A determined advocate for immigrant women and girls with a rich history of service at Tahirih Justice Center has been nominated for a 2015 Excellence in Advocacy Award for her role in a pioneering campaign to end forced marriage in the United States.
Jeanne Smoot is one of six nominees for the “Excellence in a Campaign for Women Serving Women” Award. Smoot is the Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy at Tahirih.
The Excellence in Advocacy Awards spotlight women dedicated to representing their organization, issue, or cause.
“The role they play is critical and deserves recognition. We truly believe when women have a seat at the public policy table, everyone benefits,” reads a press release from Professional Women in Advocacy, the group that administers the annual awards and an associated conference.
At Tahirih, Smoot leads the development of legal and policy proposals to address forced marriage in the United States. Forced marriage is a fundamental human rights abuse that puts thousands of individuals in the U.S. at risk each year.
As many as 3,000 cases were encountered in just a 2-year period, all across the country, according to a 2011 Tahirih study co-written by Smoot. Forced marriage happens in families of many different cultural, religious, and socio-economic backgrounds, and it disproportionately impacts women and girls, cutting short their education and subjecting them to physical, psychological, sexual, and economic abuse.
To protect all individuals at risk and to support survivors of forced and child marriage, Smoot led a Tahirih campaign in early 2015 that called on President Obama to enact a national plan to combat this human rights abuse in the United States. At the center of the campaign was a Change.org petition, which thanks to Smoot’s advocacy, has garnered nearly 125,000 signatures to date.
In March, Smoot and a coalition of women’s rights advocates presented the petition with more than 100,000 signatures to the White House Council on Women and Girls. The Administration has since agreed to ongoing dialogue with advocates about how to address forced marriage in the United States, including exploring ways that federal agencies can assist in that progress.
“It is an absolute honor to have the opportunity to work closely with Jeanne,” said Archi Pyati, Director of Policy and Programs at Tahirih. “Her passion is inspiring, and the impact of her smart, strategic advocacy on the laws and policies that affect women and girls is undeniable. She has more than earned this and other accolades yet to come.”
Smoot continues her grassroots outreach and advocacy at the local and national level to end forced marriage in the United States. Currently, she is working with a leading global law firm, Hogan Lovells, to press for legal reforms to protect forced marriage victims. The project, which is part of the firm’s pro bono commitment with the Clinton Global Initiative, has a special focus on strengthening state laws on the age of consent to marry.
Prior to moving into to her role as senior counsel, Jeanne led Tahirih’s public policy team for over a decade, fighting to reduce vulnerabilities of immigrant women and girls and to empower them as survivors. Among other achievements, Smoot helped draft and secure enactment of the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act (IMBRA) to prevent the abuse and exploitation of so-called “mail-order brides.” She also helped draft legislation to fix aspects of the broken asylum system that harm women and girls fleeing gender-based persecution.
“I am inspired by how extraordinary the women and girls we serve are, who rise above and move beyond a relationship, family, or community that has hindered and hurt them, seeking instead the love and respect that — despite all they’ve been told and shown to the contrary — they somehow know in their hearts that they deserve,” Smoot has said of her work.
Up to three finalists from each Excellence in Advocacy category will be announced on Oct. 7, 2015. One awardee from each category will be named at the Excellence in Advocacy Awards & Reception on Monday, Nov. 16 at the Marriott Metro Center.
Featured Photo: Vice President Joe Biden with Tahirih’s Jeanne Smoot at the YWCA’s Annual Conference at the Hyatt Regency, in Washington, D.C., May 4, 2012. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)