President Obama created a White House Council on Women and Girls by executive order on Mar. 11, the Washington Post reported. The council will be chaired by Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the president and longtime friend of the Obama family, and will coordinate a federal response to issues faced by women and girls. The Obama administration timed the announcement of the council to coincide with Women’s History Month.
Signing the order, President Obama talked about the difficulties women in his family had faced, such as pay discrimination. "I saw my grandmother work her way up to become one of the first women bank vice presidents in the state of Hawaii, but I also saw how she hit a glass ceiling," he said. "How men no more qualified than she was kept moving up the corporate ladder ahead of her."
The council’s goal is to make sure U.S. women and girls are treated fairly in public policy and that Cabinet-level agencies consider the impact their policies will have on women and girls. It will also support and coordinate existing programs for women and girls and will closely focus on improving women’s economic security.
The council is also expected to ensure that each Cabinet agency is working to directly improve women’s economic status, creates policies that promote a balance between work and family, and prevent violence against women and girls domestically and abroad. Members of the council include the secretary of labor, the ambassador to the United Nations, the attorney general and key posts in the Cabinet and administration.
More News to Cheer This Week:
- Australia overturned its global gag rule enacted in 1996, lifting restrictions on foreign aid to fund family planning programs that offered abortions, Agence France-Presse reported March 10. The policy change came from Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, but it could lead to some clashes with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who says he opposed the decision.
- Nawal al-Samarraie withdrew her resignation as the women’s minister of Iraq, the AP reported March 9. She resigned her office in February to protest the lack of support for women and efforts to improve their circumstances. Since the 2003 U.S. invasion, tens of thousands of women have been widowed and left without support even as their legal rights and status have eroded.
- President Obama created a new ambassador-at-large for international women’s issues on March 8, International Women’s Day, and named Melanne Verveer for the job. Verveer worked in the Clinton administration as an aide, and co-founded Vital Voices Global Partnership, an international nonprofit that invests in emerging female leaders.
- In Afghanistan, advocates for women’s rights urged world leaders to ensure that women are at the negotiating table if a dialogue is opened with the Taliban, AFP reported. Recently, Western leaders like President Obama and Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon have expressed interest in talks with moderate members of the Taliban in the hopes of stabilizing the country. "We don’t know if women’s participation or women’s rights are preconditions for the talks," UNIFEM’s Najia Zewari said. "But what we do know is what we want: Women want peace and we need to talk with the Taliban to bring peace."
- Some American Muslim women are working to enhance the status of women in Islam, the International Press Service reported on Mar. 11. Sara Elghobasha, a student at New York University, hopes to break gender barriers by becoming a certified Islamic scholar, or sheika, and to study at Al-Azhar, a leading university for Sunni theology in Cairo, Egypt. However, its classes are gender-segregated, and its quality of instruction for women is significantly lower in quality than the men’s.
- The Food and Drug Administration approved the new FC2 female condom on March 11.
- The National Women’s Hall of Fame has inducted 10 new honorees, the Seneca Falls, N.Y., organization announced. The inductees are: sculptor and artist Louise Bourgeois; research biologist Mildred Cohn; activist Karen DeCrow, who is a former president of the National Organization for Women; Susan Kelly-Dreiss, co-founder of the nation’s first domestic violence coalition; Allie B. Latimer, the first woman and African American to serve as general counsel to a major federal agency; Emma Lazarus, whose poem adorns the Statue of Liberty; Ruth Patrick, an ecologist who is the first woman elected to chair the Academy of Natural Sciences; suffragist Rebecca Talbot Perkins; Susan Solomon, an atmosphere scientist who developed the earliest theories on the ozone hole; and Katherine Stoneman, the first woman admitted to the bar in New York state.
Abortion clinics in the United States are bracing for an uptick in violence and picketing as anti-choice activists have become increasingly shrill in their rhetoric since the November election, RH Reality Check reported March 9. The recent appointments of outspoken, pro-choice figures to high-level positions, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ellen Moran, the communications director for the White House, have been met with criticism. So far in 2009, there has been an increase in the harassment of clinics.
Former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, who lost her seat representing Colorado in November, is heading up an initiative called Votes Have Consequences to target pro-choice congressional candidates in the 2010 mid-term elections, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported March 12. Musgrave told the paper she will mimic the grassroots organizing tactics of the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund, which helped defeat her in November. Musgrave was hired to lead the effort by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-choice political action committee.
Incarcerated women face numerous obstacles obtaining abortions, according to a study published in the March 2009 issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, including difficulties arranging transportation to a clinic or being required to obtain a court order.
Undocumented female immigrants held in federal detention facilities also have difficulty terminating pregnancies. In 2008, nearly 10 percent of women in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement facilities were pregnant, often as a result of rape, the Texas Observer reported Feb. 20. Rape and sexual abuse of women crossing the border illegally is so rampant that rapists–often the "coyote" traffickers or border bandits–have draped women’s underwear across "rape trees" to represent their conquests. But the women held in ICE facilities are not offered the option of obtaining an abortion because the agency insists on keeping them on standby status and ready to deport at any moment.
More News to Jeer This Week:
- Discrimination complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have hit a new record, the Associated Press reported March 11. Bias claims based on sex, age, race and retaliation all increased to new highs; sex discrimination complaints increased 14 percent since 2007. "The EEOC has not seen an increase of this magnitude in charges filed for many years," said acting chair Stuart J. Ishimaru. "While we do not know if it signifies a trend, it is clear that employment discrimination remains a persistent problem."
- A 75-year-old Saudi widow has been sentenced to 40 lashes and four months in prison after she was convicted of mingling with two young men who were not her relatives, the Associated Press reported March 10. The men were her nephew and a business partner; she asked them to deliver bread to her home.
- In Kosovo, members of the women’s movement spoke out against a shift in meaning to International Women’s Day, the Balkan Insight reported. Critics are concerned that the day is being associated more with flowers and chocolates than substantial issues affecting women globally.
Among college-bound high school students, just 3 percent say they will consider attending a women’s college, U.S. News and World Report reported March 11. About 50 all-women colleges remain, down from over 300 in the early 1960s.
Rebecca Harshbarger is editorial intern and Jennifer Thurston is managing editor.
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