By Susan Beyerle, Public Policy Chair
On Thursday, August 16, I had the pleasure of participating in an AAUW conference call with four key members from the White House’s Office of Public Engagement and Council on Women & Girls. Over 100 AAUW Branch Presidents and Policy Chairs from throughout the country were on the call to hear comments from representatives from the Executive Branch about policy issues crucial to us in AAUW.
First up was Steve Robinson, Special Assistant at the White House Domestic Policy Council. Steve underscored the President’s advocacy role in enlarging the number of career opportunities – especially for females – in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). According to Steve, STEM careers currently account for less than 25% of all jobs in the USA, yet on average pay 33% more in earnings. The President recognizes this largely untapped opportunity to expand our work force in the fields that historically have represented one of America’s greatest strengths: innovation. Consistent with this goal is the vision of a national shift from America being a consumer of things to an inventor/creator of things. The message that our women and girls are equally able and should be encouraged to enter STEM careers is implicit in this initiative. A national K-12 effort has been launched to improve and reform public education in STEM studies by investing in and encouraging women and minorities to pursue these fields, as well as building a “master STEM teacher corps” to make sure every student has at least one great STEM teacher to inspire them. The goal is to bring 100,000 new STEM teachers into public schools over the next decade, and to identify and elevate the best STEM teachers in order to engage more students in these important areas.
Tina Tchen, Executive Director of the Council on Women and Girls and Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, praised the work of AAUW and stressed the importance of our role to “punch through the Washington Bubble” by continuing to spread information to our communities about developments in women’s policy issues and legislation as we become informed.
Lynn Rosenthal, White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, spoke about the “journey” of the Violence Against Women Act. Originally passed in 1994, this Act underscores President Obama’s own commitment to addressing domestic violence, sexual harassment, and other forms of gender-based violence. She called AAUW’s work on behalf of and reporting about the Violence Against Women Act “The Gold Standard.” (To read about AAUW’s advocacy regarding the VAWA and other important gender equity issues, go to the AAUW Action Fund page on our national website.) Earlier this year, the Senate passed a strong 2012 renewal of VAWA through a bipartisan vote. However, it came up against conservative opposition and weakened in the House where legal protections against battered immigrants were rolled back, and also gave legislative victories to “men’s rights” groups that effectively take us back to the day when domestic violence was considered a private matter between a man and wife. Congress went home without resolution, and the critical renewal of the bill is now stalled. The Senate version of the bill needs our advocacy now, because it is the most comprehensive and reflects AAUW goals. Ms. Rosenthal implored every AAUW member, friends and contacts to contact their Congressional representatives NOW to push through the Senate version of the Violence Against Women Act.
Additionally, Ms. Rosenthal reported that last week the President signed into action a project to address gender-based violence on both a national and a global basis. A terrific public service announcement is airing, entitled, “One is too many” that speaks the message to men that it’s never OK to hit women. To learn more and view the PSA, go to www.whitehouse.gov
And finally, Catherine Oakar from the Office of Policy Advisors spoke about the great leaps of progress in ensuring affordable healthcare access for all American women due to the Affordable Care Act. Effective on August 1 of this year, she stressed that this new law is an important milestone for women in particular, as it will make it illegal to deny coverage to women with certain “female-centric” pre-existing conditions such as breast cancer, and will also provide free preventative screening for diabetes and other diseases, and affordable contraceptive services for all. She urges us to discuss with our healthcare providers and insurers the new options now available to women as a result of the ACA, and to go to www.healthcare.gov for the best up-to-date information.