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“Women’s rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy.”

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg


“Today, women at all income levels are still facing barriers to advancement, and in some ways these challenges are harder than ever because there are some people who think that discrimination against women no longer exists. Sadly, that’s just not true.”

Lenora Lapidus, HLS ’90

Today’s advancements to women’s legal access to health care, education, civic participation, and economic justice are the result of generations of advocacy. However, despite gains in gender equality over the past century, women are still victims of harassment, assault, and discrimination in the workplace and at home. As Lenora Lapidus ‘90 observes, barriers to full equality for women continue to exist in our society, and yet the call for advancement and reform can go unanswered. There are many who have dedicated their lives to the furthering of women’s rights, yet advocates are still needed to continue this important work.

The term “women’s rights” encompasses many different areas, making it among the most difficult areas of law to define. Women’s rights are most often associated with reproductive rights, sexual and domestic violence, and employment discrimination. But women’s rights also include immigration and refugee matters, child custody, criminal justice, health care, housing, social security and public benefits, civil rights, human rights, sports law, LGBTQ+ rights, and international law. Often feminist leaders focus on areas of intersection between women’s rights and other issue areas and consider these areas of intersection as one larger movement for social justice. These areas of overlap offer an opportunity for lawyers to focus on many areas of social policy important to them. For example, if you work for an immigrant rights group or for a labor union, you can find areas of overlap with women’s rights whenever women are involved. You can be an advocate for women’s rights from many of types of organizations, because when a woman is involved, women’s rights are involved.

This guide will mainly focus on areas traditionally defined as “women’s rights,” and discuss the variety of opportunities, issue areas, and practice settings to advocate for women’s rights. However, there are an infinite number of women’s issues to fight for, and an equally large number of avenues in which to advocate for equal justice. Be creative in your thinking, spread wide your research, and find the issue and practice area in which you can most effectively achieve your goals.

Practice Settings

Federal Government

Government work offers many opportunities to positively impact women’s lives, both individually through the prosecution of cases and more collectively through policy work. All levels of government are involved in women’s issues. You can make a difference working in an office at the local, state or federal level of government–or you can decide to run for office yourself. The federal government offers a wide range of positions that formulate national policy on women’s issues. These include, but are not limited to, work at the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of Labor, and the State Department. Under President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno ’63, the Office of Violence Against Women was created in 1995 as part of the Department of Justice to address domestic violence at the national level. Additionally, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice litigates discrimination cases that include those based on sex and gender, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) litigates cases involving employment issues.

State/Local Government

Many states have established Governor’s commissions, councils, or task forces on women’s and gender issues. For example, Massachusetts has a Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking. Even if you do not want to directly work at your state’s commission on women’s rights, remember these offices as resources with links to other organizations about women in your state.

Attorney General’s Offices can offer interesting work on women’s rights issues. Some have established divisions that do policy work on economic and violence issues affecting women in particular. Other divisions of an Attorney General’s Office will deal with women’s issues as well, such as abortion rights, consumer advocacy, health care issues, and poverty law.

Opportunities exist at the local level of government to work on women’s rights through mayoral offices and prosecutor’s offices. Some mayors make fighting violence against women a priority, and have dedicated offices to combat domestic violence. State’s Attorneys and District Attorneys prosecute sex crimes on the local level, bringing justice on behalf of victims of rape and sexual assault. Programs created in these offices to support crime victims throughout the difficult trial process have made a difference in the willingness of these victims to cooperate with the prosecution of the case. Consider volunteering as a courtroom advocate to work with witnesses and help them navigate the criminal justice system.

Running for Office

One of the most direct ways to make a difference is to seek public office yourself. Female HLS graduates have successfully sought public office at all levels of government. For example, Governor Jennifer Granholm ’87 was reelected to office and celebrated for her commitment to women and families in Michigan. If you are considering running for office, or want to support female candidates, networks such as She Should Run and EMILY’s List are available to encourage women candidates to seek public office. She Should Run is a nonpartisan nonprofit working to increase the number of women considering public office. EMILY’s List is the largest grassroots political network that raises contribution money for Democratic, pro-choice women candidates.

Nonprofit Advocacy Work

Another direct way to work on women’s rights is through advocacy work at a nonprofit organization. Nonprofit advocacy organizations engage in policy advocacy and/or impact litigation. At a group with a policy focus, you would likely be writing on social policy issues of particular concern to women. Often this development of policy and subsequent legal analysis will involve important legal questions. Women’s advocacy organizations may involve questions of family law, violence against women, women’s economic opportunities, or reproductive rights. Working in these positions entails coalition building and close connections to governmental organizations that may carry out the nonprofit organization’s agenda. Nonprofit organizations work for reform at all levels of government, influencing local, state, national and international policy.

Nonprofit organizations often deal with high-impact litigation and class action cases, advocating for certain clients as representatives of a class of women. Organizations that handle such cases are quite careful in the cases they agree to litigate, considering the broader ramifications of the desired outcome. Besides taking high impact cases, nonprofits often contribute to other cases through submission of amicus briefs. There are endless ways and paths through nonprofit organizations to advance women’s rights. Think carefully about office environment, location, and level of advocacy (local, state, national, international) when selecting a nonprofit office to work for.

Direct Services

Legal services programs provide direct civil representation, at reduced cost or free, to low-income clients. Legal services attorneys ensure equal access to the justice system for people who could not otherwise afford attorneys. Much of a legal services lawyer’s work involves individual client contact, and lawyers are often faced with situations where a client’s fundamental rights or needs are in jeopardy.

Cases could include representing single mothers in eviction cases, advocating to protect women from abusive partners, fighting for public benefits, or arguing for a worker denied employment benefits. There are some client-oriented nonprofits that are organized by subject matter, and staff lawyers specialize in one area of practice. In other offices, though, lawyers handle a variety of cases on a wide spectrum of issues. With either type of structure, a legal services office could potentially give a lawyer frequent opportunities to work on behalf of female clients.

Private Public Interest Firms

Like nonprofit public interest organizations, private public interest law firms usually have a particular social, political, or economic vision that includes helping underrepresented groups and/or promoting change. Private public interest firms bring cases that will advance their vision. A firm may, for example, represent female employees charging their employers with unlawful discrimination. But unlike nonprofits, public interest firms operate as for-profit businesses.

Public interest firms rely on the fees generated by their cases, rather than foundation grants or tax dollars, to pay the rent and their lawyers’ salaries. Thus, a private public interest firm may consider not only the merits, but also the potential profitability of a case, in deciding whether to take it on.

Private Firms

If you plan on joining a private firm, look for one that demonstrates a commitment to pro bono work and will allow you to continue your dedication to women’s rights. Ask if any of the partners are involved in pro bono women’s rights work and if you can work on projects with them. This would be a great way to make connections with partners in the firm and to network with women’s rights organizations.

If you join a private law firm that does not do any paid public interest work and you are interested in initiating a project for girls and women, there are several activities you can undertake. For example, if you join a law firm, you can initiate a pro bono relationship between your firm and a women’s advocacy group in need of legal assistance. You could set up mentoring relationships with girls at a local high school, having a day where they are invited to come work in the office, or shadow you for a day. Also, in many cities there are specialized bar associations or committees of larger bar associations that focus on women.

