When President Barack Obama spoke at the University of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony Sunday, much of his focus was devoted to women. In the weeks before his arrival, there had been considerable upheaval at the Catholic university due to Obama’s support for abortion rights, a position opposed by the Church.
The abortion debate aside, in a time when gender inequality continues to plague the United States, it is reassuring to see attention being given to women’s issues. Currently, the United Nations ranks U.S. gender development 16th in the world—a ranking exacerbated by George W. Bush’s eight years in office. His administration’s first attacks on women began early and abroad.
Immediately after coming to Washington, the Bush administration instituted a “global gag rule” on foreign organizations receiving U.S. aid. Under threat of defunding, the order explicitly forbade clinics from providing women with abortion counseling or operations, even if they wished to use their own money for the services.
The next summer, the Bush administration halted potential U.S. ratification of the Convention of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Although 185 countries have ratified the treaty, the United States—like Iran, Sudan and Somalia—is not one of them.
Soon after, the Bush administration cut off $34 million from a U.N. fund providing women around the world with birth control, sex education and maternal health care. It also began a fierce attack against the newly formed International criminal court—an organization promising historical gains in holding war criminals accountable for sex crimes against women.
The previous eight years also saw a decline in the welfare of women within the United States. In Dec. 2008, a national crime report was released revealing that the latter years of the Bush administration oversaw a 25 percent increase in sexual violence and a 42 percent increase in domestic violence. Soon after the report’s release, the White House imposed a new rule on Health and Human services making it more difficult for women to obtain basic healthcare or birth control.
Because women in the United States are disproportionately poor, the Bush administration’s unceasing attacks on social programs and progressive taxes effectively constituted an assualt on women's economic welfare. Accompanying Bush’s policy programs were overt threats to veto any sort of equal pay for equal work legislation.
Throughout its eight years in office, the Bush administration showed clear disdain for its campaign promise that “W stands for women.” As a result, the welfare of women in the U.S. has stagnated relative to that of other advanced, industrialized societies.
The Obama administration has taken some valuable steps to put the U.S. back on track toward gender equality. In January, Obama rescinded Bush’s “global gag” policy. A few days later, he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act which advanced the campaign for ending gender discrimination in income.
Although efforts such as those of the Obama administration are valuable, they will need to be sustained and furthered if gender inequality is to be removed from the vortex of U.S. decline.
Is This The End of the American Century?
Wednesday, May 20, 2009