“If one could characterize in a single phrase the contribution of Black women to America,
I think it would be ‘survival with dignity against incredible odds.”
NOW co-founder the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray
NOW Stands in Solidarity to Combat Racism and Discrimination
Ending racism is one of NOW’s six core issues. We are committed to identifying and combating the barriers to equality and justice imposed by structural racism, particularly those that inflict a double burden of race and sex discrimination on BIPOC women and girls, including trans women and girls. We champion equal opportunities in all areas, including employment, education, and reproductive rights.
We must build a genuinely intersectional future where our policy leaders are working to address the gender and racial inequities that, while certainly not new, were exposed like never before due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Simultaneously, the shocking images and videos showing violence against African Americans and communities of color by law enforcement, the attacks on diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculums, and the decimation of voting rights for BIPOC communities, further demonstrate the dire need to advance racial justice in our society.
As champions of equal opportunities in all areas, including employment, education, and reproductive rights, we recognize that racial justice is a feminist issue and that to achieve equality, our activism must be anti-racist. Having a thriving and free civil society is fundamental for human rights, and NOW is committed to ensuring that historically excluded communities of color have the freedom to participate at every level.
NOW believes that the lives lost due to our unjust system matter, and we will not stop raising our voices until we see justice.
NOW’s Work on Racial Justice
In 1966, distinguished civil rights leader Dr. Pauli Murray encouraged Betty Friedan and others to establish an organization to pressure the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to carry out its mandate to enforce Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion. This action is responsible for launching the National Organization for Women. Dr. Murray, who wrote NOW’s Statement of Purpose, acted as a bridge between the civil rights movement and the modern women’s movement.
Murray’s legacy continues as NOW works with our partner organization to dismantle systemic and structural racism through public education, legislation, and advocacy.
Aileen Hernandez, a union organizer and civil and women’s rights activist served as NOW’s second president in 1970. She helped organize the Women’s Strike for Equality and testified in front of a congressional subcommittee on the Equal Rights Amendment.
IMAGE SOURCE: Getty
Current Racial Justice Initiatives
NOW takes a holistic approach to women’s rights, and our advocacy is always conducted through an intersectional lens. For NOW, intersectional feminism means that every piece of legislation, policy, or program that we support must address marginalized and under-resourced populations, including BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities. It is at the core of who we are as an organization. We strive to center these important voices in our work. On the micro and macro levels, we must constantly recognize and address how white privilege and white fragility may shape our beliefs and actions as an organization and as organizers.
NOW’s members and leaders recognize that we must expand our focus from where it has been in the past to stand in solidarity with allies in the progressive movement today. We must stand for issues that haven’t always been at the forefront of our minds as feminists, ones that go past our comfort zones. By standing in solidarity and protecting not just ourselves, but also those standing next to us, we will be disrupting an oppressive system and ensuring equity for all.
Racial Justice Summits
NOW’s Racial Justice Summits gather Congressional leaders, local and national advocacy experts, and renowned authors to educate and inspire constituents and Congressional staffers working on policy to do so using a racial justice/equity lens. The unique format incorporates how anyone, from local organizers to federal officials, can create movements, programs, and legislation committed to intersectionality and racial inclusion.
See photos and video from our previous Racial Justice Summits.
Under the Trump Administration, the bold advances that women have made over the past decades, particularly those of our Black, Indigenous, Women of Color, Latinx, trans, and gender non-conforming relatives, were decimated. After the historic 2020 election NOW and our partner organizations immediately set on a path to reverse the damage and strike a bold new path forward to an intersectional feminist future that is rooted in grassroots activism. NOW and Black Women’s Blueprint brought these voices to the forefront as part of a listening and discussion series, to share the issues that matter most to us – and the issues we need the Biden-Harris Administration to prioritize as part of a feminist agenda.
Racial Equity Training
In 2020, NOW’s board, leadership, staff, and interns began participating in Racial Equity training sessions as part of our commitment to racial justice and equity within our organization. We know that to be effective allies, we must first do the work in our own homes and offices. These trainings are conducted via Racial Equity Institute LLC.
The sessions are now offered as webinars to our entire membership through The Groundwater series, which will provide a historical analysis of structural racism within the United States. Register for an upcoming training here.