Issue Areas

Criminal Justice

Some criminal laws differently impact people of different genders. For example, women have often been incarcerated for very limited involvement in drug trafficking, such as owning the car used to carry drugs or answering the phone for someone else in the household involved in drug selling. Those with more intricate knowledge of the drug transaction – often men – may be more likely to be offered pleas and spend less time incarcerated than women. Lawyers can work defending women accused of involvement with drugs, and work for legislative reform. Women of color are disproportionately impacted in this area of law, making these fights intersectional ones.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence against women permeates every aspect of life for victims of abuse in the home. It includes physical, emotional, and sexual abuse by a partner. Domestic violence is a complicated problem, and when a victim is able to leave their abuser, they often encounter a variety of problems requiring legal support.

One of the greatest challenges facing victims of domestic abuse is loss of housing. Because of the coercive and controlling tactics used by abusers, women can be cut off from family, friends and other support networks. When victims leave their abuser and go to a shelter, they may encounter time limitations on their stay at the shelter. Some landlords refuse to rent units to victims or evict women when they learn of a domestic violence situation. In addition to direct representation of women in obtaining restraining orders, legal advocates can work to prevent discriminatory rental practices, ensure adequate funding for shelters, and secure other reforms at both the local and national level.

Employment Discrimination

Discrimination in the workplace continues to be a problem facing women today, particularly women of color and transgender women. Whether through pay discrimination, a “glass-ceiling” effect of promoting only men, or sexual harassment, women are still treated differently than men in all types of workplace settings. Employment discrimination can be litigated through individual or class-action cases to guarantee greater opportunities and equality for women. Many private-public interest firms focus on employment discrimination and have opportunities to litigate on behalf of women. Work at the federal level at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is another avenue through which to end discriminatory practices against women in the workplace.

Family Law

Family law encompasses, among other practices, child custody, child support, protection from abuse orders, and divorce–all of which can particularly involve women. Women involved in family law proceedings need counsel in obtaining legal protection from abuse for themselves and their children. In custody, support, and protection proceedings, low-income women in family court typically rely upon legal support from local legal services offices to represent them. Legal services lawyers can make improve daily lives of individuals through family law practice supporting women. Reform through policy and impact litigation can protect the rights of women and parents on a larger scale.

Human Trafficking and Sex Workers

Human trafficking continues to target young women and girls, especially internationally. Low levels of education, economic instability, and limited English competency can make women vulnerable to predatory traffickers, who often coerce victims or their families with false promises of employment. Taken from their homes to serve as sex workers, domestic servants, or other laborers, women and girls are routinely exposed to physical, sexual and psychological force. Sometimes traffickers and employers deny women and girls their identification documents to prevent them from escaping. Legal advocates work to call attention to these injustices from governments around the world, demand punishment of those involved in trafficking, and return women and girls to their homes.

Incarcerated Women

Incarcerated women can encounter problems different from those experienced by men. Sometimes forced into male-only facilities, transgender women face significant discrimination and risk of violence. Some women enter prison while pregnant or become pregnant in prison, and require prenatal care while incarcerated. Other women’s health concerns can arise when women spend significant time in jail and the prison health facilities need to accommodate those health concerns. Many incarcerated women are also mothers, and legal questions are raised when a mother goes to prison. More often than is the case with male prisoners, incarcerated mothers are frequently single parents, meaning that children are often left without their primary caregiver when their mother is sent to prison. Questions about parenting rights and the possible termination of such rights arise when mothers and children are separated by incarceration. Lawyers can work on policy related to health care for incarcerated women, care for girls in juvenile facilities, and parental rights of incarcerated mothers, among other issues.

Immigration and Refugee

A high number of immigrants and refugees are women. Upon arrival in the United States, they face a number of issues as immigrants or refugees, and as women. Immigrant women can be at a heightened risk of being held in abusive relationships, as abusers can threaten deportation if a victim seeks assistance. Lawyers can represent women in filing petitions for permanent residence separate from their abusers. Some women petition the government as refugees on the basis of gender persecution and need legal counsel in these proceedings.

International Women’s Rights

Organizations both in the United States and abroad call for vigilance in respecting and advocating for the rights of women. Globally, many women, including in areas of combat, face violence, rape, harassment, discrimination, and threats of violence and stigma for reporting crimes. Legal advocates in the United States can fight for increased awareness of violence against women as violations of human rights.

Reproductive Rights

In the United States, reproductive rights have been a highly politicized, frequently moving target in recent years. Women and people who can become pregnant face blocks to access to reproductive healthcare and abortion in many states and municipalities, and low-income women and women of color are disproportionately affected. Legal advocates can work on these issues at all levels of government, using work types ranging from litigation to public education.

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault and rape pose a great threat to women. Victims of such crimes are in need of attorney advocates to protect their individual rights and to support policy on behalf of victims across the nation. State’s Attorneys and District Attorneys prosecute sexual assailants and are involved in cases regarding sexual assault on an individual level.

Title IX

Enacted in 1972, Title IX calls for equality on the basis of sex for any funding or programming related to education. While Title IX demands equality in athletics, academic programs, and facilities, unequal practices continue to exist at many levels of education. There are many gains to be made in ensuring equal access to academic and athletic programs for girls and women in educational settings. Through impact litigation and policy, lawyers can demand compliance with Title IX in all educational settings. Lawyers can also engage in the fight to apply Title IX to protect LGBTQ+ students in schools and on sports teams.

Finding a Job

When searching for a job in women’s rights, always highlight your lawyering skills and your commitment to women’s rights advocacy. Organizations will not necessarily be interested in you as a candidate if you are really enthusiastic about women’s rights, but have a small skillset and little relevant legal experience working in women’s rights. Likewise, even with the most well-developed legal skills, the lack of a demonstrated commitment to women’s rights might hurt you in the application process. Use your time at HLS to discover your interests, demonstrate your commitment, and develop your legal advocacy skills.


Finding a legal internship in women’s rights will help you gain the necessary experience for future employment. The opportunity to read, write, and analyze with an understanding for gender will prepare you to enter the field of women’s rights after graduation. Even internships that do not specifically address law- related concerns can be useful. Though they do not offer legal training, they do expose interns to significant public policy issues such as abortion, domestic violence, and health care. By gaining experience early in your law school career, you show prospective employers the depth of your commitment to a particular cause. Internships can also provide you with the chance to improve your writing, litigation, and client-based skills. Remember, the more experience you obtain, the better your chances are for landing a terrific internship the following year.

Don’t limit your job search to advertised job openings. Part of finding a job or internship is creating an opportunity for yourself. Looking for a job this way may require a little more leg work than simply answering announcements. By expanding your job search beyond advertised openings, you reap the benefits of less competition and more control over what kinds of organizations for which you will eventually work. Use your networking contacts to help you in this kind of job search. Remember that OPIA is available to HLS students and alumni to help find internship and job opportunities, and networking connections.


