Credit: Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Dear Mr. President,
Congratulations on your reelection. It was a hard fought campaign. Thanks to you and Gov. Mitt Romney for your gracious speeches on election night.
I am part of a coalition of groups that voted for you: women, Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans and young people.
The media and commentators are full of articles discussing this demographic alliance and how it will shape future elections.
President Obama, women helped carry the election for you. Fifty-five percent of all your voters were women.
The gender gap resulted in a 10 percent advantage in your reelection. Stephanie Schrock of Emily's List was right when she called women the "most powerful voting bloc" in the country.
On the campaign trail, President Obama, you spoke frequently about moving our country forward. With your reelection, it is time to advance the feminist agenda. The women of this country have earned it.
You could start by extending protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act to domestic workers, who are currently exempted by an outdated "companionship" exception.
And please also keep your eye on the Supreme Court and the defense of a woman's right to abortion as a matter of constitutional privacy.
You could also help us get the new Congress to do the following:
- Implement the Affordable Care Act (if necessary, tweak it to make it better);
- Create job training and job programs tailored to unemployed women;
- Establish welfare-to-work programs that enable women to rise out of poverty;
- Pass the Paycheck Fairness Act;
- Initiate family justice programs including paid family leave, paid sick leave and flexible work schedules;
- Pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights legislation;
- Pass the Violence Against Women Act.
Women need a champion because we are still under-represented even though we are the majority of the electorate.
The Senate now has 20 percent women, nowhere near the critical mass we need, but an improvement. The House of Representatives has almost 18 percent.
Women's organizations across the country are trying to change that. This cycle they made a strong effort to recruit women to run for office and then backed them in campaigns. The 2012 Project, founded in 2009, led a national effort to recruit women from various professions to run for Congress and state legislatures.
Emily's List, Planned Parenthood, The Feminist Majority, NOW, NWPC, Emerge and others advocated for issues affecting women, endorsed candidates, rallied the troops to support candidates and raised money to help them win their elections. The rallying cry became women can't win if they don't run.
The results showed some progress: a total of 22 new female representatives will be entering Congress in 2013. Four of the women broke a glass ceiling, becoming the first women to represent their states in the U.S. Senate: Hawaii, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Much has been written about the war against women this election cycle. Here's what the battlefield looked like:
The Affordable Care Act as well as Medicare became political targets during divisive campaigns. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richardson said that "women's health, more than ever, was a decisive issue in the 2012 election."
The conservative attacks against Planned Parenthood to halt abortions evolved into efforts to deny women the use of contraception. In 2011 and 2012, state legislatures passed a combined 119 measures to restrict access to abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The right to control their bodies convinced women in some states to run and became a determining factor in several elections. Extremist anti-choice candidates such as Missouri's Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock in Indiana and New York's Ann Marie Buerkle were defeated.
Our weak economy has affected women disproportionally with a greater number of women, particularly single families and seniors, slipping into poverty. Women are also gaining fewer of the new jobs being created and their unemployment is increasing, according to the Pew Research Center.
Mothers and families must be able to support themselves financially in order to remain a healthy unit.
Our country needs workplaces that balance both work and family commitments in order for women to succeed economically. Organizations such as MomsRising have become leaders in voicing the needs of women by speaking out on crucial family-justice issues and mobilizing widespread grassroots activity.
Women are the majority of the millions of domestic workers here in the United States. They provide invaluable home and family care, yet their vital labor continues to be devalued. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown recently vetoed a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights that would have provided "meal breaks, overtime pay and other labor protections" for this mostly immigrant working class. Organizations such as The National Domestic Workers Alliance have gained attention with various educational campaigns pushing for basic domestic labor rights to be recognized nationally.
For the first time in many years, Congress did not approve the Violence Against Women Act, which had traditionally been bipartisan legislation. The number of rapes committed annually in the U.S. remains epidemic.
In your victory speech on election night, President Obama, you reached out to Republicans and the nation. I agree, it is time to end our divided nation status, but the new Congress must also demonstrate to women that they matter.
We understand the fiscal challenges facing our country now but we ask you to lead an effort, once and for all, that will treat women as equal partners in our democracy and that will guarantee women their basic human rights and dignity.
Hon. Susan Rose, ret.
Susan Rose served for eight years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is the former executive director of the Los Angeles City Commission on the Status of Women. She is a member of the board of trustees of Antioch University Santa Barbara.
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