I’ve been getting word of the announcement that President Obama would create the White House Council on Women and Girls today since yesterday afternoon, so it’s almost a bit anti-climactic. However, don’t let my blasé it takes a lot to impress me attitude dissuade you from recognizing what a big deal this actually is. You can read the full announcement from the White House after the jump here.
While I hear and fully expect that nearly all women’s groups will happy about council’s creation, there is a cautiousness and a curiosity about “what it all means” to be found in several reactions:
New York Times writer and blogger, Lisa Belkin at Motherlode:
There is no one more vocal than I about the fact that women and men experience the realms of family and work differently (you can find some examples of my thoughts here and here.) But I think that too many of the problems women and girls have in the world stem from the fact that the problems are considered “their” problems — “women’s problems” — rather than problems that both genders share.
What women need is a system that allows stepping out and stepping back in without penalty. And for those of us who can’t afford to leave — and that means most of us — we need a system that allows for flexibility and control over our lives. That system must factor in periods of great ambition and achievement, mixed with periods of slow but steady work, all with the understanding that ups and downs make a career, and don’t automatically knock you off the track.
While women have had the more visible juggling act in the past few decades, and have led the demands for change, all they are really asking is to be able to earn a living and care for their children in a ratio that isn’t perfect, but is less lopsided than the status quo. Giving them that means giving it to girls AND boys, too — and to the women AND men they will grow up to be. And a system like that will change men’s lives as well.
I’m cautiously excited about this…I really want to know more.
Now I know the reactions here will be mixed. Those of us who voted for President Obama will think this is a fabulous choice. Those of us who were fans of SOS Clinton when she ran will view a certain irony that Jarrett is given a top spot in the area of promoting women’s issues. Those of us who voted for Sen McCain will likely fall into the latter category.
But I personally view this as a positive development. I say, let’s give Valerie Jarrett a chance to do some good. This is, after all, what we have been asking for in a sense — even if Jarrett is not everybody’s first choice (and who would be).
Of course, no surprise, the very first sign of cynicism came from the media: The Fix’s Chris Cillizza who wrote:
Obama and his team know that if he can maintain his 2008 margin among women in his reelection race in three years time, he will be sitting pretty. Expect then more symbolic moves like the establishment of the Council to demonstrate Obama’s commitment to women and women’s issues.
I like Chris’s writing very much, but I think he went overboard here on the analysis that concludes with describing the council’s creation as a symbolic move. For example, Jen Nedeau at Change.org’s Women’s Right site, makes the case for how the Council can be more than just a symbol:
I certainly hope the Council is more than just a tool to get Obama re-elected. Or a symbol without any real political capital. After all, women didn’t earn the right to vote to just sit around and look pretty, now did they?
Personally, I would like to see the Council be able to address issues such as:
- Confirm more female federal judges to the bench (particularly with SCOTUS if we lose Ruth Bader Ginsberg).
- Fight the battle over women’s access to contraception and abortion, which are often too close to being jeopardized as written about by Jessica Arons this week.
- Push for the passage of the Global Democracy Promotion Act within Congress to defuse the Global Gag Rule from being used as a political football in future administrations.
This decision comes at the heels of an announcement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to nominate a new post of ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. It has been reported that Obama intends to nominate Melanne Verveer, CEO of an international nonprofit, to the job. For the most part, I think that all of these movements are VERY positive and indicate that there will be a greater consideration for women within the White House.
Another thought to remember is that there’s a call for a Presidential Commission on Women. That entity would be one that gathers ideas and opinions from thinkers external to the White House and the beltway. Working with the council, some progress might truly be able to be accomplished, especially if Obama’s success at communicating with and appearing to listen to all stakeholders, as during his campaign, can be duplicated.