1. Revoke the global gag rule (imposed by Reagan, rescinded by Clinton, reimposed by Bush on his first business day in office) that denies American family-planning funds (USAID) to any clinic, NGO, or hospital the world over that performs abortions, mentions abortions in the context of contraceptive counseling, refers women to abortion providers, or lobbies its government for liberalized abortion laws.
2. Oversee passage of the Convention to Eliminate Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). As a step that would generate enormous good will around the world, Obama should resubmit it to the Senate for ratification. Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979, it was signed by President Carter in 1980 and then submitted to the Senate, where conservatives held it up until Reagan took office, when it effectively expired. Although not a treaty and thus a non-enforceable agreement, CEDAW sets a basic framework for the 185 signatory nations that women throughout the world have used as a platform to argue for women’s rights provisions in legal codes and state policies. The United States is the only Western nation not to have ratified CEDAW, which puts our country in the company of Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and three other Arab states who similarly reject the convention because it takes the situation of women in families and under male governance as matters of international concern.
3. Submit emergency legislation to stop all housing foreclosures. Despite the talk of bailouts, the idea of putting a moratorium on foreclosures has gotten little attention. That should not be the case. Foreclosures create downward spiraling real estate prices, which create more foreclosures, and empty out neighborhoods. As a result millions of families are put under severe stress, forced into being modern nomads or turned into unwelcome guests who must double up with relatives. We have a huge reserve of voluntary labor at our disposal when it comes to people who are willing to work and sacrifice in order to save their homes. We should have policies that take advantage of this reserve. Home is the place where small property ownership meets the public good.
Christine Stansell lives in Chicago and Princeton. She is Stein-Freiler Distinguished Service Professor of History at the University of Chicago.