President Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address placed an unprecedented emphasis on the central role women play in the economy, with more focus on social policy for women than in any State of the Union address in history. President Obama was also the first president to deliver a SOTU address that recognized lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
President Obama made it clear that women and families are a national priority last night, noting that “we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.” The President had announced earlier that he would sign a memorandum granting federal workers six weeks paid parental leave. He urged Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, or seven days paid sick leave for workers, which is desperately needed considering some 48 percent of women workers have not one day of paid sick leave.
He continued by arguing that as a nation, we should treat affordable childcare and paid family leave “like the national economic priority that it is for us all.” Obama also asked Congress to pass legislation to ensure equal pay for women, to raise the minimum wage (the majority of minimum wage workers are women), to provide overtime pay, and to strengthen unions.
“Never before in a State of the Union message has a president of the United States put in central focus the role of women in the economy, as President Obama did last night,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “He recognized the critical need for childcare, paid family medical leave, community colleges, and paid sick leave, all of which impact both men and women – especially working women.”
In regard to college affordability, President Obama announced that he plans “to lower the cost of community college — to zero”. As the majority of people who attend community college are women, many of whom are parents, this plan would directly impact women seeking higher education. In fact, student parents who are unable to finish their degree most often cite financial burden and care responsibility as the reason for dropping out.
Obama recognized the need for comprehensive women’s health care and access to family planning. He lauded that teen and unintended pregnancies are reaching an all-time low, and added that “every woman should have access to the health care she needs.” Indeed, the White House announced that morning the President’s plan to oppose the 20-week abortion ban, “which would unacceptably restrict women’s health and reproductive rights and is an assault on a woman’s right to choose.”
This State of the Union address was also a benchmark for the LGBT community. Obama said that as a country we need to “condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” making this the first ever State of the Union speech to directly recognize lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
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