D, M.L.I.S., a gender and women’s studies librarian for the University of Wisconsin.
Bravely Facing the New Year
“Guided by the wisdom of Karen Armstrong: ‘Compassion is not an option. It is the key to our survival.’
“I wish that women and girls may courageously embrace the ethical principle of compassion. May we confidently and firmly lead in establishing relationships of respect, interdependence, and generosity with others and all of creation.”
—Martha Ann Kirk, Th.D., professor emerita and Compassion Integrity Training Facilitator.
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