This post is part of our online salon: A New Agenda for Girls' and Women's Health and Rights, co-hosted with UN Dispatch.
Adrienne Germain's "New Agenda for Women" (pdf) is a solid and fairly comprehensive plan for a US administration committed to partnering with governments north and south that are already on board and working to achieving many of these goals. As the discussion progresses, I am sure we can all tweak these objectives and indeed add to them.
But is it a "bold" plan? Only in the sense that the US is so far behind the curve on modern thought about gender, sexuality and reproduction that getting there with our current mindset is unthinkable. In this sense, it is a good plan for the 20th century, but I say let's be really bold and move to the 21st.
A few thoughts:
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- On the "first day," a symbolic moment for sure, of course all prior presidential initiatives that hurt women can and should be shifted. The Global Gag Rules as related to both family planning and HIV and AIDS can be lifted and funding for UNFPA can be restored. I would like to see another first day action. The administration should take a page from the bold book of Dennis Kucinich who said he would create a Department of Peace. We must have a new cabinet level department on women, appropriately funded and with a broad portfolio for women domestically and internationally on the full range of economic, social and political issues that affect women. Let's get some of that money that is in the State department, US AID and HHS, Labor and Education into the hands of people whose only job is to ensure that women's rights and well being are addressed. No waffling, no inter agency council, a real cabinet level department.
- Let's expect the administration to usher in 21st Century thinking about values. Adolescent sexuality is not just "going to happen"; it has its place in adolescent life. Birth control and sex education for adolescents should not just be there as an antidote to the disease of adolescent sexuality but as an aid to healthy and responsible adolescent sexual expression. Ditto on abortion. I note the word appears once in Germain's agenda while we all know anti-abortion moralizing is one of the key problems in including abortion services and information in sexual and reproductive health programs. The policies of the US government on abortion, both at home and abroad have been a disgrace from Eisenhower forward and include both Democratic and Republican administrations. Every effort must be made to restore public funding for abortions for low-income women in the US and to allow reproductive health and maternal mortality reduction funds to be used to fund abortions overseas.
- As a first "post," let me close with a thought on the role of US non-governmental organizations. We must learn from the mistakes we made during the Clinton administration. We were so glad to have ended the Reagan Bush years that we became apologists for, rather than advocates before, the administration. We were not bold; we asked for very little and that is what we got. On day 1 of the new administration, whether they are friendlier or not to our agenda; we must press for everything we should get and for everything women deserve. Let us not be deterred by administration claims that we must go slowly. Of course we shall be mature and strategic but from day one forward we will not be deterred from our goals.