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Council on Women and Girls, Working Moms, and Health Care Reform - The Waiting Game

By June 16, 2009

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It's been three months since President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls to address issues facing females of every age and stage in the United States. Great optimism surrounded the historic event which took place on March 11, 2009. But experienced women's issues advocates also expressed some skepticism at the time. These observers, long familiar with the ins and outs of Washington politics, were concerned that the Council would be all talk and little show.

Back Then...
Two women I greatly respect shared their thoughts with me at the time:

Q&A with Gloria Feldt, a leading women's advocate, reproductive rights expert, and best-selling author

Question: The Council has been charged with a very broad task - to consider if public policy takes into account the needs of women and girls and provides fair treatment. Is this too broad? Can we expect any substantive outcomes, and what might they be?

Feldt's answer: This is a corporate-style matrix management method. It works, but only to the extent it's at the top of Valerie Jarrett's agenda to root out the issues and address them. But she has a big portfolio. So Obama's constituents and the women's advocacy groups must track progress. Since the Council's internal process lacks accountability for specific outcomes, it will be up to citizen oversight and drum-beating to make sure problems and opportunities come to light and that concrete solutions are enacted.

Q&A with Joanne Bamberger, a Washington, DC-based freelance writer, attorney, political and media analyst, and blogger behind PunditMom

Question: You write about the intersection of motherhood and politics. What specifically would you like to see the Council tackle in its first year? If you could place a handful of women on the Council who really 'get' what the issues are and how to implement viable solutions, who might they be? Or is the Council merely window-dressing - more symbolic than functional?

Bamberger's answer: This is such a big question. I fear that the council is window dressing because if the administration really wants to focus on working on issues for women and children, the best way to do that is to have more women in positions of influence in the administration.

The Clinton administration had more women on staff than the Obama team does now. What power or authority does this Council have? If it can only make recommendations, what's the point?

Lily Ledbetter would be a perfect woman to have on the Council, as well as at least one leader of the women's movement, like Kim Gandy. Also, I'd love to see some real working moms who know first-hand about the issues faced by women and children to lend their voices to the Council. I think their authentic voices would lend real credibility to this effort.

And Now...
Hindsight may offer 20/20 vision, but it begs another question: Three months and five days after the Council came into being, what do we have to show for it?

Well, it appears to serve as a talking point for Obama administration bigwig Valerie Jarrett, a White House senior advisor who alluded to it yesterday at the annual luncheon of the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington. According to my colleague Katherine Lewis, Guide to Working Moms:

[Jarrett] touched briefly on the White House Council for Women and Girls...and made the case for health care reform.

Now, I certainly can understand the argument that health care is an issue of importance to women and families....

But whenever I see issues I care about relegated to an interagency task force -- such as the Council for Women and Girls -- I worry that many meetings will take place with nothing substantive as a result. Let's just say I'll be eager to read the council's report, which Jarrett promised at the end of the summer, and I'll be looking for concrete initiatives on quality child care, flexible work, job security and other issues of importance to working moms.

Katherine and I are waiting. Gloria and Joanne are waiting. My daughter, who just turned 18 on Sunday and can now vote, is waiting. Women and girls across this country are waiting. By the end of the summer, the Council will have been in existence for half a year - 1/8th of the length of Obama's first term in the White House. If he's looking for a second, I'll say it bluntly: I don't like to be kept waiting.


June 16, 2009 at 2:11 pm
(1) Caroline says:

Happy birthday to your daughter!

Bravo, Linda! The Senecca Falls convention was 160 years ago. . .we’ve been waiting a long, long time, eh?

June 23, 2009 at 9:10 am
(2) Jane Lane says:

You’re not supposed to be waiting — (or eating your own) — you’re supposed to be busy organizing and supporting the President so he can get done what you want. He told you he was going to need your help. So help.

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