President Obama’s executive order creating a White House Council on Women and Girls is a welcome move and a strong signal of the importance that this administration is placing on women. The fact that every cabinet secretary will be a member of the Council — and that the Council’s first task will be an analysis of how each federal agency’s policies and programs impact women — is indicative of the administration’s understanding that women’s issues are not isolated issues, but that we need to be talking about women and girls in every conversation about government policy: from economic rescue to healthcare reform, from foreign policy to homeland security, from housing to labor, to agriculture, commerce, education, and the list goes on. This recognition is what women’s rights advocates have been calling for, and was one of the key points made at a roundtable discussion last week about engaging the administration to advance the human rights of women, held in conjunction with the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. The creation of this Council with its important mission represents the potential for a true paradigm shift for our government.
We are encouraged that in his executive order the President acknowledged the need to address pay inequity, healthcare access, violence against women, access to equal educational opportunities, and how the economic crisis is affecting women. We are thrilled by the strong language emphasizing that inequality for women also negatively affects men, families, communities, and our nation as a whole. We applaud the President for recognizing the need for particular attention to the concerns of women of color and women with disabilities.
We look forward to partnering with the Council to achieve substantive change for the status of women and to address the rights violations that too many women and girls face on a daily basis in our country. We hope especially that the Council will bear in mind the women and girls at the margins of society: those who are living in poverty; those who are caught up in the criminal and juvenile justice systems; domestic workers, agricultural workers, home healthcare workers, and others whose work is undervalued; women of color, including Native American women; those who face discrimination based on their immigration status; and those who experience violence and abuse and too often face further harm in the form of employment and housing discrimination as a result of the violence.
The creation of the Council along with President Obama’s appointment last week of a special envoy for global women’s issues sends a particularly important message to the international community. Elevating the importance of women’s human rights here at home will give the U.S. far more credibility to work with other countries to address the issues that women and girls face abroad. Recognition that the U.S. is part of the global conversation about women’s rights is critical to advancing equality for women here and throughout the world.
— Lenora Lapidus and Selene Kaye
To read about the ACLU’s work on behalf of women and girls, visit www.aclu.org/womensrights.