Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning, everyone and thank you for that warm welcome. I want to begin by thanking President [Dan] Smith for welcoming me to Vermont Technical College today and for his outstanding leadership of this fine institution. And I want to thank you, Senator [Pat] Leahy, for that introduction; for your decades of service to the people of Vermont and to all of the American people; and for your kind friendship and generous assistance. Your support and guidance were critical in helping me navigate my long Senate confirmation process and the wise counsel that you have provided since I took office has been just as valuable. Working with you over the last 18 months has given me the opportunity to see up close your devotion to public service, your dedication to our country and your fidelity to the cause of justice – qualities that have defined your distinguished tenure in government for five decades. You have worked to make our criminal justice system more effective and more equitable; you have stood up to preserve our nation’s natural beauty; and you have fought for the confirmation of extraordinarily well-qualified men and women to our federal courts – all while juggling the awesome responsibility of appearing in a number of Batman films. And in every case and every instance, you have been a staunch advocate of a vibrant economy that affords every American a fair chance to make the most of his or her potential.
For two decades, the Vermont Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference has been a staple of that effort, serving as a catalyst of entrepreneurship and an engine of advancement. It has helped countless Vermont women from all walks of life embark on new careers, build new partnerships and develop new skills. It has empowered them to take risks, to follow their passions and to fight for their rightful seat at the table. And in doing so, it has created jobs, grown businesses and helped strengthen the economy not only of this great state, but of the entire nation. That’s because the prosperity and well-being of America is increasingly tied to the prosperity and well-being of American women. Today, women constitute more than half of the country’s workforce. More women are graduating from college than men and have since the 1990s. And a growing number of women are now their family’s primary earner, which means that how much we spend on things like housing and health care increasingly depends on women’s professional success. As President Obama has said, “When women do well, everybody does well.”
That’s not just true here in the United States – it’s true all over the world. Because when we empower women, we empower a family, a community and a nation. In developing countries, when just 10 percent more girls attend school, a country’s GDP increases on average by three percent. When women in agricultural communities own the same amount of land as men, they obtain over a 10 percent increase in crop yields. And when women control more household income around the world, children and families benefit from increased spending on food and education. When women do well, everybody does well.
Of course, the impact of women’s economic empowerment – the work that you are here today to advance – cannot be measured in dollars alone. It is also measured by the steps we take forward to overcome generations of inequality and discrimination. It’s measured by the distance we travel toward a more fair and inclusive society. It’s measured by the extent to which we fulfill this nation’s most basic promises of liberty and justice. And it’s measured by whether we can finally realize an idea that was not present at America’s founding, but that has since become a vital yardstick of our progress: the conviction that all men and all women are created equal.
The fact remains that, even as women have gained ground across the professional landscape, we continue to face obstacles because of our gender. In far too many cases, discrimination and bias continue to pose real and significant challenges – challenges that range from the kind of implicit sexism that arises from outmoded attitudes, to blatant discrimination and outright abuse. These obstacles not only limit the ability of women to succeed and contribute – they degrade our country and fly in the face of who we are as a people.
I want you to know that the Department of Justice is taking on these challenges – to ensure that no woman is denied the opportunities she deserves; to guarantee that every woman receives the benefits she has earned; and to make certain that all women are afforded the dignity to which we are entitled. We are moving forward with all the tools at our disposal. For instance, our Civil Rights Division is vigilantly prosecuting those who engage in gender-based pay discrimination, because equal work deserves equal pay. Just last year, we reached a settlement with Clark County, Nevada, after our investigation found that the county paid its female director of diversity – I am not making this up – significantly less than white and male employees with similar duties. We are also working to end discrimination against pregnant employees, because no woman should be forced to choose between her job and her family. In fact, we filed a lawsuit just over a week ago against a school board in Florida on behalf of an assistant principal who was the victim of discrimination and retaliation after she announced her intention to become a mother; and in the last several months, we’ve settled lawsuits against the Chicago Board of Education and Niagara County, New York, involving discrimination against public employees because they were pregnant. And we are standing up for the rights of LGBT individuals in the workplace – men and women – because all people deserve to be treated with respect.