The importance of networking cannot be overstated. The world of women’s rights advocacy is not very large, and making contacts with people already in the field is going to pay off down the road when you’re looking for advice, internships and careers. Leaders in the field of women’s rights stress the importance of making connections with advocates in the field. Connections fostered while at HLS could lead to future opportunities. Don’t be afraid to ask for someone’s contact information so you can follow up after your initial introduction.

  • While at HLS, go to talks given by interesting women’s rights advocates. Introduce yourself and follow up with the person if you are particularly interested in their work.
  • Find mentors in the alumni network. The network of HLS graduates contains thousands of attorneys to whom you already have a connection—use this to your advantage. Speaking with alumni working on women’s rights issues is a great way to learn the ropes of the field, and to make some great connections.
  • Arrange some informational interviews. One way to increase your network of public interest job contacts is by informational interviewing. Ask advocates how they got to their current position. Do they like their job? What sort of steps would they recommend to someone looking to follow a similar path? Be sure to send a thank-you note after an informational interview, and include contact information. They might think of you when a job opens in their office.
  • Stay in touch with your former public interest employers. They can be a valuable source of job- hunting tips and moral support, and can help you by serving as references.
  • Speak with fellow students about their experiences. Use Who Worked Where to find students who have worked at women’s rights organizations. Reviews of organizations and students’ experiences can be found in the Helios Public Service Organizations Database.

More Routes

  • Whatever job you work at, get as much research, writing, and litigation experience as possible. Even if you are not focused on women’s rights, well-developed writing and analytical skills will prove useful in any job.
  • Participate in clinics, consider an independent clinical, or volunteer during a term. You can use your academic terms to complement or build upon your summer internships, round out your skillset, and gain exposure to more types of practice settings.
  • If you choose to work in the private sector during the summer, consider seeking out work on pro bono cases, particularly those regarding women’s issues, to show your commitment and build your skills.

Personal Narratives

Note that all personal narratives in this Guide reflect titles and legal issues that were current when the narratives were collected.

  • Amal Bass, HLS ’06
    Staff Attorney, Women’s Law Project, Philadelphia

    I am a staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project in Philadelphia. Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project (WLP) advances women’s rights through impact litigation, public policy advocacy, community education, and individual counseling. Based in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, WLP collaborates with local, state, and national organizations. I interned at WLP during my 1L summer to explore my interest in gender law. During my time at HLS, I further explored this interest and honed my legal skills through gender- related course work, clinical experiences, and journal participation. Upon graduation, I was fortunate enough to be offered a position at WLP.

    My work focuses on a wide range of legal, political and social issues, including reproductive rights, education, welfare rights, employment, and family law. For any single issue, we may use one advocacy method or a combination of litigation, public policy advocacy, and community education. WLP litigates in state and federal trial and appellate courts, assists state and federal legislatures and governmental bodies in the drafting of statutes and regulations, and publishes numerous educational materials for the general public. My most recent work includes participating on a litigation team in an athletic equity suit against a university for violations of Title IX, drafting an amicus brief on rape law to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and advocating for emergency contraception legislation in the Pennsylvania legislature. At WLP, I am always learning about other women’s experiences, different areas of law, and advocacy methods. My work is both challenging and satisfying, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to facilitate positive change in an area I care about deeply.

  • Alexis Kuznick, HLS ’08
    Summer Intern, National Women’s Law Center

    Pursuing a legal career in women’s rights enables one to affect and hopefully improve the lives of over half of the U.S. population. The issues one can address range widely—from employment, housing, education, and race discrimination to tax, health, family, and foreign policy—as do the ways one can use a law degree—from impact litigation and legislative advocacy to direct service. I greatly appreciate that my first two years as an advocate for gender equality at HLS have afforded me the opportunity to explore so many diverse and exciting career paths and educational opportunities.

    I discovered that there is nothing quite like learning about the practical realities of domestic violence by working directly with survivors. During my first summer, as an intern at Bay Area Legal Aid in the family law practice area, I gained invaluable insight into domestic violence and family law and had the opportunity to get involved in a wide variety of issues and participate in many challenging cases. Not only did I help women receive restraining orders against their batterers, but I fought for the right of a deaf mother and her three deaf children to remain in their family home after a nasty divorce and worked with an Egyptian family on the ways in which Egyptian marriages and divorces are handled by the U.S. courts in a complicated case involving a coercive premarital agreement.

    After gaining experience in direct service, I took advantage of HLS’s independent clinical opportunities during the winter term of my second year to get a feel for impact litigation. At the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin, I was involved in everything from a student free speech case, to prisoner and disability rights cases, to a woman’s Violence Against Women Act self-petition. Now, as a summer intern at the National Women’s Law Center, I get to see firsthand what the world of policy is really like. Working in D.C. and being involved in Congressional hearings has been eye-opening and invigorating. I have been involved with the 35th anniversary of Title IX, while working on other education issues and assisting with Congressional fixes to the Supreme Court’s recent Ledbetter v. Goodyear employment discrimination decision. Participating in policy formulation is a great way to utilize the legal research and writing training from law school while also cultivating strategic thinking and employing interpersonal skills in working towards systemic change.

    Finally, I really encourage those interested in women’s rights work to take advantage of the many resources HLS affords its students. Join student organizations; work on journals; enroll in reading groups; and take part in clinicals. While traditional classes provide critical foundations in legal reasoning, some of my most rewarding experiences so far have come from being involved in the Gender Violence Clinical, Journal of Law and Gender, Women’s Law Association, Working Group on Gender Justice, and Coalition Against Gender Violence.

    People too often ask me why we still need feminism and a women’s rights movement. Though the question alone is startling, I think too many are blind to both ongoing gender inequalities as well as the ways in which almost all political and social issues can uniquely affect the lives of women. I look forward to discovering the exciting new directions in which a career in women’s rights will take me.

  • Andi Friedman, HLS ’05
    Senior Counsel, Global Justice Center

    As Senior Counsel at the Global Justice Center, an NGO based in New York that advises women leaders in developing democracies on the strategic use of international law to enforce gender equality, no two days are the same. When I am not overseeing projects, developing materials, doing legal research, or traveling and conducting trainings, I am managing staff, reviewing finances, developing policies, and all the other work that comes with building an organization. The work is challenging and very rewarding, as we try to be creative and strategic about how the law can advance women’s rights on a global scale.

    I first became active in women’s issues in college through internships and upon graduation worked with the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (WAPPP). Working at WAPPP, I explored the ways that gender impacts virtually every subject, from national security to developing economies. It was the motivation to make a difference and be involved in questions I care about that led me to want to work on public policy. I saw law school as a way not only to give me a new skill set to work on gender equality, but also to give me a base from which to approach many different issues.

    At HLS I was part of the Stop Domestic Violence student group that successfully pressured Harvard College to overturn a new sexual assault policy that required women to provide corroborating evidence in cases of sexual assault, worked on a study on women’s experiences at HLS and helped found and was the first President of the Harvard Law Chapter of Law Students for Choice.

