Barack Obama's Letter to Business and Professional Women-USA

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Letter to Business and Professional Women/USA
by Barack Obama
Sent to Business and Professional Women/USA on 17 July 2008.
Barbara A. Henton, President

Business and Professional Women/USA
1900 M Street, NW, Suite 310
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Ms. Henton and Members of BPW/USA:

I want to thank you for contacting me and informing me of BPW/USA's legislative priorities. The issues you mention are crucial to working women and their families and they are extremely important to me. BPW/USA's leadership and activism on these issues has been critically important, and I look forward to working with you on both the issues you mention specifically and further initiatives to redress the inequalities of women in the workplace and other areas. It is time for leadership that acknowledges the vital contributions of women to our society and that enables and encourages even greater achievement and participation.

Over the past generation, women have made unparalleled gains and make up a growing share of our workforce, our political and civic leaders, and our entrepreneurs and innovators. The enactment of laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has spurred this progress. Yet despite these gains, women continue to face significant obstacles – from continued discrimination in the workplace to disparities in health care to the challenges of balancing work and family. Over the past eight years alone, women across the natio have faced stagnating wages, declining health care coverage, erosion of pension protections, rising personal debt, and have been hard hit by the housing crisis. As president, I will dedicate myself to improving the lives of women through pay equity, access to education, investment in women-owned businesses, policies to help manage work-life balance, affordable healthcare, reproductive choice, and violence prevention. There are a number of steps we must take to achieve these goals.

It starts with making sure that women are not just getting by in our economy, but getting ahead. That's why I've proposed a broad middle class tax cut to provide up to $500 per person, or $1000 per working family in direct tax relief. This will directly benefit the vast majority of working women – 71 million in all. I will also provide a raise for 8 million working women who earn the minimum wage by increasing it to $9.50 an hour by 2011. And I will expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to benefit 5 million working women – because in this country of all countries, if you work you should not be poor.

We also have to end the pay gap that leaves working women earning 23 percent less than working men – a disparity that is even more pronounced for African American and Hispanic women. That is why I will sign into law the Fair Pay Restoration Act, legislation that I introduced with a bipartisan group of senators last year to overturn the Supreme Court's decision that made it more difficult for women to challenge unlawful pay discrimination. I will also increase funding for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, so that those agencies have the resources and staff they need to process charges files and effectively remedy equal pay violations. And by increasing the minimum wage adn indexing it to inflation, we can help close the wage gap by increasing the pay of low-wage workers who are disproportionately women.

Another step we can take to reduce the wage gap is to support policies that help women better balance work and family – which will in turn increase their participation in the labor market. As the father of two young daughters and the husband of a working woman, I am intimately familiar with the challenges faced by parents who also work outside the home. As president, I will support them by doubling funding for after-school programs and expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover more employees and make the reasons for taking leave more family friendly. I will also require employers to provide at least seven paid sick days per year and create a new fund to help states provide paid family/medical leave programs. It's an outrage that 22 million working women currently do not have a single day of paid sick leave, and workers should not be forced to choose between foregoing pay to care for an ill family member or themselves and going to work when they should remain home. Other ways we can help include protecting against caregiver discrimination, providing low-income families with a refundable tax credit to help with their childcare expenses, and encouraging flexible work schedules.

In order for women to better compete in the workplace, I will continue pushing for increased female representation in jobs where women have been underutilized and will ensure that tax dollars are not underwriting employment discrimination: federal contracts should only go to companies that obey the law. To help the ever-increasing number of women entrepreneurs, I will increase women's access to federal contracting opportunities by implementing the Women Owned Business contracting program that was launched by President Clinton by has been abandoned by President Bush. And my plan to eliminate capital gains taxes on start-up and small businesses will provide meaningful tax relief to 8.7 million women small business owners, helping them to invest, grow their businesses and create jobs.

We also need to support policies that ensure that after a lifetime of work, America's workers can retire with security and dignity. Most women 65 and over get a majority of their income from Social Security. Without Social Security, more than half of all elderly women would be living in poverty. I will stop any efforts to privatize Social Security and will work in a bipartisan way to preserve it for future generations. In addition, my Automatic Workplace Pension program will offer working women left out of the retirement savings system an eas, automatic and productive way to build wealth for retirement. Employers who do not currently offer a retirement plan will be required to automatically enroll their employees in a direct-deposit IRA account (employees will retain the option of opting-out). Combined with my plan to match 50 percent of the first $1000 of savings for families that earn under $75,000, this proposal will increase retirement savings opportunities for the 45 million working women who currently lack any employer-sponsored retirement plan.

I am committed to addressing our health insurance crisis. An estimated 21.5 million women currently lack health insurance. As president, I will pass a plan that covers every American and will lower a typical family's premiums by as much as $2,500. In addition, I will see that research is undertaken and attention given to combatting diseases and illnesses that disproportionately affect women, like heart disease, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer.

I have been and will continue to be a champion of a woman's right to choose. Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, it's never been more important to protect a woman's right to choose. Last year, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5-4 to uphold the Federal Abortion Ban, and in doing so undermined an important principle of Roe v. Wade: that we must always protect women's health. With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to women's fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe v. Wade. That is what is at stake in this election.

Thoughout my career, I've been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive choice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating. When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions in a direct effort to have Roe overruled, I was the only candidate for president to raise money to help the citizens of South Dakota repeal the law. When anti-choice protestors blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for president who spoke out against it. And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.

Moreover, I believe in and have supported common-sense solutions like increasing access to affordable birth control to help prevent unintended pregnancies. In the Illinois state Senate, when Congress failed to require insurance plans to cover FDA-approved contraceptives, I made sure those contraceptives were covered for women in Illinois. In the U.S. Senate, I've worked with Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) on a bill that would make birth control more afforable for low-income and college women, and introduced the Senate version of Representative Hilda Solis' bill to reduce unintended pregnancies in communities of color. As president, I will improve access to affordable health care and work to ensure that our teens are getting the information and services they need to stay safe and healthy.

Keeping women safe and healthy also requires us to redouble out commitment to stopping the violence that is committed against women in this country. One in four women suffers from domestic violence in her lifetime. In 2005, over 175,000 women reported being victims of rape or sexual assault. These statistics are numbing; they are also heartbreaking. Throughout my career, I have fought to assist the victims of sexual assault and domestic violence – and I will carry this commitment with me to the White House. As president, I will pass my plan to provide millions of dollars to strengthen programs aimed at preventing domestic violence and caring for those affected by it. I will also expand government efforts to offer domestic violence counseling in urban areas. And I will ensure that we fully fund the Violence Against Women Act.

We also need to ensure job security for victims of sexual assault, up to half of whom report losing their jobs as a result of being attacked. In Illinois, I led the fight to ensure that victims could seek shelter or treatment without losing their jobs, passing one of the strongest job protection laws in the nation. As president, I will make this a federal law. And I will expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to give additional job security to victims who need to take time off.

Finally, we have more work to do to ensure that women all across the world are free from violence. I would ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is considered by many around the world to be an "international bill of rights for women." The Convention affirms the reproductive rights fo women, supports women's political and economic rights, and highlights the importance of eradicating violence against women. Ratifying this treaty will make the U.S. a more active ally in the international fight to eradicate violence against women, and it will serve as a model that can inspire individual states to take steps to reduce violence against women.

Thank you again for all BPW/USA does for women in this country. I look forward to working with you in the coming months and years to build an America for our daughters that is more just, more equal, and more free.

Sincerely,

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Barack Obama