Through NOW’s listening sessions, racial justice summits, racial equity training and so much more, NOW hopes to show policymakers, Congressional staffers, constituents, grassroots activists, and so many others the importance of viewing all of their work through a racial justice and racial equity lens. It will take all of us to create movements, programs, and legislation committed to intersectionality and racial inclusion. It is up to all of us to continue the legacies of Pauli Murray, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others who came before us. Together, we will keep on marching in their names.
NOW’s Racial Justice Priorities
- Police Brutality and Policing Reform
- Hate Crimes
- Supporting BIPOC Candidates
- Voting Rights/Curbing Voter Suppression
NOW has a long history of supporting the rights of immigrant families, including organizing the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, leading the effort to establish the U-Visa for survivors of domestic or gang violence seeking a haven in the U.S. and in 2019, launching the Unlock the Future campaign to protest the inhumane treatment of undocumented immigrant women and children in inhumane detention facilities.
“It is up to us … to defend the human rights of migrant women and girls and welcome them into safety here in the US. Let’s welcome them with open arms and open hearts because they’re not strangers. They’re mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. They are women, just like you and me, who deserve basic human rights including safe living conditions and medical care. The system of suffering must end. No human being belongs in a cage.” –Erika Andiola, Chief of Advocacy, RAICES
NOW also supported the American Dream and Promise Act of 2021, which is a vital first step in permanently protecting undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation. Dreamers were brought to this country as children and despite the invaluable contributions they make to their communities, they’re forced to live in the shadows because of their status. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), protects millions of Dreamers from deportation, but the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle the landmark program showed its vulnerabilities. Congress must take action and make DACA the law of the land, permanently. Read more about our work on immigration rights.
Economic Justice and Equal Pay
Women working full-time are only paid 83.7 percent as much as men, which amounts to a difference of $10,000 per year, and the data is worse for BIPOC women.
- Forbes magazine reports that compared to non-Hispanic white men:
- Latinas were compensated just 54%,
- Black women were compensated only 58%,
- Native American women are typically compensated only 60 cents per dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men.
- AAUW reports that Asian American women working full-time, year-round are paid 99 cents and all earners, including part-time and seasonal, are paid 89 cents for every dollar paid to non-Hispanic white men.
The gender and race wage gap prevents BIPOC women from being able to invest in their families and their futures, including the ability to pay for childcare, college tuition insurance, and emergencies. NOW is a long-time supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would strengthen protections regarding wage discrimination and close loopholes found in the 1963 Equal Pay Act. NOW also supports the One Fair Wage of $15 an hour, especially for tipped workers, a majority of whom are women and a substantial number are workers of color.
To move forward with these initiatives and to be actively anti-racist in all of our advocacy, we must also understand how this country arrived to this point. Black wealth, and wealth in many communities of color, has been purposefully, systematically, and often violently, destroyed.
Reproductive Justice and Health
BIPOC women are among the hardest hit when abortion care and reproductive health access is gutted.
In 2004 NOW was a lead organizer with our women of color allies of the massive March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC. With 1.15 million marchers, it was the largest civil rights march in U.S. history. Co-chairs of the event, which was nearly a year in the planning, were Alice Cohan of Feminist Majority Foundation and Loretta Ross, former NOW Director of Women of Color Programs and co-founder of SisterSong, women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.
NOW regularly participates in a large coalition of women’s reproductive health and rights organizations, meeting monthly to share information on current legislation and policies. Our highest priorities now are undoing some of the damaging actions taken by and during the Trump administration, including:
- Reversing the limits placed on medication abortion care.
- Rolling back the expansion of religious and conscience objections in the provision of health care.
- Defending against the continuous stream of state legislation that narrows access to abortion care, especially for BIPOC communities.
Every presidential election year NOW joins our partner organizations that focus on women’s reproductive health to develop a Blueprint for policies and action. Of particular focus are the health needs and concerns of BIPOC women, including access to affordable abortion care, contraceptives, and maternal health.
NOW also supports the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Workplace discrimination based on pregnancy and related medical conditions disproportionality affects Black women and might be connected to the Black maternal health crisis. Taxing and inflexible work environments are ones where women are unfairly told to lift heavy items while pregnant or being denied appropriate time off for prenatal appointments and medical visits after labor.
