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Reducing Inequalities, Advancing Human Rights

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Each year on December 10, Human Rights Day gives us a chance to reflect on the work that needs to be done to ensure that every single person—regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status—can access their unalienable rights and freedoms. It is also a chance to celebrate the work of Equal Justice Works Fellows who are advocating for underserved communities across our country.

Photo of Julia Mizutani

Julia Mizutani, a 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow hosted by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington, seeks to expand the rights of unhoused youth and  decriminalize of activities that youth experiencing housing instability do to survive, such as miss school days or sleep outside. Although the United States and the state of Washington may not recognize housing as a right, numerous international legal documents affirm that everyone has a right to an adequate standard of living, including habitable, accessible, and stable housing.

At the ACLU of Washington, Julia has authored multiple amicus briefs to the Washington Supreme Court about the unconstitutional punishment of poverty and homelessness through vehicle home impoundments, camping bans, and disparate fare enforcement. Julia has also led statewide trainings on housing justice and participated in active litigation against the City of Seattle for their encampment sweeps practices and punishment of clients for engaging in life-sustaining conduct, such as sleeping in a tent to shelter from the rain.

“Housing is the foundation of many other rights and cannot be separated from the right to health, education, privacy, and the right to be secure and free from cruel punishment and inhumane treatment,” said Julia.

Housing is the foundation of many other rights and cannot be separated from the right to health, education, privacy, and the right to be secure and free from cruel punishment and inhumane treatment.

Julia Mizutani /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Photo of Essoka Ndome
Photo of Ndome Essoka 

In accordance with international human rights standards, maternal health care must be available; physically, economically, and culturally accessible; medically and ethically acceptable; and of good quality. However, maternal health care is unacceptably poor in the United States, which has the highest rate of maternal mortality among developed nations, disproportionately impacting low-income people and people of color.

Sponsored by Covington & Burling LLP, Merck & Co., Inc., 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow Ndome Essoka works to expand access to maternal health care for low-income pregnant people and people of color by addressing legal barriers to midwifery care. At her host organization, Center for Reproductive Rights, Ndome uses law and policy to advance sexual and reproductive rights as fundamental human rights that governments are obligated to respect, protect, and fulfill. This involves building relationships with impacted stakeholders, conducting legal research, developing impact litigation strategies, and creating policy advocacy tools and resources.

“Sexual and reproductive rights are fundamental human rights. These rights must be reflected in both law and practice, because all pregnant and birthing people have the right to safe and respectful maternal health care, free from discrimination, racial bias, coercion, and violence,” said Ndome.

Sexual and reproductive rights must be reflected in both law and practice, because all pregnant and birthing people have the right to safe and respectful maternal health care, free from discrimination, racial bias, coercion, and violence.

Ndome Essoka /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

Photo of Eliza McDuffie
Photo of Eliza McDuffie

While the Supreme Court has yet to decide whether long-term solitary confinement alone constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, many advocates like Eliza McDuffie, a 2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow cosponsored by Eversheds Sutherland and The Home Depot, believe that the practice has devastating mental health effects and greatly increases the likelihood of recidivism.

Eliza works to end the use of solitary confinement for kids incarcerated in the Georgia Department of Corrections. At her host organization, Southern Center for Human Rights, she will carry out strategic litigation, collects data and track Georgia’s use of solitary confinement for kids, and conduct education and awareness activities and trainings.

“I am making sure that my service is responsive to what communities actually want and need, because in so many cases communities already know the solutions. So, listening to communities I’m serving and doing what I can to ensure that my work is directly responsive to what they’re asking for,” added Eliza, on what service means to her.

[To me, service means] listening to communities I'm serving and doing what I can to ensure that my work is directly responsive to what they're asking for.

Eliza McDuffie /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

We are proud of how Julia, Ndome, and Eliza are working to reduce inequalities and advance human rights. To learn more about how our Fellows are uplifting lives and communities, click here.

Learn more about becoming an Equal Justice Works Fellow