It is an honor to take part in today’s forum, and to be joined by so many distinguished Heads of State and Government, honorable ministers, diplomats, and civic leaders. I’d like to thank Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon for convening this critical discussion. And I also want to recognize President Niinistö of the Republic of Finland and President Zuma of the Republic of South Africa, as well as the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Executive Director Bachelet, for their outstanding work in bringing together this remarkable group to explore how we can – and why we must – find new ways to expand and strengthen women’s access to justice around the world.
As history has consistently shown us, the most successful societies are those in which women are not only engaged in decision-making processes, but also empowered to assume larger roles and participate more broadly in society. Now – more than ever before – our nations must come together with unyielding resolve to advance human rights; to promote peace, stability, and the rule of law; and to overcome barriers to justice facing the most vulnerable populations.
Today, in far too many countries, women are still denied access to the judicial system – or are fully dependent on husbands and fathers to access the legal services they need. All too often, when women do seek justice, they face stigmatization and marginalization from their society. Just as UN Women has noted, “[i]n many countries of the world, the rule of law still rules women out.” This must become to all of the nations of the world simply unacceptable. Nothing can be deemed acceptable to justify the unequal treatment of women.
This is not a problem unknown to the United States of America. For America’s Department of Justice, changing this status quo constitutes a top priority. I’m proud to report that, in recent years, we’ve taken a leading role to defend and to empower women across and beyond this country and, in particular, victims of gender-specific violence. We’re working to enhance evidence collection following sexual assaults; to improve healthcare outcomes for those who are victimized; and to streamline policies and procedures for successful prosecutions of sexual crimes.
We’re also striving to eliminate systematic barriers – from healthcare and housing to education and employment – that prevent millions from understanding and exercising their legal rights. And we’re fostering increased collaboration with legal aid organizations, as well as state and local governments, to research and identify best practices for ensuring equal access to justice – and to elevate the importance of transparent, accountable, and effective legal assistance for all, regardless of wealth, status, or gender.
Beyond our shores, the United States has partnered with many of the nations represented here to promote and protect women and girls, while cultivating legal and institutional frameworks essential for long-term peace and stability. I am particularly proud of the investments that our prosecutors and law enforcement agents have made in some of the most vulnerable places in Africa to highlight the needs of victims of gender-based violence; to improve prosecutions; and to ensure that criminals can be held accountable for their crimes.
Last year, as part of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, the U.S. Government launched a comprehensive, interagency initiative to promote a gender-sensitive approach to our diplomatic, development, and defense-related work around the world. Under this program, the Justice Department – through its human trafficking and justice-sector development programs – has pledged to expand its support of local governments in conflict areas and to build their capacity to protect, serve, and assist victims of gender-based violence. Moving forward, we’ll continue to provide legislative, development, and technical support to assist our international partners in eradicating gender-specific inequalities.
Based on the successes we’ve seen – if we continue to collaborate – I believe that this impressive work has the potential not only to transform entire cultures and countries, but to make a powerful difference in the lives of countless women and girls around the world.
I am privileged to count each of you as partners in this critical effort. I am proud to stand with you. And although there’s no doubt that much remains to be done, I am confident in our ability to strengthen international cooperation, advance the rights of women and girls worldwide, and build a future based upon equality and justice for every citizen.