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Advances for Women of Color During Obama’s First 100 Days

May 3, 2009

As has already been discussed on countless websites and blogs, this past Wednesday marked the completion of President Obama’s first 100 days in office. There are many ways to evaluate his progress, and, to a point, I’m not sure I understand the fuss. What’s so significant about “the first 100 days,” anyway? How much insight can we really gain from such an arbitrary amount of time?

But I did read one particularly interesting take on Obama’s recent accomplishments. Last week, C. Nicole Mason wrote the editorial “In 100 Days Obama Scored Big for Women of Color” for Women’s eNews. Certainly, Obama has been supportive of all women throughout his administration. But what this editorial points out, that I found especially interesting, is how many women of color Obama has included in his administration. Of the eight women he has appointed to cabinet positions, more than half of them are women of color — a first in U.S. history.

The appointments belong to such esteemed women as:

Hilda Solis, secretary of labor
Lisa P. Jackson, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency
Melody Barnes, director of domestic policy
Susan Rice, ambassador to the United Nations
Cassandra Butts, deputy White House counsel

As Mason points out, no woman of color has ever held one of these positions before. This is an enormous step forward for feminism, and the impact that these women will have on our country and on the lives of young girls growing up today will be unprecedented. Mason writes:

Historically, women of color have been locked out of the halls of power. Although they experience the fastest growing rate of HIV-AIDS infection of any other group at 75 percent; have infant mortality rates 2.5 times higher than their white counterparts; and are more likely to live in poverty, recent policies such as the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 and even the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 were passed without solid input from women of color.

This new cadre of women in the White House is different. They not only bring knowledge of the economy, environment, education and housing to the table, but a keen familiarity with how issues are impacting communities across race, class, gender and geographic location. They have also been empowered by the Obama Administration to shape policy and key legislation.

It’s hard not to feel giddy about this sort of news. The battle is far from over, and injustices are still affecting the lives of women — and women of color, in particular — in the U.S. and around the world. But we must celebrate this victory, as it signals a shift from “business as usual” to a truly progressive era. And I don’t want to get too wrapped up in early accomplishments or judge a presidency by anything as arbitrary as “the first 100 days”…but I do think this suggests an exciting change.

What do you think about Obama’s work so far?

  1. May 3, 2009 10:35 pm

    Doesn’t matter what he does, many women will never fully support him because of his primary war with Hillary. Unless he’s able to put three more women on the Supreme Court before he leaves office, many will consider him a failure.

    • Emily permalink*
      May 5, 2009 10:24 am

      I beg to differ. I think he’s made tremendous strides in putting women (and particularly women of color as Carrie mentioned) in his administration. In regards to Hillary, there are many women (including myself) who supported Obama over Hillary last year. Additionally, Obama’s policies regarding women (fair pay, pro-choice, etc.) are similar if not the same as Hillary’s. I understand that many of Hillary’s supporters were deeply disappointed, but should not feel underrepresented in Obama’s governance.

    • Alison permalink
      May 5, 2009 12:48 pm

      If many women decide never to fully support Obama because of his primary war with Clinton, well, they are completely ridiculous. I completely understand the disappointment of not seeing the female candidate win–even though I was an Obama supporter from the start–but it’s time to support Obama, just as Clinton herself has done.

      As Emily pointed out, Obama’s policies regarding women are on board with Clinton’s–and I believe he values the importance of having women in government just as much as she does.

      Obama is a feminist!

      Let’s focus on the positive work he’s doing, and support Hillary Clinton in her new role as well. And, at the very least, be thankful that we finally have a President who will go to bat for women’s reproductive rights!

  2. mariazk permalink
    May 5, 2009 2:24 pm

    Obama running alongside Hilary during the Presidential Elections doesn’t necessarily translate into their being a war between the two candidates. In fact, he decided to leverage on her experience and capabilities and so decided to offer her the position of the Secretary of State. Like Emily pointed out, he has already implemented various policies favoring women i.e. women’s role in the labor force through the fair pay policy. Eliminating gender from his bio, I think he’s accomplished quite a lot in his first 100 days and many women have supported him right from the start believing he would do so.

    A President’s gender does not in itself determine whether he/she will support women’s role in the economy, it is in fact the policies they implement. They are many debates on women; i.e. Abortion rights where women groups are segmented according to differing beliefs, therefore having Hilary Clinton as a President could not necessarily guarantee support from all women. Aligning all the differing women views together is the key;

    “President Barack Obama invoked his grandmother, single mother and two young daughters on Wednesday in creating a White House panel to advise him on issues facing women and girls”.

    That being said; judging his success based on the number of women in the Supreme Court would be a biased approach. I think he deserves a little more credit than that.


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