Top 2015 Women's Equality Moments

Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai poses for photographers in front of '
Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai poses for photographers in front of 'Malala 2015', a new official portrait of Malala, by British artist Nasser Azam, in Birmingham, central England on November 29, 2015. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Equal Rights Advocates' Top 2015 Women's Equality Moments

Equal Rights Advocates, the national civil rights nonprofit I run, produced this list of the top moments for women in 2015.

A few caveats.

This list, while numbered, is not in any particular order of importance. It also isn't exhaustive. We gravitated toward moments featuring issues relevant to girls at school and women at work and those lifting women up as leaders, but even with these limitations, we know this list just gets us started. So help us! What great feminist moments should be included on this list? Respond here and we will produce an updated list. on January 15, 2016.

As we developed a "Best of 2015" list, we also reflected on disappointments of the year. These include a lukewarm to outright hostile Supreme Court session on women's issues, continued attacks against Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights, and the epidemic of sexual violence against young women on college campuses. The persistent barriers to equality and economic security faced by women and girls are numerous and they are urgent. We will stand with advocates, legislators, businesses, and community members to address them in 2016. Let's gain inspiration from the 2015 wins!

Top 2015 Women's Equality Moments

1. Signing of the California Fair Pay Act

In a move we hope will be followed by other states and at the federal level, California passed in 2015 the California Fair Pay Act as the strongest equal pay law in the country. Sponsored by Equal Rights Advocates and partners, the law was endorsed by the California Chamber of Commerce and received nearly unanimous bipartisan support from the California Legislature. The law addresses pay secrecy practices that allow pay discrimination to persist by strengthening protections for employees who talk about pay. It requires equal pay for "substantially similar" work, potentially across different facilities of an employer. It also clarifies employer defenses to pay claims to ensure that sex-based reasons do not drive pay decisions.

2. Patricia Arquette's Oscar Winning Speech and Hollywood's Feminist Agenda
Actress Patricia Arquette used the national stage at the 2015 Academy Awards to condemn the persistent gender wage gap as she accepted an Oscar for her riveting role as a struggling mother in Boyhood. Patricia continued to speak out on the challenges facing working women throughout the year and partnered with Equal Rights Advocates and other advocates to promote fair pay. Arquette's speech came on the heels of a hacker incident at Sony Pictures that revealed widespread gender bias in pay among actors and top executives. The scandal prompted great feminist shout-outs by many Hollywood stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Halle Berry, Laverne Cox, Lena Dunham, Rosario Dawson, Geena Davis, Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone, and Emily Watson.

3. Women's Economic Security Policy Agendas Gain Steam Across the Country
In states across the country and at the federal level, issues important to women, men, and families were front and center in 2015 policy agendas driving reform to improve economic security. The Minnesota Women's Economic Security Agenda, the Stronger Calif♀rnia Agenda, the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health, and the New York Women's Equality Agenda were just some of the policy reform agendas calling for fair pay, better access to childcare, anti-poverty measures, better protections for working families, access to reproductive health care, and other reforms critical to improving the lives of millions across the country. The federal When Women Succeed Agenda, introduced by House Democrats in 2013, was an early inspiration for these state efforts.

4. Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide
On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision, that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. In so doing, the Court guaranteed this right to individuals throughout the nation, including in the thirteen states that had continued to ban it, affirming that all people are entitled to "equal dignity in the eyes of the law."

5. Violence Against Women Act Beefs Up Protections for Native American Women and Women on College Campuses
Improvements to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) went into effect in 2015. They include provisions that allow tribal courts to investigate and prosecute non-native perpetrators of violence against Native women on reservations. Additionally, regulations for VAWA amendments to the Clery Act went into effect to improve campus reporting and handling of incidents involving sexual harassment, violence, and stalking.

6. Hillary Clinton Announces her Candidacy for President
On April 12, 2015, Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the United States, making her a contender to become the first woman nominated by either the Republican or Democratic Party.