    I would not be in the position I am now if not for HLS. The President of the Global Justice Center, Janet Benshoof (also an alumna), came to teach a course on reproductive rights and I worked as her teaching assistant, which led to her asking me to come work for her and help her start GJC. It felt like a risk at the time, and it probably was, but I have found that taking those risks and seeing them as opportunities has always led to the most rewarding experiences.

  • Jane Stoever, HLS ’03
    Director of Domestic Violence Clinic, American University Washington College of Law

    I grew up in a family focused on a wide range of social justice issues, and I became particularly involved in women’s rights work during college. I was the president of my university’s Commission on the Status of Women, planned events for Sexual Assault Awareness Week, co-founded Working Against Violence Everywhere, and interned in the Children’s Defense Fund’s Violence Prevention and Youth Development Project. I spent my summers during college living at a shelter for homeless families, working at a shelter for teenage girls, and investigating predatory lending. At the shelters, I sat with people, listened to their stories, and learned what was important to them and what they were struggling with. Many residents asked legal questions to which I had no answers. Seeing the effects of violence and homelessness and the numerous unmet legal needs in America, I applied to law school.

    The first year of law school felt unnatural because I was so focused on myself—reading for class, preparing to be called on, and studying for exams. I was on the Women’s Law Journal and Human Rights Journal and joined Big Brothers/Big Sisters, but I still longed for more of a focus outside of myself. I eagerly applied to Legal Aid Bureau and anticipated my summer job in the family law and housing units at Legal Aid in Kansas City. I split my second summer in law school between a large law firm and a domestic violence organization in Chicago, and confirmed that I was energized and fulfilled by working with low-income survivors of intimate partner violence.

    Being a student attorney with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau during my second and third years of law school was by far my favorite part of law school. I relished the opportunity to begin representing clients. Representing clients gave more meaning to my law school years and gave me a better understanding of what I learned in the classroom. Civil Procedure made sense and was enjoyable once I was using it! The Bureau was a wonderful community, with students working hard and sharing frustrations and successes.

    As a student attorney at the Bureau, I represented clients in housing, public benefits, and domestic relations cases. I was surprised that during the course of representation, I learned that all of my clients (even in the housing and benefits cases) had experienced intimate partner abuse and that the violence was somehow related to their current legal matters. I appreciated that my clients revealed such deeply personal information to me and I felt privileged that they let me into their lives and trusted me with what was most valuable to them—custody of their children and their safety. With domestic violence, many clients are in crisis situations, and it is crucial for lawyers to be responsive to their clients and abundantly familiar with community resources. Even before I knew much about lawyering, I recognized that my ability to educate myself about resources and respond to a client was key and was well within my capacity.

    Upon graduating from HLS, I had a yearlong clerkship—an experience I highly recommend. If you clerk, be mindful of the impact of judicial decisions on women and on various populations, and consider your clerkship part of a career in women’s rights. Also, if you plan to do direct representation and appear in court after law school, clerking may make you a stronger job candidate because it gives you time to be admitted to a state’s bar before applying for jobs.

    After clerking, I was a Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellow and Graduate Teaching Fellow in Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic. During this two-year fellowship, I taught classes on domestic violence and trial advocacy, supervised third-year law students representing clients in civil protection order cases, and had my own caseload representing survivors of domestic violence. The fellowship was an incredible introduction to teaching and clinical supervision. As part of the Women’s Law Fellowship, I attended Congressional briefings, went to two U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments on women’s rights issues, had afternoon tea with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, had lunch with Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, and met many other leaders working to advance women’s rights.

    I am currently the Director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law, where I also teach Domestic Violence Law and Family Law and co-teach a clinic seminar on lawyering and trial skills. In the Clinic, I supervise students as they represent survivors of domestic violence in every stage of litigating protection order cases, from drafting an initial petition and conducting a hearing for a temporary protection order to modifying and enforcing court orders. I also supervise students as they represent battered immigrants seeking to change their immigration status under the Violence Against Women Act. I have the joy of supervising my students’ first experiences as lawyers and am able to introduce students to this area that I care so much about. With each student representing two or three clients at a time, they are able to be thoughtful about their representation, consider various options and potential outcomes of each option, and address clients’ non-legal and economic needs. My Legal Aid Bureau experience helped me understand the value of clinical legal education, and now I help my students reflect on their experiences as they consider what kinds of lawyers they want to be. To me, it is truly thrilling when a student makes a breakthrough or has an epiphany, and I am delighted to supervise students as they develop relationships with their clients and provide outstanding representation.

    After learning about my work, people often ask if this work is depressing. For me, it’s not. I actually find great hope, joy, and satisfaction in this work. I find hope as I see clients move forward with their lives. I frequently receive telephone calls or cards from clients telling me that they have returned to school, have a new job, or are sharing news about their children. I am in awe of the strength and courage of so many of these women. In representing clients, the majority of time is spent talking with and counseling clients and preparing for trial, and the time in front of a judge is brief compared with the time spent building the lawyer-client relationship. I sit with women, listen, wait for them to gather their thoughts and speak, and learn from my clients. I listen to their deepest concerns and the very complicated choices they are faced with, and I consider this very personal, intimate work. In spending time waiting for a clerk or a judge, we talk and laugh together and find points of commonality. I learn about my clients’ dreams and get to know them beyond the violent incidents central to their legal claims. In directing a law school clinic and supervising students, I now have the pleasure of seeing my students interact with clients, get to know them as people, and work hard on behalf of these women they have great respect for.

    I feel fortunate to have found this work, and I encourage you to take advantage of clinical opportunities and search for work that energizes and fulfills you.

  • Sarah Boonin, HLS ’04
    Skadden Fellow, Family and Children’s Law Unit, WilmerHale Legal Services Center

    My career path began with my college semester abroad in Central America studying gender and social justice. I left for Central America a psychology major intent on a Ph.D and a clinical practice, and returned a double major in Women’s Studies determined to pursue a career in social justice. I graduated from Duke University in 1997 and I stumbled into my dream job at the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington, DC. The job was as a “campus organizer” working on a new, national campaign to recruit young feminist leaders on college campuses nationwide and help them organize local activist groups and events. This national campaign took off and, within three years, I was directing the project, leading a staff of ten field organizers, and working on women’s issues at the national level alongside my heroes in the feminist movement. My work at the Feminist Majority solidified my commitment to women’s issues and sparked my interest in the law as a tool for empowerment and change.

    I began law school in the fall of 2001. While at HLS, I took somewhat of a break from leadership in self- described “women’s rights groups” (although I certainly participated in some of those groups and identified very much with their work). Instead, I tried to be a voice for women’s issues within a broader range of organizations. I was active in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, HLS Lambda, and the HLS reproductive choice group. I also worked with Professors Hanson and Guinier, and spent quite a bit of time in clinical placements at the Legal Services Center in JP in the family unit (working on domestic violence cases) and the employment unit (working on unemployment and employment discrimination cases).

