Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The State of (Women in) the Union: Tonight's Speech

 The very first exchange in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues is as follows, “I bet you’re worried.” “We were worried.”  “We were worried about vaginas.”  I’ll admit it, after being a fervent Hillary Clinton supporter for years (and not just because I’m a New Yorker or a Seven Sisters College graduate), when Barack Obama won the nomination, I was worried.  It’s not that I doubted that he was pro-choice, or that he was a liberal.  It’s just that politics and policymaking is often about sacrifice and compromise.  And I was worried that women’s rights would be the first thing to go.

I wasn’t wrong.  There were times when the Obama Administration did, in fact, use women’s reproductive health as a bargaining chip.  We saw it, for instance, when President Obama agreed to remove funding for family planning for poor women from the economic stimulus package in an effort to gain Republican support for the bill.  It should be noted that his gimmick did not work.

But despite some setbacks, overall, the state of women in the United States is better than it was before, under Barack Obama’s leadership.  One hopes that in tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama will acknowledge the gains made for women’s civil rights, reproductive health, and economic security and make a further commitment to pursuing policies that benefit half of his constituency.  Let’s review some of the successes:

1)    Overturning the Mexico City Policy (otherwise known as the Global Gag rule), which denied US dollars to Non-governmental organizations overseas that perform or promote abortion services as a method of family planning;

2)    Signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which resets the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit with each individual discriminatory paycheck;

3)    Creating a White House Council on Women and Girls, which assessed the current efforts of every executive agency and department to further the progress and advancement of women and girls and made recommendations for future improvements;

4)    Promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, giving young girls more encouragement and opportunity to pursue careers in these cutting-edge fields;

5)    Expanding programs for victims of domestic violence; and

6)    Making contraception (Plan B One Step) available to female soldiers serving overseas

           
Of course, it hasn’t all been roses and sunshine.  The Obama Administration has also continued funding for abstinence-only education, and supported the so-called Conscience Clause, which allows medical professionals to deny treatment to women seeking reproductive health care.

Clearly, there is still much work to be done.  Despite now making up 50% of the workforce for the first time in history, women are making 77 cents to the dollar that men make – which is actually a decrease since 2007.  Domestic violence is still high on the list of health risks to women in America, and the American people need President Obama’s help in staving off Republicans attempts to deny choice and medical services to women.  Already, Republicans have introduced bills such as HR 3, which would repeal the health care reform bill that benefited so many women, and HR 217, which would slash funding for family-planning clinics that provide important preventive medical care, including birth control and cancer screenings, to millions of women and men every year.

Tonight, President Obama will speak to the nation about the State of our Union.  Hopefully, he will not forget who makes up half of the population of this union, and he will come out strong for women’s rights.

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