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When Human Rights Go Unreported

An Examination of Women’s and LGBT Rights Reporting Under the Trump Administration

In May of 2017, President Donald Trump stated, “We are not here to lecture – we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.” How does this type of rhetoric affect the world, particularly when it is spoken by the ‘leader of the free world’? Dr. Marie Berry’s lecture Sins of Omission: Women’s and LGBT Rights Reporting Under the Trump Administration sought to answer such a question. Dr. Berry is an Assistant Professor in the Josef Korbel School of International Studies of International Comparative Politics at the University of Denver.

Dr. Berry introduces her lecture.
Dr. Berry introduces her lecture. Her presentation focused on her current research with Oxfam regarding women’s rights around the world and drawing parallels with global democratic decline.

Her presentation focused on her current research with Oxfam regarding women’s rights around the world and drawing parallels with global democratic decline. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – the Human Rights Reports – have been drafted by the U.S. State Department since 1976. These reports provide critical information to governments, policymakers, and human rights defenders in order to create U.S. foreign policy, distribute aid, determine whether corporations should invest in companies abroad, address the legitimacy of asylum claims in the courts, and provide data sets for research.

Dr. Berry and her team examined the Human Rights Reports from the final two years of President Obama’s administration with the two reports released during President Trump’s time in office. They counted the number of times the State Department referenced women’s, girls’, and LBGTQI issues within the reports, as well as examined the reports for any changes in language across time. The findings were that reporting on women’s rights and issues outside of the United States is down 32% since the end of the Obama administration. Reporting on LGBTQI rights and issues abroad is down 21%. Additionally, the Human Rights Reports section on reproductive rights was eliminated, instead being renamed ‘Coercion in Population Control.’

After seeing the variations between the Obama and Trump administrations, Dr. Berry and her team went a step further, examining why some countries saw larger decreases in reporting on women’s rights and issues. They found that countries that had more asylum seekers attempting to come to the United States saw less reporting and countries with higher gender inequality saw less reporting. In total, only ten countries in the world saw an increase in reporting on women’s and girls issues from the end of the Obama administration through the Trump administration. That leads to the question, did U.S. strategic or foreign policy interests shape reporting? Dr. Berry stated that such an idea wasn’t out of the question, clarifying that the priorities of various administrations have shaped these reports across time.

Students, faculty, and community members listen as Dr. Berry describes her research.
Students, faculty, and community members listen as Dr. Berry describes her research.

So, what are citizens doing to challenge trends of diminishing rights? Grassroots movements are focusing on bringing populations together by making movements more dynamic, less resource intensive, and being horizontally organized. Dr. Berry works on pursuing these goals with women from around the globe through the Inclusive Global Leadership Institute (IGLI) at the University of Denver. Through this program, individuals working to promote peace, human rights, and security are able to come together to train and participate in dialogue to create effective, nonviolent movements.