    For summer employment, I chose to apply to nearly every Boston-based nonprofit and government organization that had even a remote connection to women’s issues. With OPIA’s assistance and some good luck, I landed a series of terrific summer jobs. During my 1L summer I worked at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute doing research and writing on benefits law, healthcare access, and disability rights. I also worked part-time at the Victim Rights Law Center, which at the time was a relatively new organization dedicated to providing a range of civil legal services to survivors of sexual assault. The following summer, I conducted research for Professor Guinier and also worked at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in Boston in their litigation department.

    During the fall of my 2L year, I felt somewhat out-of-place not participating in the OCI firm recruiting frenzy. I was concerned that I might “limit my options” by foregoing even a small taste of firm life. In the end, there is no question that this was a good decision for me. I loved my summer jobs and, perhaps more than anything else, these varied summer placements helped me to recognize the possibility of doing important legal work on women’s issues in a range of settings (small nonprofit, large nonprofit, government, academic setting).

    By the time I finished my 2L summer, having heard from all of my friends who spent their summers at firms, I was certain I wanted to remain in the public interest sector and convinced that a fellowship would be the perfect way to make that happen. I knew I wanted to stay in Boston (for personal reasons) and I was committed to women’s rights advocacy. Unsure of how to match my interests with a paycheck, I did what many HLS grads do: I clerked for a year while figuring it all out! I clerked at the Supreme Judicial Court, which was yet another completely different setting for me. My clerkship helped me to refine my research, writing, and analytical skills—skills that I rely on daily in my work. While state supreme court clerkships tend to be overlooked in the quest for prestigious federal clerkships, the choice to clerk at the SJC was a great choice for me. I had opportunity after opportunity to work on challenging questions of first impression and, perhaps just as valuable, the chance to observe some of the best lawyers in the state.

    While clerking, my fellowship application fell into place. As mentioned earlier, I had spent a good deal of time at the Hale and Dorr (now WilmerHale) Legal Services Center in JP. During my 3L year, one of my clinical instructors there had approached me about an opportunity to create a partnership between the Center and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in an effort to provide better services for victims/survivors of domestic violence. I couldn’t imagine a better project for my fellowship applications! I applied for, and had the honor of receiving, a two-year Skadden Fellowship to create that partnership. I am now winding down year two of the fellowship providing low-income victims of domestic violence with comprehensive and holistic civil legal services. I’ll be staying at the Center as a Senior Fellow through at least the next year. The job has been the most rewarding, challenging, frightening, and fulfilling of my (admittedly short) career. My clients are a constant source of inspiration (and learning), and the HLS students I work with at the Center keep me on my toes! The combination of providing legal services to women while mentoring students in an academic setting has been a phenomenal start to my career.

    Looking back on my work experiences to date, there are several themes that have emerged that I think are worth sharing. The first is that nothing rewarding has come to me without taking a little more risk than I am comfortable with. Sometimes that risk has been the very real possibility of failing at my job. Sometimes it has been the fear of losing a case or letting down a client. At other times I’ve felt the pressure associated with having made non-traditional decisions (forgoing the experience of working at a firm, for example). While the source of much anxiety at times, taking risks has always expanded my comfort zone and given me a lot more confidence.

    Another lesson I’ve learned is that making good career decisions often entails avoiding things that feel “wrong” more than knowing what is “best” for me at the time. My mentors have often advised me to do what feels “right.” But that advice always left me asking, “Which choice is the ‘best’ choice?” I don’t believe there is just one right choice when it comes to a person’s career. But often I’ve found there are one or two options that feel very wrong to me…and I’ve never regretted avoiding them! Particularly at the beginning of my career, I’ve relied on the process of elimination more than I’d like to admit. Just as there is no one right “choice” for a person’s first (or second…) job, I believe there is no one path that leads to a dream job (if, in fact, anybody knows what that job is). When I worked in DC, I would see women’s rights leaders and wonder, how did they get there? And when I got their answers, I would almost instinctually begin unfairly comparing myself to them. This created pressure for me to follow her career path or, worse yet, convinced me that I couldn’t achieve my goals because (at 21) I didn’t have the right credentials. Despite these pressures, I have never followed someone else’s resume, and that has never been a barrier for me. I have been happiest in my career when I have focused on my own goals and the decisions right before me, rather than comparing myself to others and wondering futilely how to position myself for the next phase in my career.

    Finally, I am just now learning to appreciate the magnitude of the opportunity that my HLS degree has afforded me. I recall graduating from HLS with an oddly oppressive feeling that I had fewer realistic career options than before I started law school. I felt as if I had to measure up to a certain standard that demanded precision and flawlessness in even my initial career choices.

    Looking back on it only a few years later, I am convinced this was a ridiculous and unfortunate way to feel upon graduating. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working alongside many colleagues whom I admire greatly. I’ve noticed that those I admire most have career paths that would have been impossible to predict or to plan. And so how I choose to spend my first, second, or even the fifth year out of law school will not dictate how I will spend the rest of my career. As an HLS graduate committed to doing good, I now truly believe that my law degree has opened, rather than closed, doors for me. I am thankful for the opportunity to use my degree in a wide variety of jobs and toward many pursuits throughout my career. I hope I will use it in a way that I cannot predict or plan.

Selected Organizations

The employers listed in this chapter represent only a small portion of domestic and international public interest organizations. Also keep in mind that a number of organizations listed have local chapters across the country. The National Organization For Women (NOW), Planned Parenthood, and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) all have an extensive network of local chapters in most states. Many states also have an established Commission on the Status of Women (or similar).

  • Alaska

    Stop Violence Against Women Legal Advocacy Project
    Works to increase the ability of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to effectively access and participate in the civil and criminal justice systems by providing legal advocacy training. The LAP acts as a resource for advocates at the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault’s member programs.

  • Arizona

    Coconino Legal Aid
    Provides basic legal services in major areas including Indian law and development of tribal court systems, family law and domestic violence, consumer law, housing and public benefits.

  • California

    Break the Cycle
    Works with youth to end domestic violence. Provides preventive education, free legal services and advocacy and support to young people.

    California Commission on the Status of Women and Girls
    The Commission on the Status of Women and Girls, a nonpartisan state agency, works in a culturally inclusive manner to promote equality and justice for all women and girls by advocating on their behalf with the Governor, the Legislature and other public policymakers, and by educating the public in the areas of economic equity including educational equity, access to health care including reproductive choice, violence against women and other key issue areas identified by the Commission as significantly affecting women and girls.

    California National Organization for Women
    CA NOW maintains a lobbyist specifically focused on feminist issues in California. CA NOW is committed to protecting women’s rights and is focused on issues relating to safety, health and equal opportunities.

    California Women’s Law Center
    One of California’s leading law and policy centers working to advance the civil rights of women. The CWLC works to secure justice for women by ensuring that life opportunities for women are free from unjust social, economic and political constraints.

    Equal Rights Advocates
    ERA’s mission is to protect and secure equal rights and economic opportunities for women and girls through litigation and advocacy.

    Family Violence Law Center
    Assists victims of domestic violence through legal representation, support groups, crisis counseling, criminal court accompaniment, and community outreach.