7. Frontline Documentary, "Rape on the Night Shift"
Following the success of "Rape in the Fields," revealing the rampant sexual assault suffered by primarily migrant women agricultural workers, Frontline released a second installment in 2015 - "Rape on the Night Shift." The documentary sheds light on the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault among janitorial workers and shares the stories of some of the brave women who are fighting back against their employers, including Equal Rights Advocates' client

8. White House Pledges Over $100 million Toward Girls and Women of Color
In November 2015, the White House announced $118 million to support economic and research initiatives related to the issues facing minority girls and women. Underlying this move is recognition of the significant obstacles and structural barriers faced by girls and women of color, including higher rates of discipline in schools and teen pregnancy, increased likelihood of arrest, and the widest pay gap of approximately 60 cents to every dollar earned by white men.

9. World Champion U.S. Women's National Soccer Team
For the first time in 16 years, the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team won the World Cup this summer. At the same time, the team also inspired young girls across the U.S. to pursue professional sports, challenged what "playing like a girl" meant, and raised their voices against sexism in the upper echelons of professional sports. Shortly after the team took home their World Cup, the sobering story emerged that they earn far less than their male counterparts - taking home $2 million after the World Cup, compared to the $35 million awarded to the German men's team when they won last year.

10. Loretta Lynch Sworn In As United States Attorney General
Loretta Lynch was confirmed as U.S. Attorney General in 2015, the first African American woman ever to hold this cabinet position. Just one month into her tenure, she made feminists proud by taking on the corrupt officials of FIFA, the governing body of the world's most popular sport. She pledged to root out "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted" corruption with indictments against nine FIFA officials.

11. #ILookLikeAnEngineer
After backlash from a woman being featured in a tech ad, many female engineers took the moment to challenge stereotypes in the field. Women engineers began sharing their images with the viral hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer to raise awareness.

12. Salesforce's Pay Equity Commitment
In April 2015, the tech giant stirred the industry with an announcement by CEO Mark Benioff that Salesforce would conduct a methodical audit of all of its 16,000 employees to ensure pay equality. Two female leaders in the company, Leyla Seka and Cindy Robbins, urged the move and then continued the fair pay conversation at the Dreamforce Women's Leadership Summit with Equal Rights Advocates and Patricia Arquette. Salesforce recently announced that it will spend $3 million to close the pay gap between male and female employees. We hope that Salesforce's leadership on equal pay prompts similar actions by other companies in tech and other industries.

13. Angela Merkel Named TIME's Person of the Year
For the first time in 29 years, TIME named a woman as their "Person of the Year" - German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

14. The Hunting Ground Shortlisted for Oscar Nomination
The documentary, which exposes the prevalence of campus sexual assault but also the institutional systems on college campuses that too often fail victims, has been shortlisted for an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

15. U.S. Military Opens All Combat Positions to Women
In December 2015, the U.S. military announced that it will open all combat positions to women. The rule change affects roughly 220,000 jobs in the armed services that previously had been limited to men.

16. Saudi Arabian Women Vote for the First Time
On December 12, 2015, women in Saudi Arabia headed to the polls to vote for the first time. The day marked an important step in the movement for women's rights in the country.

17. Companies Step Up on Paid Leave
In 2015, several large companies publicly expanded paid family leave for employees. The companies, which include Amazon, Netflix, and Spotify, among others, has brought the conversation about caregiving and paid leave into the national discussion.

18. Serena Williams Crowned Sportsperson of the Year
Overcoming injuries and deficits, Serena Williams had an impressive season on the court, earning her the title of Sports Illustrated magazine's Sportsperson of the Year.

19. Target Phases out Gender-Based Signs
The retailer announced this summer than it would remove gender labels in departments like toys, home, and entertainment.

20. On 18th Birthday, Nobel Winner Malala Opens Schools for Syrian Refugee Girls
Malala Yousafzai, the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, celebrated her 18th birthday by opening a school for Syrian refugee girls and called on world leaders to invest in "books not bullets." Malala became a symbol of defiance after she was shot on a school bus in Pakistan in 2012 by the Taliban for advocating girls' rights to education. She continued campaigning and won the Nobel in 2014.