I had the pleasure of joining a conference call with Congresswoman and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz this morning. You may have become familiar with Schultz when she gave a tearful farewell to her fellow Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who resigned at the end of January. Schultz gathered several female bloggers on the call to unveil and discuss the DNC’s efforts to connect with the ladies in their base via their new Women’s Institute. (It’s no coincidence, of course, that today is International Women’s Day.)
The Women’s Institute as it stands now is simply an outreach tool for Obama’s re-election campaign, but the DNC has plans to engage women in every election all across the country at every level of government. The initiative will provide resources and tools to help women dig deeper into issues, to learn more about candidates and to encourage women to become active in the party both as voters and potential legislators.
Wasserman Schultz noted that women love to socialize while working toward social change, so the Institute plans on holding house parties and neighborhood events in conjunction with Women for Obama during the re-election campaign. But of course, in this era of social media, the DNC hopes to engage leftist women – especially those who feel isolated living in red states – via Twitter and the web.
You can follow the Women’s Institute on Twitter at @dncwomen and visit them on the web, here. At the moment the website is nothing more than a source for aggregating email addresses, but let’s hope it becomes an interactive forum where women can plan local events and share information. It’s clear that President Obama was the first politician to score big through his harnessing of the web 2.0, but in order for the Women’s Institute to make a difference, the DNC has to offer us something more than just fundraising emails. I already get those from the Obama campaign.
Based on the ideas Wasserman Schultz shared during the call, it seems like party leaders want to give voice to women and certainly to reinforce the idea that the Democratic party is the *only* party that cares about women’s health. The Republican war on women was alluded to several times during the call, as was the fact that in addition to being Women’s History Month, March marks the 2-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (what the right dubs Obamacare), which promises to cover mammograms without a co-pay, among other benefits to women. Like making sure insurance companies cover contraceptive pill costs at a rate of 100%. (You know, for “sluts” like Sandra Fluke.)
Wasserman Schultz kindly took questions at the end of the call, and so I asked if the Obama administration has plans to tackle the issue of mandated, paid maternity leave, since the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that does not offer it. (Additionally, in the developed world, the U.S. is ranked one of the worst places to be a mother.) Her response was, “Quite frankly, I don’t know.” Then she reminded me that I could thank the Democratic party for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows for 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. So, thanks, I guess?
Ann O’Leary, Director of the Children and Families Program at The Center for the Next Generation and a lecturer at the Berkeley School of Law, published a piece on The Huffington Post on Sunday, March 4th in which she encourages all states to offer at least 6 weeks of paid parental leave. She says, “Families are struggling today and the economic costs of being ill, having a baby or taking care of a sick family member only make families and children more vulnerable. But it’s not only families who lose — employers lose valuable employees who must choose care over work, and the economy loses income that is reinvested in the community.”
Let’s hope the Obama administration and the DNC begin to discuss maternity leave issues, in addition to women’s health issues, either at their next house party or on Twitter.