This past spring, Sen. Barack Obama delivered what has come to be known as his race speech. As the Democratic Convention looms on the horizon and with the general elections fast approaching this fall, here's hoping Sen. Obama will deliver his gender speech shortly.
Post-campaign analysis of Sen. Clinton's bid for Democratic presidential nomination focused on the inroads she has made for women in shattering the 'glass ceiling'. Much ado has been made about the progress women have made, especially in the political arena. Women gained three House seats and two Senate seats in the elections in 2006. Today, there are more women representatives (71) and senators (16) than ever before. But once the dust settles, the final picture reveals that the state of affairs is not as rosy as it has been chalked up to be. "Progress" does not always equal "parity" -- especially for women of color.
Last week Monday I attended a book discussion with Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, hosted by the Drum Major Institute. In her book, Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated: Why Women's Lives Aren't Getting Any Easier -- And How We Can Make Real Progress for Ourselves and Our Daughters, Congresswoman Maloney debunks the myth that women have achieved equal status with men in American society.
How's this for a reality check? Congresswoman Maloney points to the following statistics to buttress her position:
Women managers made up 79.7 cents to a man's dollar in 2000 -- 0.7 percent less than they made in 1983.
In 2000, 70 percent of respondents said earning enough to pay their bills and spend time with their family was getting harder, not easier.
The US Census Bureau reported that the percentage of women in executive management positions actually fell from 32 percent in 1990 to 19 percent in 2000.
The number of women corporate officers at Fortune 500 companies barely budged between 2002 and 2005, rising a mere 0.7 percent to 16.4 percent.
Women of color held just 1.7 percent of corporate officer positions and were only 1 percent of Fortune 500 top earners.
Eighty-five percent of respondents reported that their company offered no maternity or paternity leave benefits.
Women filed 10, 174 sexual harassment complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2006, compared with 9.574 in 1992.
In 2003, fewer than 2 percent of boilermakers, bricklayers, carpenters, ironworkers, machinists, masons, mechanics, operating engineers, painters, and sheet metal workers were women.
After the panel and when I finished reading Congresswoman Maloney's book, I could not help but wonder just where do we go from here. So I decided to compile a list of "Top Things" Sen. Obama can do to advance women's rights when he becomes president. To that end, I approached all five panelists from Monday -- Diana Salas, Olga Vives, Lisa Witter, Pat Schroeder and Carolyn Maloney -- and asked them to submit items for my list. Here's the final tally.
TOP SIX THINGS SEN. OBAMA CAN DO TO ADVANCE WOMEN'S RIGHTS:
1) Create a Commission that implements a human rights framework for health care disparities. According to Diana Salas, of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University, "this would recognize that health is a human right and would create a commission that specifically works on reducing the health disparities of groups. The Boston Public Health Commissioner has managed to do much work around health disparities, they don't use a human rights frame, they use a social determinants frame but in either case they launched a Disparities Project that will look at the health care disparities".
2) Develop a national antipoverty strategy with a focus on the feminization of poverty. This would entail that strategies to decrease poverty are focused on women and in particular women of color who bear the brunt of poverty. Diana Salas points out, "Across the globe, both the World Bank and IMF have noted that women are vehicles to address poverty. Women face more obstacles than men in labor markets, receive lower wages for the same work, dominate the informal economy and have less access to credit, land, time education and other productive resources. Also women are the caretakers and givers, spending considerable amounts of time, caring, feeding and treating the family. Therefore poverty eradication strategies must see women as active agents and must include them in the process."
3) Commit to a cabinet that is 50 percent female. Lisa Witter, author of The She Spot, raised this point during the book discussion. Sen. Obama would not be the first leader to follow this course of action since Chilean President Michelle Bachelet did this when she was elected the first woman president of Chile. Post-forum, Ms. Witter elaborated, "It's good politics to signal to the number of women who are disappointed that a woman, again, won't have a chance at the top job. Signaling that he wants women at the highest levels of government/leadership positions advising him would be wise. This shows he respects women's leadership and their valuable contribution to the country. Since his policy decisions affect women and girls, having a gender split representative of the nation would help him be sure he gets the perspective of women -- hopefully resulting in better policy for all of us". Diana Salas qualified the condition, stipulating, "If 50 percent of the women are going to be in his cabinet then half of those women should be women of color."
4) Ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Diana Salas wrote, "This treaty body protects the human rights of women and essentially would require that the US comply with the international norms and standards set forth by the treaty body. One of the major things in both CEDAW and CERD is the definition of discrimination based on "protected class". So a policy that disproportionately affects one group has the effect of being discriminatory even if it wasn't the purpose of the policy. Current law states that you have to prove the intent of discrimination and the burden of proof rests solely on the individual. This poses a problem since discrimination is no longer codified into law i.e. Jim Crow, but is seen in more nuanced way, for example Welfare Reform disproportionately affected women of color."
5) Participate in the Durban Review Process -- an international conference that recognizes the global problem of racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. Why? The US walked out of the original conference in 2001 and it is unlikely they will participate in next year's review. According to Diana Salas, "If the US doesn't participate the US NGO community will still attend and participate with the hopes of getting the concept "bringing human rights home" to more Americans. The importance for many attending the conference is not only recognition that racial discrimination still exists but also to build with others across the globe that may have found innovative ways to address the problem of discrimination."
6) Repeal the Hyde Amendment which prohibits federal funding for abortion. Diana Salas points out that this poses a big problem for low income women, who are mainly women of color, and immigrant women who either have to pay out of pocket for an abortion or have to live in a state that provides in-state funding for abortions, or at a local clinic that will do it for low cost.
It remains to be seen which of these proposals are implemented by the new administration.
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