Funding to Push Women for Obama’s Cabinet Dries Up

As President-elect Barack Obama mulls over potential Cabinet picks,
women’s rights advocates are scrambling to make up for an unexpected
shortage of cash to fund a push for female appointees.

"It’s late in the game but we’re really confident we’re going to do
this," said Kim Otis, head of the National Council of Women’s
Organizations, an umbrella group of women’s rights groups in
Washington, D.C.

The council has for many years worked with the National Women’s
Political Caucus to mount the Women’s Appointments Project, a public
relations campaign to pressure incoming presidents to put women in
executive posts.

But in an economically pinched year, funding has so far failed to
arrive, a blow at a time when hopes for gender parity in government are
higher than ever.

"We are continuing to seek funding," Otis said. "It’s such an
important time for getting half the population to be represented in
this new administration."

One major backer has been the Barbara Lee Family Foundation in
Cambridge, Mass., a philanthropy that supports programs aimed at
increasing women’s representation in politics, public policy and the
news media.

But this year, Lee focused on electing–rather than appointing–women to office.

"It is my hope that President-elect Barack Obama is committed to
diversity in his appointments, including women in key and visible
administrative posts," she said.

Still Time to Secure Funding

Otis and other advocates have not given up; Obama was elected only a
week ago, and there is still time to secure funding for the
appointments project before he puts together his Cabinet and makes
hires for other key administrative posts.

But they are preparing a Plan B in case they don’t get funding. She
and other allies in the women’s rights movement plan to hash out their
strategy at meetings over the next week.

"Money is not going to get in our way," said Ellie Smeal, president
of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a women’s rights lobby in
Arlington, Va.

Smeal said women’s rights groups are more organized than ever and
have new communications tools at their disposal. One possibility would
be an online site that would collect recommendations from grassroots
women’s activists around the country.

Otis’ organization, an umbrella group in Washington, has
collaborated since 2000 with the National Women’s Political Caucus–a
political action committee in Washington, D.C., that works to elect
pro-choice women to political office–to oversee the project. Before
that, the Women’s Caucus led the effort on its own.

The first appointments project came after the resignation of Richard
Nixon, whose 31 Cabinet positions were all male, according to a history
gathered by the two groups that oversee the project.

Project Re-Launched Every Four Years

Advocates have re-launched the project every four years since then.

President Clinton set the standing record by appointing 10 women to
Cabinet-level positions during his two terms in office. Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright and Attorney General Janet Reno held two of
what are regarded as the Cabinet’s four most important posts: the
department heads of State, Justice, Defense and Treasury.

President George W. Bush asked eight women to serve in his Cabinet,
including Condoleezza Rice, the first African American woman to serve
as secretary of state.

Progressive political journal In These Times published a list of
Cabinet recommendations that was evenly divided among men and women
this week.

Author and activist Rianne Eisler and Linda Basch, president of the
National Council for Research on Women, a think tank in New York, have
also put out calls for gender equity in government appointments.

"As you roll up your sleeves and consult your most trusted allies
about creating a team to take this country into a more secure future, I
ask you to keep something in mind: the interests of the women who
played such a decisive part in your election," Basch wrote in an open
letter to Obama published on the online news site AlterNet.

Women Came Through for Obama

On Election Day, 56 percent of women cast their ballots for Obama
versus 49 percent of men, according to the Center for American Women
and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in New

Smeal is confident women’s advocates will have a receptive audience in Obama’s team.

Policy advisers such as Karen Kornbluh, who is advising Obama on
women’s policy during the transition, "understand these issues from A
to Z," Smeal said. "They’re brilliant and there’s a real commitment."

Obama has not yet made any nominations for the Cabinet.

Two prominent women under discussion for the Treasury Department are
Republican Sheila Bair, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation, which insures bank deposits up to $250,000; and Laura
D’Andrea Tyson, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisers under
President Clinton.

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton has been mentioned as a possible secretary of state.

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and ex-Justice Department official
Jamie Gorelick are reportedly under consideration to head up the
Department of Justice.

