Thursday, March 12, 2009

The White House Council On Women And Girls

President Obama signed an executive order for first such council:

The council, which will meet regularly, will include members of the Cabinet and of several other agencies and will be led by senior aide Valerie Jarrett. Tina Tchen, deputy assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House, will serve as the executive director.

Obama made special mention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stood near him on stage at the East Room event, as an example of women breaking barriers, and he noted that he had had the privilege of participating in a "historic campaign with a historic candidate who we now have the privilege of calling Madame secretary."

"But at the same time, when women still earn just 78 cents for every dollar men make, when one in four women still experiences domestic violence in their lifetimes, when women are more than half of our population but just 17% of our Congress," he said before signing the order. "When women are 49% of the workforce but only 3% of our fortune 500 CEOs, when these inequalities stubbornly persist in this country in this century then I think we need to ask ourselves some hard question and we need to take a hard look at where were falling short and who were leaving out and what that means for the prosperity and the vitality of our nation."

Read my Gender Gap series at to get a better understanding about the gender gap and what causes it. The reality is more complicated than either of the two commonly expressed political views (gender gap is women's fault, gender gap is discrimination) can express.

It is certainly important to address, though, especially, because that figure the quote gives us only applies to full-time workers, which means that women actually earn a lot less than men, because many more women work part-time during the childbearing years of their lives. That also means less retirement income for women later on.

When I first read about the creation of this Council my emotions were mixed. I could already hear the piping and chirping from the anti-feminists, all about women getting a special council for just themselves when all men have is the whole world. At the same time, the inner Echidne was grumbling that she didn't want a special council for women but a world where women's issues were included in a matter-of-factual way and everybody saw those issues just as human issues. Then the sceptical me worried that whenever one starts a committee or a council, that's all one is going to get on a particular issue.

Lisa Belkin writes about some of the doubts she has. Though my views are not the same in many ways, I agree that the Council could be used to ghettoize some issues which really are everybody's issues. But then not having the Council at all would have the same effect and with much less attention to those issues. I hope that the net effect of the Council will be positive for women and girls by reminding everyone in the government about their existence, if nothing else.