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Eleanor Smeal

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Obama's First 100 Days: Giant Strides for Women

Posted: 04/28/09 07:23 PM ET

By any measure, the work President Obama and his team have accomplished for women and girls in the first 100 days is impressive. They not only have reversed some of the most egregious Bush policies, but also have taken some powerful actions to advance and empower women.

I've been working for women's rights in Washington, D.C. since the Carter days and I have never seen anything like these first days. The pace is fast, and the outreach is inclusive. It started during the transition: The Obama/Biden team reached out to women's leaders and met with us on a whole host of issues frequently and at high levels. And it has continued.

In the current issue of Ms., which will hit newsstands next week, the editors have compiled a list of the major Obama achievements thus far vis-à-vis women's issues, and it bears repeating--see below. In reviewing this list, it's amazing how fast we are checking off as done major goals we have been working toward for several years. We still have a long to-do list--the damage of the Bush years was massive, and we have to remedy it while moving forward. But we are going in the right direction with all deliberative speed.

One area of concern that should be noted, however, is the percentage of women in top jobs. We must keep pushing. According to the Washington Post's appointment tracking database, women thus far number only 30% of appointments to positions needing Senate confirmation. But very encouragingly, appointments include a high percentage of people of color and include many outstanding feminists.

Savor the beginning of what promises to be a long list of Obama achievements for women:

JAN 23: President Obama overturns the "global gag rule," a move that will literally save countless women's lives in developing nations and will lead to the U.S. re-funding many international family-planning programs

JAN 29: Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring women's ability to sue for pay discrimination

FEB 4: Obama signs act to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to cover 11 million children--Bush had vetoed this act twice

FEB 17
: Obama's economic stimulus package saves and creates jobs not only in construction, where men dominate, but in fields where women workers are the substantial majority--health care, child care and education; also increases Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment benefits

FEB 27
: Obama moves to rescind the Bush administration's "conscience" clause, which could have let health-care workers deny patients abortion, contraception or any other procedure they objected to

MAR 2
: With the choice of Kathleen Sebelius as Health and Human Services secretary, Obama appoints a total of seven women to Cabinet-level positions

MAR 6 : Obama institutes a new ambassador-at-large for global women's issues and names Melanne Verveer to the post

MAR 9
: Obama lifts restrictions on stem-cell research

MAR 11: Obama establishes the White House Council on Women and Girls and names senior adviser Valerie Jarrett as chair and director of public liaison Tina Tchen as executive director

Omnibus Spending Act restarts U.S. contributions to the United Nations Population Fund (which the Bush administration had blocked for eight years) and reinstates low-cost birth control availability at college health centers and at some 400 clinics serving low-income women

MAR 19: Obama pledges to sign a U.N. declaration to decriminalize homosexuality, which Bush had refused to sign

MAR 20
: Obama appointee Elena Kagan is confirmed as the first woman Solicitor General

APR 3: Obama calls Afghanistan's proposed Shia Family Law--which would permit marital rape--"abhorrent," helping to lead Afghan President Hamid Karzai to review the law

APR 23 The FDA extends Plan B availability to 17-year-olds--something highly unlikely to have happened under Bush