News reports have also played up Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius
of Kansas as a possible head of the Department of Health and Human

Media speculation about the next national security adviser has
included the names of women such as Harvard professor Samantha Power
and foreign policy expert Susan Rice. Rice and Caroline Kennedy, who
headed up Obama’s vice presidential search, are also mentioned as
possible ambassadors to the United Nations.

Apart from Rice and Napolitano, women on Obama’s economic and
transition teams include long-time friend Valerie Jarrett;
ex-Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner; Michigan Gov.
Jennifer Granholm; Ann Mulcahy, the chair and CEO of Xerox; and Penny
Pritzker, CEO of Classic Residence by Hyatt. All of them could find
work in the next administration.

At the top of a short list of names that many women’s rights
advocates want removed is that of Larry Summers, the former president
of Harvard University who resigned after suggesting that women were not
as successful in math and science because of innate differences between
the sexes. He is reportedly under consideration for treasury secretary.

"Women played a large role in getting Obama elected," said Bernice
Sandler, a senior scholar at the Women’s Research and Education
Institute in Washington, D.C., who is known as the Godmother of Title
IX, the law guaranteeing equality to girls and women in sports and
education. "It just would be a shame if one of his first major
appointments was someone who said nasty things about women."

This piece was first published by Women’s eNews.

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  • invalid-0

    Women will respond quickly on this front if notified. A Summer’s appointment would be an awful response on all counts. We need a Treasurey Secretary grounded in science – not in his own peculiar views of the abilities of women and men. Obama made few mistakes in his campaign – he has no reason to select unqualified people and I can’t imagine that he would appoint fewer women than President Bush. Those who speak out disparagingly of total groups of people should not be given a high post or microphone when equally and better qualified people are available! Perhaps they can redeem themselves and serve in other ways – behind the scenes with humility – that is the appropriate place.

  • invalid-0

    Thanks for this great info. We linked to it in a post on the CA NOW blog about Obama’s potential appointments.

  • invalid-0

    The economic condition reflects how unorganized the system is. The status of the people is the evidence of how progressive or slow in economic growth? You couldn’t buy this much ego in the White House, even with payday loans. It will be a unique cabinet, that’s for sure. President Elect Barack Obama’s cabinet picks have been announced, and critics are wondering just how he’s going to manage such strong personalities. “I’m a believer in strong personalities and strong opinions” he says, and he’s going to get it in spades. National security and economic policy teams will be led by veterans, each used to being the top dog. His national security team will consist of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Vice President Joe Biden, and Marine General (four star, retired) Jim Jones as National Security Advisor, and four star General David Petraeus as chief of U.S. Central Command. His economic team? National Economic Council head Larry Summers, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker as the lead of the economic recovery board. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has been termed as “hard charging”, adding more to the mix that could prove volatile if Obama’s unable to manage them with a cool head and firm hand. Like a payday loan, it takes a bite from a budget battle, and Obama is poised to get a lot of wisdom from this group. He may look to build on the Democratic Party’s recent gains, but to do so he has to stand toe to toe with a room full of giants.

  • invalid-0

    It’s interesting to see the cabinet members you mention in there Lisa. Not many women at all, it appears that the advocates didn’t pull through, or perhaps the funding simply still wasn’t there. That’s to bad, although, it does appear that public opinion towards parity and diversity (both racially and in gender) is turning more positive, so perhaps there is still a good chance in public elections to come for more equality.

  • invalid-0

    It’s kind of weird that up to now, there are still women’s rights advocates when in fact their rights should have been made already clear decades ago. It only shows that our society still has a long way to go when it comes to equality. As cynical as it may sound, I think equality remains to be a utopian concept. It’s something that’s still far out to be reached. I know we’re getting there, but unfortunately not too soon.

  • invalid-0

    President Obama should support funding for women’s rights , after the massive support he got from women during the election I think it the right thing to do.

    I know that money is tight right now with the current global financial crisis but support for women’s rights should be a part of the list of organizations that should have support.

    -Dino Delellis

  • invalid-0

    I agree ,Women’s rights must be considered in the list of priorities in the new administration’s agenda. A few days ago CNN reported the list of programs that government will be spending on, And to be honest I have to say there are some of them should be replaced by Women’s right funding .