Supporting Black mothers and other communities of color means continuing to provide them with resources after their children are born. We must also remember that abortion care is an essential part of maternal health care. Almost six out of ten women who have had abortions are mothers. Black mothers deserve to be able to make decisions about their own bodies and families, and that simply isn’t possible when safe abortion providers are too far away or the procedure is too expensive. Therefore, eliminating the discriminatory Hyde Amendment by passing the EACH Act is absolutely crucial to Black maternal health, as it would enable federal funding of abortion care for those in need.
In addition to maternal and reproductive health, structural racism has resulted in multiple health crisis throughout BIPOC communities which have been highlighted like never before due to the COVID pandemic. While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) health insurance expansion helped to increase coverage across many ethnic groups, BIPOC people and under-resourced individuals remain at greater risk of being uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). During the Trump administration, decreased funding for outreach and enrollment assistance and immigration policy changes eroded previous coverage gains under the ACA.
In addition to coverage gaps, BIPOC communities often report receiving poorer quality care and being denied treatment or pain medication. Many studies also show that the experience of living in a racist society itself causes negative physical and mental health outcomes for BIPOC communities. Life expectancy for Black people was four years lower than for whites.
For more on our reproductive health work click here.
- NOW Recognizes the Black Maternal Health Crisis
- Racism Hurts Moms and Babies
- Disparities in Health Care
Over the last few years, we have begun normalizing individual mental health and wellness discussions. However, as we continue to destigmatize this topic, we fail to talk about the layers of additional stress and trauma that affect specific groups – like the Black community. Black children are born bearing centuries of generational trauma before they utter their first word. The suicide rate among Black men is rising higher than any other demographic. And Black women face intersecting stressors from systemic racism and misogyny that our society refuses to acknowledge. That is why NOW launched our Healing is Resistance: A Restorative Path to Mental Wellness series to highlight the unique mental health challenges facing BIPOC communities and how we can help address them.
Violence Against Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color
In 1994 NOW and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (NOW LDEF) led the campaign to pass the Violence Against Women Act and we have worked with allies over the years to reauthorize VAWA and assure funding to support programs preventing violence against women, protections for survivors, and other supports.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed like never before how domestic violence impacts women’s day-to-day lives. With quarantine levels high, hospitals across the country saw a surge in emergency care cases resulting from intimate partner violence (IPV).
BIPOC women especially are at risk of domestic and sexual violence, and murder. It is estimated that 37.5 percent of Native women have experienced IPV in their lifetime, with 29.1 percent of Black women, 23.4 percent of Latinas, and 41-60 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander women reporting the same. Black and Native women are at the greatest risk for IPV-related homicide.
March 2022 finally saw the most recent VAWA reauthorization signed into law by President Joe Biden, the author of the original VAWA. When the U.S. Senate failed to reauthorize VAWA in 2019, NOW members began a pressure campaign that could not be, and we won.
While NOW applauds this VAWA reauthorization, we know that it is only the beginning of our efforts. Congress must follow with a renewed commitment to childcare, healthcare, and other vital investments in our lives and future that help survivors and all families to live and thrive.
Over the last ten years, NOW and the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence have worked diligently to include within VAWA provisions that would facilitate better protections and justice for Native American women as survivors of violence living on reservations that depend upon tribal law enforcement and tribal courts to properly prosecute perpetrators.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW)
“When you have a system that cannot hold people accountable, what is the message? The message to perpetrators is ‘I can get away with it,’ and the message to survivors is ‘no one will do anything to help me.’ And … I think that this perfect storm of legal problems explains why Native people suffer from such high rates of violence.”
-Professor Sarah Deer (Muscogee (Creek) Nation)
Native women face murder rates at more than 10 times the national average, and the overwhelming majority – 96 percent- are assaulted by non-Native perpetrators. Underlying causes of the violence include human trafficking, domestic violence, violent crime, systemic racism, economic disparities and substance use and addiction.
One significant factor is the oil industry. Communities in Indian Country have reported increased rates of human trafficking and missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIWs) in areas surrounding pipelines. Workers coming into these often rural and remote communities set up “man camps” in areas that have inadequate resources to oversee the new populations.