That is something this state understands at a fundamental level. As the one of the first states to pass a comprehensive statewide law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, back in 1992; as the first state to introduce civil unions, in 2000; and as the first state to enact a statute allowing same-sex marriage without being required to do so by a court order in 2009, Vermont has built an impressive and important record of inclusion that I am particularly pleased to highlight as we celebrate Pride Month.
Of course, the Justice Department’s efforts to support and empower women also extend far beyond the workplace – because in order to give every woman a chance to thrive, we must address the full range of biases, inequalities and obstacles that impact women here in Vermont and around the country on a daily basis. That’s why we’re taking on landlords and property managers who sexually harass their tenants. That’s why we’re encouraging law enforcement agencies to recruit and retain female officers. That’s why we’ve made clear that we are committed to securing the equal treatment and protection of transgender women – who, like all women, should never be made to feel threatened or excluded on the basis of who they are. And that’s why we’re working to take on some of the most persistent and insidious crimes facing women: sexual assault and domestic violence. In that effort, Senator Leahy, you have been an extraordinary champion and a vital partner.
I am especially grateful to Senator Leahy for his leadership in introducing and passing the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 – a landmark bill that strengthened the ability of the Department of Justice to protect women from violence, to prosecute perpetrators of abuse and to assist survivors as they seek to reclaim their lives and restore their futures. With the benefit of Senator Leahy’s hard work and impassioned advocacy, the Justice Department was able to help broaden the bill to cover individuals who had been too often left out and left behind – from gay, lesbian and transgender Americans to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The expansion of these protections and the implementation of this law represented a resounding victory not only for women, but for all who seek a more secure, more prosperous and more just society. When women do well, everybody does well.
I am proud of all that the department is doing – both on our own and with our allies in Congress and across the Administration – to make that better world a reality. As long as I have the privilege of serving as Attorney General, I intend to continue pushing forward. But I also know that the brighter future we seek cannot be achieved through the actions of government alone. It requires the contributions of people like you – engaged and active citizens who are transforming our country from the ground up. It requires the courage of people like you – bold and fearless women who remain undaunted by opposition and obstruction. It requires the vision of people like you – creative professionals and entrepreneurs who are determined to put their talents to work, to enrich our communities and strengthen our nation.
Ultimately, that’s what your presence here today is all about. By daring to make your dreams a reality; by demanding to be treated as equals; by striving to hone your skills and expand your horizons; and by forging bonds and building relationships with one another, you are creating positive change, right here in your great state. You are challenging our institutions to become more open and inclusive. You are helping our society to recognize that diversity only makes us stronger. And, above all, you are serving as powerful role models for your daughters, your granddaughters and all those who will follow, ensuring by your example that the next generation will carry us even further down the path to a brighter, a more equal and a more just future.
Just last month, I had the privilege of giving the commencement address at two outstanding institutions founded by women – Spelman College and American University’s Washington College of Law. Spelman College was founded in 1881 by two female teachers and 11 young black women, some of them former slaves, who knew education was the key to true freedom. Washington College of Law was founded in 1896 – the first law school founded by women, the first to have a female dean and the first to graduate an all-female class. These women did not know what the future held, for them or for their institutions. They did not have the benefit of women as business leaders and CEOs, governors and members of Congress, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, as we do. But they persevered and pushed and fought, for themselves and for their daughters – for all of us. They did all of that with no guarantees, knowing that their work would not be realized for generations. How can we do any less? Because when the full force of womanhood is awakened, nations change and dreams come true.
As I look out over this gathering, I am inspired by your potential and your promise. I am confident in your abilities and your resolve. And I am excited to see all that you will accomplish and achieve in the days, months and years ahead. Thank you, once again for all that you have done – and all that you continue to do – to build stronger communities here in Vermont and across the country. Thank you for hosting me today in your beautiful state. I wish you a most productive conference.