Wendy Davis launches nonprofit encouraging gender equality

Anna McCreary

Former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis is bringing the fight for gender equality off of the senate floor and directly to women with the launch of her nonprofit, Deeds Not Words.

Taking its inspiration from the motto of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900s, Deeds Not Words’ main goal is to keep the conversation of women’s rights from dying out before physical action takes place.

“It’s disappointing that we’re almost 100 years from gaining the right to vote in this country, and yet, we still have so far to go,” Davis said. “I think that speaks to the fact that we’ve all got to accept our role and responsibility in changing it, and not decide that the status quo is okay.” 

In 2013, Davis became a national symbol for feminism when she stood the floor for 11 hours in a filibuster to block the passing of House Bill 2, a Texas anti-abortion bill. The legislation ended up passing in a special session, but Davis’ stand gained attention from the national news. 

Davis said the filibuster established an important precedent for pushing forward change that talk is important, but action even more so.

“People all over the country began talking about what was going on through social media,” Davis said. “It didn’t stop with a conversation. It resulted in thousands of people coming to the Texas Capitol and playing a role, literally, in trying to help us get [the filibuster] past that midnight deadline.” 

From that formula for engagement came Deeds Not Words, Davis said. The Austin-based program is designed to provide women with opportunities to get involved in local events and organizations focused on issues of reproductive rights, equal pay, familial leave and sexual assault prevention. These events and meetings are shared through emailed newsletters and event calendars for cities around the country.

Davis said she chose Austin as the organization’s home because of the large number of socially conscious young people in the area. Deeds Not Words is specifically geared toward millennials, a demographic projected to comprise up to 40 percent of the national voting population by 2020. 

“There’s just so much raw power in terms of the numbers and so much passion,” Davis said. “If we can help connect that passion to action and help people understand the power of advocacy and involvement, we can really move the needle on gender equality.” 

At the April #BossBabesATX meeting, Davis announced the organization’s launch. UT alumna Jane Hervey, co-founder of #BossBabesATX, said she believes groups like Deeds Not Words are important in promoting feminism because people need to see others fighting for their beliefs. 

“It means something to stand in solidarity with people you might not relate entirely to,” Hervey said. “Sometimes revitalizing a movement is just as simple as that — someone pushing forward a positive message and inspiring people to continue. Watching how divided our country is becoming, it really does take a lot of effort to maintain hype.”

The gender equality movement is one that’s seen many challenges, and Davis said she believes those obstacles have created an atmosphere of discouragement for women.

“It is certainly okay, and good, actually, to be disappointed when things don’t go our way,” Davis said. “But we can’t give in to the temptation of discouragement, which leads to disengagement. The only way we’ll move the needle is to stay in sight.” 

Three years after Davis’ filibuster, HB 2 was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last month. Though it is just one step toward gender equality, Davis said the decision will have a positive ripple effect for women’s access to reproductive rights across states that had mimicked Texas’ anti-abortion law. 

“But more than that, I think it has shored up people’s understanding that they can make a difference,” Davis said. “And I hope that it has created an atmosphere of encouragement for us to continue to pursue the things that matter very much to us.”