    NARAL Pro-Choice California
    This organization fights for reproductive freedom for every person in California, guaranteeing access to birth control, abortion care, and protecting women from parental leave and pregnancy discrimination.

    National Center for Lesbian Rights
    A national nonprofit legal organization advocating on behalf of LGBTQ+ people and their families.

    Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles
    Works to involve people and impact decision-makers in the fight to secure and protect access to a full range of quality reproductive health care services. Works at the local, state, and federal level to advocate for medically accurate sexuality education, contraceptive equality, clinic safety, abortion rights and access to reproductive health care for all people.

    San Francisco Women Against Rape
    SFWAR provides support to assault survivors, their families, and communities. It also provides education and organizing tools for prevention. They are an organization made up primarily of women of color and prioritize working with communities of color.

    U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – Western Regional Office
    The Commission’s regional offices are staffed by a director, civil rights analysts, and other administrative personnel. They coordinate the Commission’s operations in their regions and assist the State Advisory Committees in their activities.

  • Colorado

    U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – Regional Office
    The Commission’s regional offices are staffed by a director, civil rights analysts, and other administrative personnel. They coordinate the Commission’s operations in their regions and assist the State Advisory Committees in their activities.

  • Connecticut

    Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women
    The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) was established by the State Legislature in 1973. Appointed volunteer Commissioners join a staff and volunteers to work to eliminate sex discrimination in Connecticut. They are to inform leaders about the nature and scope of discrimination, to serve as a liaison between government and private interest groups concerned with services for women, to promote consideration of women for governmental positions, and to work with state agencies to access programs and practices as they affect women.

  • Delaware

    Domestic Violence Coordinating Council
    Together, the Chief Judge of the Family Court, the Attorney General, the Public Defender, a state Senator, a state Representative, the Secretary of Public Safety, Chief of the New Castle County police, the Chair of the Domestic Violence Task Force, a representative from the medical community and several at-large members address the problem of domestic violence.

  • District of Columbia

    American Association of University Women
    With more than 100,000 members, 1,000 branches, and 500 college/university institution partners nationwide, the Association advocates education and equity. Since its founding in 1881, members have examined and taken positions on the fundamental issues of the day—educational, social, economic, and political. AAUW’s commitment to its mission is reflected in its public policy efforts, programs, Leadership and Training Institute, and diversity initiatives. AAUW’s work extends globally through its international connections.

    American Bar Association – Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence
    Mobilizing the legal profession to provide access to justice and safety for victims of domestic violence.

    Black Women’s Health Imperative
    Black Women’s Health Imperative, is a leading African American health education, research, advocacy and leadership development institution. Founded in 1983, it has been a pioneer in promoting the empowerment of African American women as educated health care consumers and a strong voice for the improved health status of African American women. The organization is gaining the well-earned reputation as the leading force for health for African American women. Black Women’s Health Imperative is the only national organization devoted solely to the health of the nation’s Black women and girls.

    DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence
    The DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence is a resource for the thousands of adults and children experiencing domestic violence in the District each year, as well as the local organizations that serve them. The Coalition offers support and services for today, and education, advocacy and leadership to shape a violence-free future for families in the District of Columbia.

    Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP)
    Mission is to provide abused women and their children with pro bono representation to appeal unjust trial court decisions to a higher court. Accepts referrals from parties, lawyers, advocates, and/or interested organizations seeking representation as amici curiae, screens the cases, places suitable cases with law firms, and litigates some cases in-house. It co-counsels many of its appeals, and provides consultation, mentoring, and domestic violence expertise to all its pro bono lawyers.

    NARAL Pro-Choice America
    Protects women’s reproductive freedom and privacy. Writes amicus briefs, monitors and provides legal analysis of legislative activity, and provides advice and information to elected officials and policymakers.

    National Abortion Federation
    Represents abortion providers throughout the nation.

    National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
    National grassroots advocacy organization that represents women who have been abused, domestic violence programs and state coalitions. Lobbies Congress, monitors legislative developments and provides information to shelters, state coalitions and other grassroots advocates about pending policy initiatives. Also engages in public education and media outreach.

    National Organization For Women
    Advocates for reproductive rights, economic equity, ERA, ending racism and discrimination, LGBTQ+ rights and stopping violence against women.

    National Partnership for Women and Families
    Through public education and advocacy, promotes fairness in the workplace, quality health care and policies that help individuals meet the dual demands of work and family.

    National Women’s Law Center
    Represents women’s interests in federal courts, before governmental administrative agencies and in Congress. Also participates in coalitions working on issues affecting women.

    National Women’s Political Caucus
    Advocacy group that seeks greater involvement of women in politics. Supports legalized abortion.

    RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)
    RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

    Office on Violence Against Women
    Handles DOJ’s legal and policy issues regarding violence against women and works with various governmental agencies to enforce the Violence Against Women Act.

    U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
    The mission of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is to inform the development of national civil rights policy and enhance enforcement of federal civil rights laws. They pursue that mission by studying alleged deprivations of voting rights and alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin, or in the administration of justice.

    U.S. Department of Education
    Enforces several Federal civil rights laws, including Title IX, that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education.

    U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of the General Council, Civil Rights Division
    HHS’s Civil Rights Division enforces federal requirements prohibiting discrimination based on a person’s national origin, race, color, religion, disability, sex, or familial status in department funded and operated programs or activities as well as requirements prohibiting sex discrimination in health-related educational programs receiving federal financial assistance.

    U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division
    Enforce federal anti-discrimination laws, including the Civil Rights Acts, the Voting Rights Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
    Enforces federal employment discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Equal Pay Act.

  • Georgia

    Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence
    The Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence (GCADV) is the leading voice to end domestic violence in Georgia, representing over 50 domestic violence organizations and programs across the state.

    Georgia Commission on Family Violence
    The Georgia Commission on Family Violence seeks to strengthen Georgia families by ending family violence through a coordinated community response.

  • Hawaii

    Hawai’i State Commission on the Status of Women
    The Hawai’i State Commission on the Status of Women seeks to ensure equality for women and girls in the state by acting as a catalyst for positive change through advocacy, education, collaboration, and program development.

  • Idaho

    Idaho Legal Aid Services Inc. – Domestic Violence Unit
    Provides legal representation to low-income victims of domestic violence.

  • Illinois

    Life Span Center for Legal Services and Advocacy
    Combines counseling, criminal court advocacy, and civil legal representation to give clients information, support, and legal tools to end violence. Uses innovative programs to reach teens, victims involved with police dangers, immigrants and victims who are mentally ill. Takes a team approach in a humane atmosphere.

    National Association of Women Lawyers
    NAWL continues to support and advance the interests of women in and under the law and works towards the social, political, and professional empowerment of women. NAWL members work to end discrimination and violence against women and to prevent the erosion of hard-fought gains. NAWL’s members include both men and women lawyers.

    Rape Victims Advocates
    RVA is an Illinois not-for-profit organization made up of many individuals with two primary goals: to assure that survivors of sexual assault are treated with dignity and compassion; and to affect changes in the way the legal system, medical institutions and society as a whole respond to survivors.