In 2015 violent crime reports increased in Bakken oil-producing region of Montana and North Dakota, according to the Immigration and Human Rights Law Review. One report shows that sexual assaults on women on the Fort Berthold reservation increased by a staggering 75 percent. Most of the oil workers are non-Native which means they could not be prosecuted by the tribe due to complex jurisdictional issues.
NOW is encouraged by the Biden administration’s Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) and enforcement provisions of the Not Invisible Act. Current Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna), the first Native American to lead the agency, led the introduction of the bill when she served in the House of Representatives. The MMU will be inclusive of tribal leaders, human trafficking survivors and victims’ relatives.
- Human Trafficking in Indian Country
- The Oil Industry and MMIWs
- National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Day
The Gutting of Title IX’s Harassment and Assault Protection
NOW was one of the chief advocates for passage of the Title IX of the Education Act Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination by any educational institution that receives federal funding. This important civil rights law assures that equal opportunity is to be provided for women and men, boys and girls, in both academics and athletics.
Title IX has also been a tool to push back against the insidious threats of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses nationwide. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration adopted a regulation that greatly undermines those protections. NOW and our allies are pushing back and are confident that the incoming Biden-Harris administration will reverse this dangerous precedent.
This is especially important for women of color, who face higher rates of sexual harassment and violence. Women in general, and Black women in particular, are blamed, punished, and shamed for filing claims based on racist and sexist discrimination. And the gutting of Title IX threatens to make the situation worse.
Title IX Resources
The Supreme Court overturned 50 years of precedent when it struck down the consideration of race in college admissions. But NOW and its members stay committed to the fight for racial justice and equal opportunity in education.
In her eloquent dissent, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote, “With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces “colorblindness for all” by legal fiat. But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”
By the time the students who will be hurt by this ruling even make it to college, they have already navigated intersecting cycles of discrimination, affecting their health care, nutrition, education, and opportunity.
The Supreme Court may think it can ring down the curtain on racial discrimination from its bench, but here in the real world, we know better.
The demand for racial justice won’t fade because of this one ruling.
Our colleges and universities can’t give up on their commitment to inclusive education, even if the Supreme Court won’t make it the law of the land. NOW members will continue to support schools, educators, and lawmakers who believe in equality. And we’ll stand up to state lawmakers who want to seize control of every aspect of education and remake our schools in their own, narrow image.
An Honest History About Race
NOW is in strong support of learning from diverse historical perspectives in our public education system. We cannot have a true intersectional future without a full and complete picture of our history and the impact that it has had on BIPOC communities. If society isn’t educated that racism is a social construct, then we will continue to perpetuate a false history and push it into a continuing legacy.
Structural racism is the theory that racism is not just about individual biases, it is something that is embedded in the fabric of our legal systems and national and local policies. Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged out of a framework for legal analysis by Kimberlé Crenshaw, among others.
An example of CRT is when in the 1930s, government officials marked off areas deemed poor financial risks, specifically due to the racial makeup of those who lived there. Financial institutions then refused to offer mortgages to African Americans living in those areas. Today, these same types of discrimination continue such as single-family zoning, which prevents affordable housing from being built in higher-income white neighborhoods, which in terms curbs racial desegregation efforts.
Conservative legislatures across the country are trying to ban CRT, setting a dangerous precedent that could put an end to vital education about our nation’s theory and stymie free speech. If these laws are enacted would a teacher be banned from discussing Jim Crow and how those laws kept Black Americans from voting or being elected to office and enforced segregation? Banning CRT may cause teachers to censor their lessons and perpetuate a naïve and false history of our country.
The past several years have been an awakening in our country to the true racial inequality and injustice experienced by so many. Pandemic-related stress, economic uncertainty, and continued attacks on civil rights and women’s rights have created a wave of new activism for racial justice. Yet our country remains entrenched in deep-seated divisions that threaten BIPOC communities.
The looming shadows of Jim and Jane Crow fall over us daily as we process the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the sustained attacks on voting rights, critical race theory, and so much more. But NOW members never give up, we know that we can push back on those who seek to halt our progress through legal remedies and the tireless grassroots advocacy that we are most known for. We will not let our dreams of a truly United States, one that offers opportunity and equity for all, be thwarted.
To help ensure full economic racial equality for all we must all work together and speak out. There is so much you can do as activists. Click Here to download.