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Obama Gets Gender Right: Women in Top Spots, Policies Signal Shift Toward Equality

Submitted by News Desk on Wed, 04/22/2009 - 12:25pm

As the 100th day approaches, it is time to take stock of what the Obama Presidency has meant so far for women. Dating back to FDR, the first 100 days of a new Administration have been a kind of preview of what is to come over the next four years. In George W. Bush’s first 100 days, he blocked funding for international family planning clinics, signed an order stating that women receiving Medicaid benefits could not use funds to pay for the emergency contraceptive, RU-486 and shut down the White House Office on Women’s Issues -- a friend to progressive women’s issue he was not.

What about Obama? Is he friend or foe to women? If the first 100 days are any indication, Obama is off to a great start and the next four years will bring great strides toward women’s equality and progress in the United States.

In the throws of a deepening financial crisis and just six days into his Presidency, Obama lifted the global gag rule, a promise he made to women’s groups on the campaign trail. This was as much about delivering on a promise as it was an ideological statement of the importance of overturning harmful and short-sided public policies instituted over the last eight years.

Another sure signal of what is to come for women in the Obama Administration is that the first piece of legislation he signed into to law as President was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act. The Act gives women the ability to challenge unequal pay, which will have direct and meaningful impact on working women from coast to coast and across occupations. And in his recent Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, over $100 billion dollars are dedicated to providing support to women and families.

Obama’s Cabinet is also chalk full of extremely accomplished stateswomen and issue advocates. With two cabinet positions still open, Obama has appointed or nominated a total of eight women to his cabinet or to high-level positions. They include Janet Napolitano as the Secretary of Homeland Security, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, Hilda Solis as the Secretary of Labor, Lisa Jackson as the Head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Melody Barnes as the Director of Domestic Policy.

These appointments are more than just symbolic. They come at a time when the country is facing huge challenges both domestically and globally with regard to the economy, the environment, immigration, and mending our international reputation. Women at the table will have the opportunity to influence the future direction and policies of the country.

What is also significant is about Obama’s appointments is that more than half are women of color. This is more than any other President in the history of the country. There is great diversity of opinion and background in the Obama White House.

Less than a month shy of his 100 days, lest he forget something, Obama created the White House Council for Women and Girls, an interagency office designed to ensure that the policies and programs take into account the needs of women and girls.

The first 100 days of Obama’s Administration have given women much to celebrate. Although there is still much work to be done in terms of achieving fully equality for women and girls, we are well on our way. And with the possibility of two Supreme Court nominations over the next few years, it is good to know that we have a man like Obama in the White House.