    U.S. Commission on Civil Rights— Regional Office
    The Commission’s regional offices are staffed by a director, civil rights analysts, and other administrative personnel. They coordinate the Commission’s operations in their regions and assist the State Advisory Committees in their activities.

    Women Employed Institute
    National advocate for women’s economic advancement. They analyze workplace issues, educate policy makers, and build support to improve opportunities and incomes. Fights against discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment and to strengthen federal equal opportunity policies and work/family benefits.

  • Kansas

    U.S. Commission on Civil Rights— Regional Office
    The Commission’s regional offices are staffed by a director, civil rights analysts, and other administrative personnel. They coordinate the Commission’s operations in their regions and assist the State Advisory Committees in their activities.

  • Maine

    Maine Women’s Policy Center
    The Maine Women’s Policy Center is committed to systemic change. They organize, train, and support women to effectively participate in the policy-making process. The Maine Women’s Policy Center consistently backs up women’s real life experiences with research and facts, and partnered with the Maine Women’s Lobby, to amplify their concerns in the legislature and develop policy solutions that address their needs. They especially seek to serve those women who are underrepresented in the formation of public policy – particularly rural women and women with low incomes.

  • Maryland

    House of Ruth—Domestic Violence Legal Clinic
    Provides representation to victims of domestic violence in civil protective order hearings, divorces and custody cases. Advocates for victim-witnesses in criminal proceedings and also does some policy work.

    The Women’s Law Center of Maryland, Inc.
    Nonprofit established to meet the unique legal needs of women, especially in the areas of family law and employment law. Engages in a variety of education, advocacy and direct service programming.

  • Massachusetts

    Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
    As the second oldest rape crisis center in the United States, the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) has been highly visible locally and nationally in the fight against violence against women. Volunteers provide hotline crisis counseling, adolescent and family services, support groups, medical advocacy and legal advocacy. BARCC also provides violence prevention education workshops for schools, community groups, teen centers and businesses throughout the greater Boston area.

    Domestic Violence Institute at Boston Medical Center—Northeastern University School of Law
    Interdisciplinary project comprised of graduate students from law, nursing, medicine, social work, psychology and public health programs. The project provides community-based abuse prevention and legal advocacy services to domestic violence victims identified in the hospital.

    Jane Doe Inc. Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence
    Nonprofit organization committed to strengthening society’s intolerance of domestic violence and sexual assault through policy advocacy, community education and public awareness. Also provides technical assistance and financial support to forty member programs that provide shelter, counseling, support and other services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

    Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women
    Mission is to provide a permanent, effective voice for women across Massachusetts. The Commission stands for fundamental freedoms, basic human rights, and the full enjoyment of life for all women throughout their lives.

    Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
    The mission of PPLM is to protect and promote sexual and reproductive health and freedom of choice by providing clinical services, education and advocacy.

    South Shore Women’s Center
    Provides emergency and supportive services to families experiencing and/or at risk of domestic violence.

    Women’s Bar Association
    The Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts is committed to the full and equal participation of women in the legal profession and a just society.

    Victim Rights Law Center (VRLC)
    Advocates for sexual assault victims’ legal rights within the civil, academic and criminal justice systems. VRLC works to make the legal system a more accessible and just system.

  • Michigan

    Women’s Justice Center
    Dedicated to assisting victims of domestic violence, along with other low-income families who are in need of family law and/or housing assistance.

  • Minnesota

    The Advocates for Human Rights
    The Advocates for Human Rights aims to implement international human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law, believing that everyone has the power to advance human rights.

  • Missouri

    Missouri Women’s Council
    The Missouri Women’s Council works closely with other agencies and community-based organizations to educate, promote opportunities for, and enhance the lives and well-being of Missouri’s women and families. By providing information and resources to enhance the employability and skill development of women and families, they provide support to women as they pursue their economic goals.

  • New Hampshire

    New Hampshire Commission on the Status of Women
    The Commission on the Status of Women serves as a strong voice for women in the state by monitoring legislation, overcoming discrimination against women, promoting opportunities for women to develop their skills and continue their education, and recognizing women for their accomplishments.

  • New York

    ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
    Works to ensure that the decision whether or not to have a child is informed, meaningful and protected from government interference. The project has long-term commitments to defending the rights of low-income women and teenagers. In all of its efforts the project works in collaboration with the ACLU’s nationwide network of affiliates.

    ACLU Women’s Rights Project
    Dedicated to the advancement of the rights and interests of women, with a particular emphasis on issues affecting low-income women and women of color. The WRP implements ACLU policy in the area of gender discrimination through litigation, legislative advocacy and public education.

    Center for Reproductive Rights
    Nonprofit legal advocacy organization dedicated to promoting and defending women’s reproductive rights worldwide.

    Engender Health
    A non-governmental organization focused on improving women’s health worldwide.

    Equality Now
    Committed to ending violence and discrimination against women around the world. Issues of focus include rape, domestic violence, reproductive rights, trafficking of women, female genital mutilation and equal access to economic opportunity and political participation.

    Global Justice Center
    Works with women leaders on the strategic and timely legal enforcement of international equality guarantees. Targets the entrenched political and cultural norms that perpetuate male dominated decision-making bodies and constrain women; uses human rights and international law as tools to restructure societies in ways that enable women to take their rightful place in national and transitional justice processes; and identifies activists, leaders, judges, and policymakers and train them in the affirmative use of women’s human rights and international law as tools for constructing new democracies, governments, and transitional bodies.

    Legal Momentum
    Formerly Now Legal Defense and Education Fund. Independent nonprofit civil rights organization that performs a range of legal and educational services nationally in support of women’s efforts to eliminate sex-based discrimination and secure equal rights.

    National Abortion Rights Action League of New York
    Protects women’s reproductive freedom and privacy by writing amicus briefs, monitoring and providing legal analysis of legislative activity and providing advice and information to elected officials and policymakers.

    National Organization for Women– New York City
    Advocates for reproductive rights, economic equity, ERA, ending racism and discrimination, lesbian rights and stopping violence against women.

    New York Asian Women’s Center
    Works with women and children affected by domestic violence to enable them to live safe and independent lives. By helping women and children end violence at home and bringing domestic violence to the forefront of the Asian community’s consciousness, the organization serves as a vehicle for placing the concerns of Asian women and children on the agenda for community change.

    Northern Westchester Shelter, Inc.
    A private, nonprofit organization that provides a safe haven and caring services to survivors of domestic violence. Programs are free, confidential, and offered in English and Spanish.

    Pace Women’s Justice Center
    Legal services group representing victims of domestic violence in family court.

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America
    Serves as an authority and resource for policymakers, the media, health care providers, and concerned others. In addition, teams of experts in the fields of medicine, communications, fundraising, the law and public affairs support affiliates in their work at the local level.

    Pregnancy Justice (formerly National Advocates for Pregnant Women)
    Mission is to secure the human and civil rights, health, and welfare of pregnant and parenting women while protecting children from punitive state policies. Uses strategies, including litigation and public education to organize on the local and national level, to ensure that women do not lose their constitutional and human rights as a result of pregnancy, and that pregnant and parenting women have access to a full range of reproductive health services, as well as non-punitive drug treatment services.

