Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2023

Title:Gender Justice and Opportunity Initiative receives landmark support from #StartSmall

Author: Kate Colwell
Date Published: April 14, 2023
Rebecca Epstein and Naomi Wadler
Rebecca Epstein, director of Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, with Naomi Wadler, student activist and youth advisor to Georgetown Law’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, at “Girlhood Interrupted” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2019. Photo by Ralph Alswang.

The Initiative on Gender Justice & Opportunity at Georgetown Law, which works to advance race and gender equity for girls and gender-expansive youth, has received an $800,000 gift from #StartSmall, Jack Dorsey’s philanthropic initiative for crisis relief, girls’ health and education, and universal basic income. It’s the largest single gift or grant the initiative has received in their decade of work.

Rebecca Epstein, executive director of the initiative and the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, said she is honored by #StartSmall’s unrestricted support to advocate on behalf of marginalized girls.

“It’s a generous testament to their trust in our work,” says Epstein, noting that the initiative is completely donor- and grant-funded. “We appreciate that #StartSmall prioritized the needs of girls who have been so marginalized in law, research, and policy.”

Epstein explains that children face discrimination with little accountability by public systems, with Black girls especially vulnerable to both racial and gender discrimination.

“There’s no more powerful form of social justice than equality for young people, especially those who are pushed to the margin,” says Epstein. “Girls are traditionally both vulnerable and invisible; focusing on them is critical to achieving social justice for all.”

The gift will be used over several years to hire more staff, deepen research, produce more reports and events, expand the youth advisors program, and establish more crosscampus partnerships, including one with Georgetown’s Racial Justice Institute.

Epstein also plans to develop training opportunities on adultification bias, the phenomenon in which adults view Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers. These trainings will be designed for adults with power in public systems—including judges, doctors, and police—who have authority and influence over Black girls’ lives.

“We previously identified this form of bias as a challenge and validated it by talking to women and girls about their life experiences,” says Epstein. “Now we’re turning to solutions, and how we stop this harm to Black girls.” Mannone Butler (B’94, L’99), who serves as an attorney advisor to the initiative and as a founding leader of the Black Alumni Council, says she thinks the initiative’s gender justice framework is important to improving how the justice system treats Black girls and young women. When designing a system that rehabilitates, she believes restorative justice and understanding of how young people enter the justice system is key.

“The more we understand what contributes to young girls entering the juvenile justice system and the associated dire consequences, the more equipped and motivated we should be to employ prevention and intervention measures that limit their contact with the system,” says Butler.

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