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Advancing and Promoting the Rights of Women Around the World

Demonstrating the Obama Administration’s support for the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Civil Rights Division’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Samuel Bagenstos, testified yesterday at a hearing  held by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. As Mr. Bagenstos told the Subcommittee:
United States ratification of CEDAW would signal our nation’s unequivocal and continued commitment to advancing the rights and freedoms of women around the world. We know that when women are denied access to their basic rights, families, communities and entire nations suffer. CEDAW provides an important framework through which the United States can work with other governments, the international community, and individuals around the world to advance and promote the rights of women.
The United States is already a global leader in protecting women’s rights, and our existing laws and practices are broadly consistent with the requirements of CEDAW.  During his testimony, Mr. Bagenstos discussed the various federal laws that protect the rights of women, and highlighted some recent actions taken by the Civil Rights Division to enforce those laws. For example, on August 6, 2010, a federal jury in Detroit, Michigan returned a $115,000 verdict against Glenn Johnson, Ronnie Peterson and First Pitch Properties, LLC in United States v. Peterson, a case under the Fair Housing Act alleging sexual harassment against female tenants.  The United States presented evidence that a property manager subjected six women to severe and pervasive sexual harassment, ranging from unwelcome sexual comments and sexual advances, to requiring sexual favors in exchange for their tenancy. The United States also presented evidence that the owner of the properties knew that Johnson was sexually harassing tenants, but did nothing to stop it. The Division recently filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its Department of Corrections alleging that Massachusetts is engaged in a pattern or practice of employment discrimination against women based on its use of a physical fitness test that disproportionately screens out female applicants for entry-level correctional officer jobs. There is no evidence that the State’s use of the test is job related and consistent with business necessity – for example, that the test effectively predicts job performance. As a result, the Justice Department is seeking a Court order that the State stop using the challenged test, adopt and use a physical fitness test for correctional officer that complies with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and provide remedial relief for those female applicants who were harmed by the use of the unlawful test. In the area of human trafficking, an example of a successful prosecution is the recent case of United States v. Afolabi. In this case, three defendants were convicted and the lead defendant was sentenced to 27 years in prison for holding young West African women and girls, aged 10 to 19, in servitude in hair braiding salons in New Jersey. The defendants worked these girls around the clock and seized all of the profit the victims generated each month. They held the victims in their service through threats, physical assaults, psychological intimidation, and sexual abuse. In addition to the sentences of imprisonment, the defendants were ordered to pay the victims over $3.9 million in restitution. In addition, the Justice Department works to aggressively protect the rights of women by using the tools provided in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), enacted in 1994.  Since the law’s enactment, the Justice Department has prosecuted more than 2,600 cases under criminal provisions that target domestic violence abusers. These cases often involve the most aggressive and violent abusers who cross state lines to pursue their victims. The Department’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) administers grant programs that support:
  • training for police, prosecutors, and court personnel in responding to violence against women;
  • solutions for the unique barriers faced by rural communities in addressing such violence;
  • the provision of legal assistance, transitional housing, and supervised visitation services to victims;
  • tools to address the special needs of victims who are elderly and those with disabilities; and,
  • responses to the high rate of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. 
In the six-month reporting period from January to June 2009 alone, OVW grantees reported that more than 125,300 victims were served and more than 253,000 services (including shelter, civil legal assistance and crisis intervention) were provided to victims. These are just a sample of the many efforts taken by the Justice Department and the Obama Administration to protect and defend the rights of women and girls.  The Department strongly supports ratification of CEDAW, “both to express more forcefully our commitment to the rights of women in the United States and to further opportunities for girls and women around the world.”
Updated April 7, 2017