TRANSITION FORUM --- National Women’s Studies Association Leader Allison Kimmich Calls for Federal Dept of Women’s Affairs
November 7, 2008 posted by Linda Basch Linda Basch: What is your vision for an Obama administration? Who are your ideal Cabinet picks? What new offices, government departments, or agencies would you like to see set up? (We invite your biggest-sky thinking here, far out of the box!) Allison Kimmich: I would like to see an Obama administration establish a federal Department of Women’s Affairs. The United States can look to countries like India, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh, among others, for models. Why would we need a department like this in the US? Too often the US lags behind in global gender equity indicators such as freedom from sexual violence, humane treatment for women in prisons (or in funding drug treatment programs that will reduce the number of prisoners), and promoting sexual autonomy and reproductive choice. Improving women’s lives with federal strategies to eliminate poverty, improve access to health care, and create affordable, quality child care solutions—among others—will drive economic growth at a critical time in our country’s history. LB: How else do we move women and the issues women care about most from the margins to the center in this new administration? AK: Those of us who are advocates for so-called women’s issues have to take responsibility for re-framing our rhetoric. Obama has been talking about women’s issues—the economy, health care, energy and the environment to name a few. We need to do a better job of claiming these issues as “women’s issues,” and talking about why and how they matter for women in particular. With this framework, we will already be at the center of discussion and debate as Obama moves forward to build his administration and its public policy agenda. LB: What's been most missing in Obama’s platform around women's issues, and what messages would you like to send the transition team to rectify this going forward? AK: Well, if “all politics is local,” when it comes to a presidential election it’s not surprising that domestic issues have dominated the campaign. But Obama has a lot of work to do in re-building the United States’ reputation abroad, and especially in thinking about how and when the US should use its international power and policy-making to affect women’s lives outside of the US. For example, when the United States invaded Afghanistan, ending the Taliban’s repressive treatment of women was touted as one justification for the invasion, and plans to improve opportunities for women were featured in news reports at the time. Seven years later, Afghan women are still living in a war-torn country occupied by US forces with maternal and mental health conditions that may be little better than those they experienced under the Taliban. Obama’s administration has a long road ahead here. For more on how Obama’s positions as stated thus far will affect women globally, see this Girl with Pen column by NCRW alumna Gwendolyn Beetham and Tonni Ann Brodber.