U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) met May 9 with international human rights and trafficking experts and local community leaders to discuss the kidnappings of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria, efforts to end human trafficking and crimes against women and girls, and the fight for equal treatment and opportunity for young women across the world.
Among those attending the private roundtable discussion in Newark were Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and facilitator of the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
The plight of the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by the radical Muslim militant group Boko Haram became the focus of a meeting originally called to discuss global economic and leadership opportunities for women.
“Rather than talking about what matters so much to every woman — a good education leading to a good job that will help them build a better life for themselves and their families — I feel compelled to turn attention to the mothers in Nigeria who sent their girls to school to learn and today are hoping for nothing more than to bring their daughters home,” Menendez said before the closed-door meeting, at a press conference that also included Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
Earlier this week, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez wrote to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, calling on him to demonstrate leadership and to work closely with the United States and partners in the international community to determine what assistance is needed now. Menendez also cosponsored a resolution, which passed the Senate, that condemns the kidnappings, asserts the right of girls everywhere to an education, and calls for timely international assistance to Nigeria to help with the rescue effort.
On May 8, he introduced the International Violence Against Women Act, which would make combating violence against women and girls a top U.S. foreign policy priority.
“I believe in economic empowerment not just as the centerpiece of our domestic policy, but American foreign policy,” Menendez continued. “I believe in gender equality and investing in women and girls as part of our shared economic goals of prosperity, stability, and peace. And I believe that we must do everything in our power to end trafficking and bring traffickers, wherever they are, to justice.”
Other attendees included Ousseina Alidou, director of the Rutgers Center for African Studies; assistant state Attorney General Tracy M. Thompson, chair, NJ Human Trafficking Task Force; Mohamed El Filali, executive director, CAIR-NJ; Meryl Frank, former U.S. ambassador to the UN Commission on the Status of Women (Ret.); and Sarah McDonald and Sophia Seidenberg, juniors at Montclair High School and members of Girls Learn International.