NOW: A cabinet level office on women.

From Now:**

Imagine an Office on Women in the Obama-Biden administration — not just any old office, but one at the Cabinet level, putting women “at the table” in a very tangible way. We can make it happen!

Recently NOW helped organize a coalition of nearly 50 national groups which sent a letter to President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden urging gender balance in executive appointments and advocating the creation of this new Office on Women. This office would address not only the status of women, but also the many inequities that women face in our society, our nation, and our world. The director would hold cabinet rank and report directly to the president. Establishing this office would be another historic first for Obama and a giant leap toward equality.

Ask Obama NOW: Create an Office on Women

Because women, especially women of color, are differently affected by so many laws and policies — from health care to the economy — it is critical that women be taken into account as the new administration makes key decisions. Women need an advocate at the policy-making table whose specific responsibility is considering and weighing in on the possible impact of these decisions on women’s opportunities for advancement. A Cabinet-level office is the most effective way to accomplish this goal.

I feel myself going into Miss Marple mode.  Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple used her village experience to understand issues with quite different details and scale.  My worries about the NOW idea come  from experience  with universities.  Adding in an office on women can seem like such a great idea.  You have an administration whose understanding of and commitment to women’s issues seems less robust than one would like, so you add a locus of power into the setting.  The problem is: That is not how power gets located. 

It may in fact be that the demand for a women’s office comes from a  kind of thought Wittgenstein criticized.  As he argued, the idea that one might understand how speech carries meaning, for example, by positing an inner speech has been exceptionally attractive, but perhaps illusory.  Similarly – perhaps – the idea that one can move the list of women’s needs from outside the cabinet to inside it by itself may mean little.  If you can ignore over50% of the population, is having one of them sitting next to you going to change all that?  After all, women do already pervade men’s lives.

I’d love to hear what others think.  I’m surprised and concerned that  NOW has come out for what may be an ill conceived plan.

**This is the related web site; the quote above is from a NOW letter.

8 thoughts on “NOW: A cabinet level office on women.

  1. I think that such a thing would be abused and I do not find it necessary in the first place.

  2. Must make sure, however, that they do a better job with it than the UK does. Last I checked anyway, the Minister for Women was a part-time unpaid post. I mean, it is kind of beautifully perfect, but….

  3. lornakismet, why isn’t it necessary? Are you happy with the status quo? Jender, that is just perfect! I do hope she makes the tea.

  4. I think there are two possible functions which an Office on Women might have:

    1. It could be the home of policies on ‘women’s issues’ (which risks being a policy dump for things which as a result won’t get addressed elsewhere);
    2. It could be a centre of expertise which other departments are obliged to consult when developing policy – it would advise on how to ‘mainstream’ gender equality, for instance, by advising on gender budgeting (see e.g. ).

    The latter, it seems to me, is essential. Its long-term aim would be to work itself out of a job, as all the other departments got used to taking gender equality into account, but until they do that as a matter of course, it seems to me that some kind of oversight and source of expertise is needed.

    I don’t know how you stop (2) degenerating into (1), though…

  5. Heg, Iagree with the desirability of #2. I think that if Obama were to assign it real power, such as giving it veto power over a range of policies that plan, e.g., a job corps that leaves out the kinds of jobs women do, then it could be great. But I suspect that that sort of real empowerment is much less likely when the request comes from the outside.

  6. Note that such a post is equally likely to be used for evil over the long term. (Who would 2012 Palin appoint to such a position?)

  7. Interesting point, Jay. Mind you, one could say that same about labor, environment, defense, energy, health, etc, etc.

  8. I’m fairly certain that there was a group like this under Clinton, and that Bush’s first order of business when entering the presidency was to dissolve it.
    For that reason alone I think it should be brought back.
    Clearly, if we cared about women our entire political system would look pretty different, right? I don’t see how the office could hurt any more than not having the office. Office or no, either they’ll ignore “women’s issues” or they won’t. My bet is on will ignore less than Bush.

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