Shortly after Barack Obama became president, he established the White House Council on Women and Girls. We knew he was interested in a different kind of war – the one for women. We have never doubted his support since he started with his own agencies being more supportive of women and requiring them to take immediate actions for improvement.
The very first week of his presidency, he signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, fulfilling his campaign pledge to nullify Ledbetter v. Goodyear. I was at the White House that day, and I have never seen a happier group of women. Lilly was there and even though she would gain no personal benefit from the signing, she rejoiced with us because somebody finally cared about our equality in pay.
Reset the clock
The Act amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 stating that the 180-day statute of limitations for filing an equal pay complaint regarding pay discrimination resets with each new discriminatory paycheck. Before President Obama signed the Ledbetter Act, one was out of luck if she didn’t find out about the discrimination until years later.
Most of the Republican senators seemed to have been happy with the discrimination. Democrats, with little help from Republicans, fought for women on this issue and won. Every key organization for women supported Lilly Ledbetter and commended her for her courageous battle. One war for women down and many more to go!
Soon afterward, the Democrats fought for Justice Sonia Sotomayor to serve on the Supreme Court, then for Justice Elena Kagan. These were two more wins in the war for women. By a very narrow vote, the Democrats fought to pass the Affordable Care Act that has very strong benefits for women’s health.
Instead of capitulating to the Republicans’ efforts to set women back fifty years or more, the Democrats began fighting for reauthorization of a stronger Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). I was at the White House two weeks ago when I heard the most impassioned plea ever by Vice President Joe Biden to reauthorize VAWA, and he and the president have spent a lot of time supporting the reauthorization. As soon as VAWA is reauthorized, that’s another victory in the War for Women.
Fighting for students
The Democrats are fighting to prevent an increase nearly doubling interest on student loans. Almost 4.7 million women students would save an average of $1,033 over the life of their loans if Congress acts on the president’s proposal to stop the interest rate on subsidized Stafford loans from doubling. It’s hard to believe the Democrats are fighting this war for students alone over an act that means so much to students—especially to young women that the president is strongly encouraging to go into science, technology, engineering and math.
Let’s spend more time talking about, supporting and commending those who are fighting wars for us than we waste listening to and talking about those who are fighting wars against us. November 6, 2012 is closer than you think!
Dr. E. Faye Williams is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. Contact her via www.nationalcongressbw.org.