#DearObama: 3 Steps to Advance Rights of Women and Girls in Your State of the Union

U.S. President Barack Obama (C), joined by (L-R) Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State Deborah Parker, Attorney General Eric Holder, Vice President Joseph Biden, trafficking survivor Tysheena Rhames, House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Michael Crapo (R-ID), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), Director of Public Policy of Casa de Esperanza Rosemary Hidalgo-McCabe, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), Police Chief James Johnson of Baltimore County in Maryland, and Executive Director of New York City Anti-Violence Project Police Department Sharon Stapel, signs the Violence Against Women Act into law at the Department of the Interior March 7, 2013 in Washington, DC. The law expands protections for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

President Obama, , joined by Vice Chairwoman of the Tulalip Tribes of Washington State Deborah Parker, trafficking survivor Tysheena Rhames, Police Chief James Johnson of Baltimore County in Maryland, and Executive Director of New York City Anti-Violence Project Police Department Sharon Stapel, and members of Congress and his adminstration, signs the Violence Against Women Act into law March 7, 2013. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This blog is part of a series on human rights in the State of the Union address. The United States has an obligation to pursue policies that ensure respect for human rights at home and around the world. Follow along and join the conversation using #SOTUrights.

Dear Mr. President,

This State of the Union, will you make women’s rights a priority?

Women across the world—including here in the U.S.—experience horrific levels of violence. 1 of 3 women globally will be raped, beaten, or otherwise abused in their lifetime, and you, Mr. President, can help end this epidemic.


Dear Congress: Let’s Get Moving Together! Reauthorize VAWA Now!

VAWA rally in washington dc

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Monday in Washington, D.C. the National Mall was packed with hundreds of thousands of eager people who witnessed President Barack Obama sworn in for his second term.  During his speech, President Obama reminded us of our “vow to move forward together” on the challenges we face together as a country. Today, we say to Congress: time for you to move together to pass an inclusive Violence Against Women Act!

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have just announced that the two chambers are jointly reintroducing the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a law that since 1994 has sent the message that violence against women is criminal and that has helped to ensure that the millions of women who experience domestic and sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking receive the protection and support they need.


President Obama signs Tribal Law and Order Act

I am thrilled to share with you a deeply moving moment in a long-awaited, hard-fought, and historic victory for Native American and Alaska Native peoples in the United States.  Last Thursday afternoon, I had the privilege of attending a special ceremony at the White House where President Obama signed into law H.R. 725 – the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. This law entering into force marked an important step forward in beginning to address some of the many continuing injustices that Native American and Alaska Native communities – particularly women – face in this country.  It was especially meaningful to stand not just along aside my Amnesty International colleagues but with our Native partners who for so long have fought to stop the horrific violence and human rights violations inflicted on Native American and Alaska Native women.  It is their courage and determination that made this historic advance possible.

The Tribal Law and Order Act is a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that tackles the complex jurisdictional maze that allows violent crime against Native American and Alaska Native peoples to flourish.  In particular, it seeks to put an end to the epidemic rates of rape and sexual assault perpetrated against Indigenous women in the US.  As many of you know from your years of activism and support for AIUSA’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign, the situation we found Native women facing in this country when began our research in 2005 was truly appalling.  As detailed in our 2007 reported entitled Maze of Injustice, Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other women in this country to be raped. Women from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas told us that they couldn’t think of a single woman who hadn’t been sexually assaulted.  More than one in three Native women will be raped at some point in their lives, 86 percent of them by non-Native perpetrators. The fact that the majority of these crimes occur with total impunity points clearly to the legacy of discrimination that Native communities had faced for many generations.

Among other things, this legislation means that every Native American and Alaska Native woman now finally has the chance to get a police response, have access to a rape kit, the opportunity to see her case prosecuted and see justice served for crimes committed against her. It standardizes the much needed sexual assault protocols within the Indian Health Service to ensure that survivors of sexual assault will receive proper treatment and care and that crucial forensic evidence will be collected.  The Act also clarifies who is responsible for prosecuting crimes in tribal communities and restores authority, resources, and information to tribal governments.  While taking initial steps to restore power to tribal governments to take more direct action in cases of violent crime, it will also hold federal authorities accountable for failure to prosecute.