In this exclusive op-ed, Fatima Goss Graves, President & CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, explains why we can’t back down from the challenges women and girls face.

During our last staff meeting of 2019, I told the team at the National Women’s Law Center that I planned to take two full weeks off before we started the new year. I explained how important it was for me to model self-care and encouraged staff to also take time to rest. With 2020 on the horizon, each of us would need to enter this new year focused and recharged.

We have seen many strides and victories for gender justice in the past year, and still, so much is at stake. We’ve barely made it through January and have already seen extensive coverage on Harvey Weinstein’s trial, Donald Trump’s impeachment, sexual violence allegations by 19 women against Russell Simmons, and brand new efforts to give everyone from schools to health providers a license to discriminate against women and LGBTQ people.

These challenges are both harrowing and also not new. Racism, genocide, and misogyny are as embedded in the fabric of this country as core principles of justice and fairness.

Yet, I enter this new decade hopeful and clear about the path ahead.

The National Women’s Law Center and this movement at large will continue to shape and influence the law, policy and culture shifts necessary to drive change — and the last few years we have practiced what it looks like to demonstrate our collective power.

We’ve practiced what’s possible when we take on systems that seemed too entrenched to be disrupted. We have seen that it is possible to win. And we cannot back down.

So when I think about action items ahead, we must, first, shatter the culture around shame. The shame that puts up barriers for women to thrive in public and private spaces — in the workplace, schools, health care systems, at home, in the media, and at the polls. It undergirds all the work ahead and we are ready to take it on.

We will show up in the workplace

Since #MeToo went viral, we have seen tremendous policy changes across states, and hope to see more before the end of the year. States are changing how they respond to sexual harassment and discrimination.

In the last two years, the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund has been established and 15 states have passed new laws protecting workers from sexual harassment.

Ten states and New York City have also enacted key prevention measures, including mandatory training and policy requirements for employers.

Five states have expanded workplace harassment protections to include independent contractors, interns, or graduate students for the very first time.

But it can’t stop there; we want to see that number increase to 20. That means 20 states by 2020 strengthening or creating new policies to prevent workplace sexual harassment.

We will show up in our schools

Our research shows black girls continue to face disproportionate school suspensions and expulsions compared to their white peers, Latina students across the country are facing mental health crises, and Title IX protections for student survivors of sexual violence are constantly under attack.

Racist, sexist dress codes perpetuate respectability politics in schools across the country, including right here at home in D.C., but students are relentlessly challenging these systems.

We’re proud to witness initiatives like Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley’s Ending PUSHOUT Act, which addresses the ways in which girls of color are overpoliced and criminalized in schools. In Philadelphia, where schools had 558 students for every school counselor, students expressed how policymakers and school administrators can better support students facing mental health crises.

Survivors of sexual assault are naming that they deserve to be supported not punished for reporting their assault. We’re proud to join with student survivors to advocate against this Administration’s efforts to gut Title IX protections.

We will show up for health care, no matter your income or where you live

We know that 1 in 4 people will have an abortion by age 45. Yet, in 2019, seven states raced to pass bans on abortion at conception or as early as six weeks — before most people even know they are pregnant.

And though abortion remains legal in every state in this country, what is clear is that these extreme lawmakers have been inspired by the appointment of extremist judges and a president who has promised to overturn Roe v. Wade.

We are challenging the public conversation about abortion that stigmatizes abortion care and puts patients last. We are centering the experiences of patients who say #AbortionActually is compassion and healing.

And we are rallying against efforts in the Senate to confirm judicial nominees who will sit in powerful positions for life — now that the president has been impeached and faces trial before that very same body.

The Senate should not both be confirming judges to lifetime appointments and determining whether the president will be removed from office at the very same time.

We will show up for families

Our movement geared up for another dramatic increase in child care and early learning funding — $1 billion — and there is no question that this increase will mean more families will have access to high quality and affordable child care.

But the same budget included no improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) or the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Our tax code is stacked against people of color and women-led households.

At the same time, the current administration has proposed further cuts to public programs that support women and families on the grounds that increased deficits require reduced spending.

We must reorient our tax law to support women, people of color, and low and moderate-income families. Doing so can cultivate an economy that works for all of us, not just America’s wealthiest people.

We will show up in the media

Shining the light of truth in dark places is never easy. It takes immense courage. We are inspired and motivated by the bravery of survivors from the #SurvivingRKelly documentary.

Whether or not the rest of the world is prepared or willing to pay attention, black women are telling the truth about their experiences and refusing to remain silent.

We will show up in this election through #MeTooVoter — anchored by the Me Too Movement, The National Women’s Law Center, National Domestic Workers Alliance, and Justice for Migrant Women.

From the hospitality industry to Hollywood, survivors are leading a groundbreaking public conversation and naming their priorities for elected officials and candidates.

Our movement is relentless and disrupting the status quo during unprecedented times. Power never recedes voluntarily and striding towards the change that we need will be uncomfortable for people who have long held positions of privilege and power. But until we achieve gender and racial justice, it is necessary and long overdue.

Wherever there is shame and barriers that hinder gender justice, you will see us. So we are here — unapologetically, well-rested and ready to fight for justice for her, and justice for all.

Fatima Goss Graves

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