    Sanctuary for Families
    In addition to providing direct services, Sanctuary for Families advocates for improved laws, policies, and services.

    Urban Justice Center—Family Violence Project
    Engages in legal advocacy, public education and policy reform to assist domestic violence victims who are negotiating the criminal justice system, seeking public assistance or are in danger of having their children taken away from them.

    Victims Services Domestic Violence Law Project
    Offers free legal representation for domestic violence victims who are unable to afford counsel on order of protection, custody, visitation, matrimonial and criminal matters.

    Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children
    The Women’s Commission is an expert resource and advocacy organization that monitors the care and protection of refugee women and children. It speaks out on issues of concern to refugee and displaced women, children and adolescents, who have a critical perspective in bringing about change but often do not have access to governments and policy makers. It also provides opportunities for refugee women and youth to speak for themselves through briefings, testimony, participation in field assessments and international conferences.

  • Ohio

    Pro-Choice Ohio
    Protects women’s reproductive freedom and privacy by writing amicus briefs, monitoring and providing legal analysis of legislative activity and providing advice and information to elected officials and policymakers.

  • Pennsylvania

    Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project
    Working to raise awareness and affect policy change on a state and national level, the Duvall Project is a member of numerous coalitions involving pro-choice and anti-sexual assault organizations. Its current education and advocacy efforts address issues such as access to emergency contraception (EC or “the morning-after pill”), particularly for survivors of sexual assault, minors’ access and ability to consent to confidential healthcare, and opposing abstinence-only-until-marriage sexuality education in public schools.

    National Defense Center for Criminalized Survivors
    Provides critical assistance and information to criminal defense teams and domestic violence programs nationwide that are working with abused women charged with crimes.

    Pittsburgh Action Against Rape
    Works to respond to survivors of sexual violence with crisis intervention and counseling, educate the community to prevent sexual violence and advocate for systems to respond to and prevent sexual violence.

    Women Against Abuse, Inc.
    Provides representation in protection from abuse, custody and support cases.

    Women’s Law Project
    Dedicated to improving the legal and economic status of women and their families through public policy development, litigation, public education, legislative reform and systems advocacy.

  • Texas

    Safe Place
    SafePlace exists to end sexual and domestic violence through safety, healing, prevention and social change.

    Texas Advocacy Project
    A statewide, nonprofit, legal organization with a mission to provide free legal advice, expand legal education and promote access to justice for Texas women in need.

    Texas Council on Family Violence
    The Texas Council on Family Violence promotes safe and healthy relationships by supporting service providers, facilitating strategic prevention efforts, and creating opportunities for freedom from domestic violence.

  • Vermont

    Have Justice – Will Travel
    The mission of Have Justice – Will Travel, Inc. (HJWT) is to end the generational cycle of abuse in rural families by bridging the legal, cultural, geographical, psychological, and economic gaps that exist for victims of domestic abuse. HJWT provides legal and supportive services for abused low- income women and their children.

    Steps to End Domestic Violence (formerly Women Helping Battered Women)
    Supports, identifies options and advocates for those who have experienced domestic violence and serve as a catalyst for social change.

  • Virginia

    Feminist Majority Foundation
    Develops long-term strategies and permanent solutions to the pervasive social, political and economic obstacles facing women.

    Tahirih Justice Center
    Pro bono legal services for women and girls seeking immigration help.

  • Washington

    Northwest Women’s Law Center
    Works in the areas of reproductive rights, family law, violence against women, LGBTQ+ rights, employment discrimination, health care and insurance, affirmative action, education and athletics, criminal and prisons.

  • International

    African Gender Institute – South Africa
    The institute is concerned with strengthening gender/women’s studies on the continent, organizational transformation, and research and activism in diverse areas.

    BAOBAB For Women’s Human Rights – Nigeria
    Non-governmental, nonprofit, and non-religious women’s human rights organization that focuses on women’s legal rights issues in customary, statutory and religious laws. Its goal is to help women’s human rights become an integral part of everyday life. The mission of BAOBAB is to promote and protect women’s human rights primarily by improving knowledge, exercise and development of rights under customary, religious, and statutory laws in Nigeria.

    Commission on Gender Equality – South Africa
    The Commission on Gender Equality is a state institution supporting constitutional democracy. The aim of the Commission, as set out in section 187 of the Constitution, is to promote gender equality and to advise and make recommendations to Parliament or any other legislature with regard to any laws or proposed legislation which affects gender equality and the status of women.

    Federation of Women’s Lawyers Kenya (FIDA Kenya)  – Kenya
    Non-governmental membership organization committed to the creation of a just society free of all discrimination against women. Objectives include increasing access to justice for women in Kenya and enhancing public awareness of women’s rights issues.

    MUSASA – Zimbabwe
    Established to enhance the development of women in society through educating both governments, government agents and the general public on the illegality and non-acceptability of violence against women.

    National Network of Sex Workers – India
    Network of sex worker organizations working for the rights of sex workers, in particular for the decriminalization of sex work and workers’ rights for sex workers.

    Research Action and Information Network for the Bodily Integrity of Women (RAINBO) – England
    Works to protect African women’s and girls’ rights to sexual and reproductive health. It specifically strives to enhance global efforts to eliminate the practice of female circumcision/female genital mutilation through facilitating women’s self-empowerment and accelerating social change.

    Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice – Netherlands
    The Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice is an international women’s human rights organization advocating for gender-inclusive justice and working towards an effective and independent International Criminal Court (ICC). It is based in The Hague, the Netherlands, the seat of the ICC, in order to advocate for inclusion of gender-based crimes in the investigations and prosecutions of the ICC and to promote the rights of women victims/survivors of armed conflict throughout the justice process including through the Trust Fund for Victims.

    Women’s Legal Center – South Africa
    The Women’s Legal Centre is a nonprofit, independently funded law centre started by a group of women lawyers. The WLC has been established to advance women’s rights by conducting constitutional litigation and advocacy on gender issues.

    Women Power Connect – India
    A national-level organization of women’s groups and individuals working together with the aim of formalizing the process of legislative coordination in order to generate awareness about women’s issues and thereby influence legislators and policy makers to create and implement gender-friendly policies.


Written by: Diane Rosenfeld, LLM ’96 Lecturer on Law, HLS. Toni Mardirossian, Dana Langston, Amy Lawler, Summer Fellows. Revised by: Claire Dunning, Summer Fellow. Profound thanks are due to Holly Hogan for her interview, and to Amal Bass, Alexis Kuznick, Andi Friedman, Jane Stoever, and Sarah Boonin for their contributions to this revised guide—their narratives breathe life into the guide. We are also very grateful to Lenora Lapidus for taking the time to be interviewed, and for providing so many insightful comments on women’s rights. Additional thanks go to Kirsten Bermingham for her careful reading and editing. Last, but certainly not least, much gratitude is due to Alexa Shabecoff for her thoughtful supervision, comments, and edits to this revision.