By Linda Basch, PhD
What happened this week is historic. We have elected a new administration, and change is definitely in the air. Our anticipation is great, but we also have many big issues to tackle.
The economic crisis brings particular urgency to the issues foremost on our minds. At the Council, we've been talking about economic security, but now we need to talk about economic recovery and the ways women are particularly affected. Women are more likely to be in foreclosure and hold sub-prime mortgages (32% more likely than men despite better credit scores), more likely to be poor, to be earning minimum wage (68.4% nationally), and to lack adequate health insurance. These challenges are not unique to women, they affect families, communities, and the entire nation.
Going forward, how might life be different--more equitable, healthier, more secure--for women and girls in an Obama era? We have lots of ideas.
President-elect Obama is known as a convener. Just as we at the Council attempt to draw on the strength and expertise of our network, it is our hope that our next President will draw on the best and brightest--and that he'll make women and their perspectives integral to his team. We may not have a woman in the Oval Office, but we want to make sure that women's visions and perspectives are a central part of the new government.
To that end, we've asked women leaders from a diversity of sectors for their big-sky thinking. We started with leaders of women's organizations--those who have spent much of their lives working towards a society that would be different, better, more fair. What are their visions for an Obama Administration? Who are their ideal Cabinet picks? What new offices, government departments, or agencies would they like to see set up? What's been most missing in President-elect Obama's platform around women's issues, and what messages would they like to send the transition team to rectify these lapses going forward? How do we move women and the issues women care about most from the margins to the center in this new administration?
Below are excerpts from their responses. For the rest, please follow the links to their posts on our blog, The REAL Deal. We hope you'll share your visions too, and post links in the comments section, like this one from feministing, to other sites where women are similarly voicing their hopes and dreams. Our goal is to inform President-elect Obama and his transition team about what's on the minds of key leaders, who are women, from education, business, the policy arena, and civil society as they roll up their sleeves to help shape the best agenda possible for the nation and our global partners.
A first order of business is to pass and implement an economic recovery plan that addresses the needs of women and their families, including by extending unemployment insurance benefits and by increasing nutrition, energy, housing, child care, and Head Start assistance. In addition, the plan should provide fiscal relief to the states to avert cuts in education, Medicaid, child support enforcement, and other critical services. In the coming years, actions by the new Administration, as well as Congress and the courts, will be critically important to the lives of women and their families. Here at the National Women's Law Center, we've created A Platform for Progress outlining concrete proposals to address the unmet needs of women and their families in the areas of education, employment, basic economic security, health, and legal rights. Together, we can ensure that the government meets its responsibility to expand opportunities for women and their families. -Marcia D. Greenberger and Nancy Duff Campbell, Co-Presidents National Women's Law Center For more, click here
The early signals about an Obama administration are crucial. This is NOT the time to reflexively turn to the 'old hands' of previous administrations. New ideas are needed, fresh thinking is needed. The 'old hands' have brought us to the brink of economic collapse. As we've discussed women candidates for cabinet picks, we've heard 'but she lacks...'--indicative of the exclusion of women from the high levels of finance and government experience. Let's identify the great thinkers and problem-solvers who are women--and lobby for them.... The real solution is to appoint women at the top, and throughout existing departments and agencies. We should accept nothing less. And we should keep score....The Obama team has to manage the press around possible appointments to ensure that women understand we are being considered. So far, we have heard of almost all male potential cabinet picks. After the euphoria of the big win, the women who put Obama over the top should not so immediately feel betrayed....[O]ur work has just begun.-Carol Jenkins, President, Women's Media Center For more, click here
I would like to see the Obama administration establish a Federal Department of Women's Affairs. The United States can look to countries like India, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh for models. Too often the US lags behind in global gender equity indicators such as freedom from sexual violence, humane treatment for women in prisons (or in funding drug treatment programs that will reduce the number of prisoners), and promoting sexual autonomy and reproductive choice. Improving women's lives with federal strategies to eliminate poverty, improve access to health care, and create affordable, quality child care solutions--among others--will drive economic growth at a critical time in our country's history. -Allison Kimmich, Executive Director, National Women's Studies Association For more, click here
The issues that women care about - from poverty and violence to education and healthcare - have been mainstay challenges of American politics....Instead of tackling these issues in a piecemeal fashion, the Obama administration would be well advised to instead get to the root of the problem by establishing the nation's first Presidential Commission on Women and Democracy. The mission of the Commission would be this: to find ways to ensure that more women do indeed have seats at the tables of power, thereby enacting permanent and systemic change to the status of women in this country, and helping to foster a truly representative democracy. There are a myriad of ways in which the Commission could approach the task at hand: strategies could include priority voting and other democracy reforms which result in wins by outsider candidates; guaranteed campaign loan funds; civil society curriculum in schools; increased training for women candidates; increased support from central party leadership for women candidates; and popular culture initiatives." -Marie Wilson, President and Founder, The White House Project For more, click here
President-elect Barack Obama should immediately set up a cabinet level Office of Maternal Health....Maternal health including access to contraception, prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and availability of abortion, as well as pre-natal and post-natal care....[He] should also appoint a Title IX Task Force within the Department of Justice focused on enforcement, civil litigation and auditing of compliance with the law that requires equal opportunity across the board at all colleges and universities that receive federal funds, not just in athletics....[He] should appoint a special advisor on judiciary appointments. President Bush has appointed one-third of all sitting federal judges, a job that is a lifetime appointment. President-elect Obama should take steps now to ensure he has a deep reservoir of excellent candidates ready to fill any open positions and the staff to move the nomination smoothly through the Senate." -Rita Henley Jensen, Founder and Editor-in-Chief, Women's eNews For more, click here
[Obama] must focus not on what is missing but what gets emphasized. The campaign focused on the middle class but that focus must widen to include those with low-to-no income. They must be as important as the middle class because they are critical to our society's health. The low-income and no-income Americans need access to resources for jobs, retirement, health care and security so their lives can be as fulfilling as those who hold the majority of the nation's wealth....Women's funds demonstrate that when women partner and collaborate across income lines they can imagine - and achieve - the boldest of visions for revitalizing their communities. From boosting community wealth in Florida to creating sustainable new jobs in Rhode Island and strengthening workers' rights in Mexico, women's funds are a model of the revitalized approach to community leadership Obama should take. Women's funds can also be vital resources and partners to the new administration as they seek to elicit ideas and solutions that will make a difference from women who are closest to major challenges. " -Chris Grumm, President and CEO, The Women's Funding Network For more, click here