The past year has been challenging in terms of women's rights, particularly since the advent of the Trump administration. Indeed, just this month, the administration rolled back regulations requiring employers to cover birth control costs for female employees, potentially forcing thousands of women to pay high costs for access to contraception. This change has come amid regular assaults on women's rights, including frequent attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and rescinding of campus sexual assault protections, among others. However, despite these challenges, the women's rights movement has still made gains in the past year, particularly in the areas of advocacy and activism.
Indeed, the past year has seemingly been one of concerted advocacy for women's rights groups. New advocacy initiatives began to emerge during the 2016 presidential election as women campaigned to protect their interests in the face of a candidate who seemed particularly unfriendly to women. Then, following Trump's election in November, this activism steamrolled ahead, especially with the creation of the Women's March on Washington event and similarly-named organization.
The Women's March on Washington, and its sister marches around the world, was a record-breaking undertaking on January 21, 2017 — the day after Trump's inauguration. It was the largest single day protest in U.S. history, with the Washington march drawing up to 500,000 participants and the collective worldwide marches drawing up to 5 million.
Many people around the U.S. credit the march for serving as significant mobilizer and unifier for the women's movement and broader rights movements. For example, NPR conducted interviews with Americans 100 days after the March and found that, as a result of the day of protest, many people have become more politically engaged, taking a stand for and against policies that they do or do not support.
Julie Wittes Schlack, a 62-year-old writer from Cambridge, Mass., told the outlet, "I have called Congress people more since Trump's election than I had in the couple of decades before ... I was an activist way back when, in the '60s and '70s. And then fairly dormant for a couple of decades."
The Women's March organization, which came to fruition amid the planning of the Women's March events, has also continuously contributed to this momentum of advocacy post-Women's March. In the first 100 days following the march, the organization offered ten action items for supporters to continue advocacy on behalf of women's rights and rights more broadly, including voter registration drives, congressional advocacy campaigns, and a "day without a woman" awareness movement, among others.
The Women's March organization also announced that it is holding a Women's Convention at the end of October to provide "workshops, strategy sessions, inspiring forums and intersectional movement building to continue the preparation going into the 2018 midterm elections."
The Women's March organization, in addition to other women's advocacy groups, including the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, have also engaged in concerted advocacy campaigns that stopped the passage of legislation that would be particularly harmful for women — most notably, the multiple iterations of bills that have been introduced to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act this year, some of which had provisions that could have made pregnancy and rape pre-existing conditions as well as required some women to pay more for health care.
At the state level, there has also been advocacy-inspired success, both in terms of stopping harmful legislation as well as in introducing legislation to proactively protect women's rights. For example, in May, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU successfully won a temporary injunction to stop portions of Iowa's new abortion law from being enacted, which would have required 72-hour delay for women seeking abortions as well as a medically unnecessary clinic appointment. Moreover, in states around the country, legislators, with the help of advocates, are introducing proactive abortion bills to counter the conservative assault on women's reproductive rights.
The women's movement has also made gains over the past year in the number of women running for office. Indeed, many women have indicated that the Women's March and a renewed sense of urgency around advocacy for women's rights have inspired them to run for office. EMILY's List, a non-profit which supports pro-choice, Democratic women running for office in the U.S., had indicated that its current numbers are record-breaking. In August of this year, the organization reported that it had been contacted by more than 16,000 women interested in running for office — a huge jump from the 920 who expressed interest in 2016, which at the time was considered an enormous success. Indeed, Vogue reported that EMILY's List has actually had to hire more than 25 staffers this year to help with the additional work due to a massive influx in interest.
Arguably, the women's rights movement is more visible and more emboldened than it has been in quite some time. Hopefully this unified strength will result in significant positive changes, including further promoting policies that protect women's rights and preventing the passage of those that do not, electing more women to office who believe in a strong women's rights platform, and creating a society in which all women experience veritable, inclusive equality.