Justice News

Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Department of Justice’s Women’s History Month Celebration
Washington, DC
United States
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thank you, Richard [Toscano]. As always, you and your colleagues in the Equal Employment Opportunity Office – and across the Justice Management Division – have done excellent work in bringing the Department together and helping us to commemorate Women’s History Month.

I also want to recognize Jacqueline [Wright] – a dedicated professional at DEA, as well as a beautiful singer – for sharing her talents with us. Thank you for helping to make today’s program so special.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge – and thank – three other extraordinary women who, over the last several years, have provided a great deal of support – whether by performing on this stage or by working tirelessly behind the scenes – for the Department’s observance programs.

Today, we recognize Rhea Walker, of the Office of Justice Programs, and Dorothy Williams, of the Civil Rights Division, for sharing their exceptional musical gifts with us during so many of our Department-wide events. And I’m especially proud to recognize Linda Jenkins, a critical member of my own staff, who – in addition to her long-time service in the Office of the Attorney General – has established a record of support for the Equal Employment Opportunity staff that goes back nearly 30 years.

Rhea, Dorothy, and Linda – could you please stand so that we can give you a well-deserved round of applause?

Today, we gather to reflect on the extraordinary contributions – and countless sacrifices – that women have made in strengthening the Justice Department, and in building and advancing this nation. We also celebrate the work that the Department has done – and must continue – to ensure equal justice for all Americans.

The same sense of responsibility, and the same spirit of public service, that has inspired women throughout America’s history to call for better wages and working conditions, to demand rights and civil liberties, and to refuse to accept injustice and unequal treatment – guides our work today.

Thanks to the extraordinary courage of leaders, advocates, and activists, the story of women in America is one of frequent tribulations, as well as determined progress. It’s a story of generations of individuals and communities who dared to challenge an unjust status quo. And it’s a story of women and girls – as well as men and boys – who summoned the strength, and the faith, necessary to work together to overcome extraordinary challenges.

This legacy is celebrated in the lives of historic leaders like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Ada Kepley – the first woman to graduate from law school in the United States. It has been extended by pioneers like the journalist and writer, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the first African-American woman to attend the University of Georgia – and by my late sister-in-law, Viviane Malone Jones, who – before coming to work in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division – was the first black student to graduate from the University of Alabama. Today, this legacy of service and courage is strengthened by the many women who serve at the highest levels of both the public and private sectors.

Here at the Justice Department, the contributions of women are felt at every level, and across every component. During the Clinton Administration, I had the privilege of serving under the first woman ever to hold the office of Attorney General – my dear friend Janet Reno. And today, from senior members of my staff, to skilled attorneys and law enforcement professionals here in Washington and around the world, women across the Justice Department provide critical leadership and help to fulfill our most essential obligations.

But, in the pursuit of equal justice, their work – our work – is far from over.

Earlier this month, the Obama Administration released the first federal report on the status of American women in almost half a century. In some respects, its findings paint an encouraging picture of how far our country has come. But it also shows just how far we have yet to go.

Today, more women are going to college than ever before – in fact, young women are even more likely than young men to earn a college degree. Over the last few years, the number of men and women in the workforce has become almost equal. Yet women still earn less than their male counterparts. And they remain at greater risk of falling into poverty.

They also face unique and significant public safety threats – in both our urban and rural communities, and – at alarming rates– in Indian Country. That’s why today’s Justice Department has made preventing and combating violence against women a top priority. It’s why we’ve engaged federal, state, local, and tribal partners in this effort. And it’s why the fight against every form of inequity and discrimination remains at the forefront of our work.

As a new generation takes up this enduring struggle, we must learn from our history. As this year’s Women’s History Month theme reminds us – “Our History is Our Strength.” We must honor the heroines – and heed the lessons – of our past. And we must rise above, and set right, the injustices that have marked our history and persist into the present day.

In this work, I’m grateful to be joined by many dedicated partners – including our keynote speaker – an extraordinary woman who holds one of the most challenging jobs in this Department.

As a seasoned veteran of the U.S. Marshals Service, Stacia Hylton’s longtime commitment to its mission of justice, integrity, and service – and to her colleagues across the law enforcement community – has always been front and center. For President Obama, she was a natural choice to be named Director of the Marshals Service last year – and to become the first woman ever to occupy that post.

Ensuring the safety of our communities, and the integrity of our judiciary, has never been more important – or more difficult. In her first three months as Director, she has confronted unprecedented challenges as the Marshals Service suffered the devastating loss of two of its own – the first line-of-duty deaths for the Marshals in two decades. In the face of these senseless tragedies, Director Hylton has risen to the occasion, effectively supported her team, and strengthened her ties with our law enforcement partners. Her leadership, conviction, and remarkable personal strength have inspired thousands of men and women across the Department, including me.

I am deeply grateful for her dedication and her service. And I am honored to share the podium with her today.

Please join me in welcoming Director Stacia Hylton.