An Open Letter to the New White House Council on Women & Girls RE: Federal Government Websites for Women
Harper, Beth, Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources
To the White House Council on Women & Girls:
First, welcome to the world! We're glad you're here! What a great way for President Obama to celebrate Women's History Month, signing Executive Order 13506 on March 11, 2009, to create a council to "work across executive departments and agencies to provide a coordinated Federal response to issues that have a distinct impact on the lives of women and girls." (1)
I realize you've got plenty on your plate, but that's not going to stop me from giving you a little friendly advice. I'm a reference librarian--that's what I do! I'm also a government documents specialist, so I spend a lot of time helping people find government information. It's from this perspective that I'm writing you.
My first piece of advice: Oppose suggestions to do away with Women's History Month! Women certainly have come a long way in our society, and some people feel we don't need a special month to focus on women and their achievements. Of course, the Executive Order creating the Council states some of the inequalities that still exist between the sexes. Those inequalities are reason enough to keep celebrating Women's History Month. From a more pragmatic perspective, I can say that after looking at dozens of federal agency websites, it's Women's History Month that has prompted the creation of much female-centered content on federal webpages! Take, for example, the Library of Congress, which has tons of material about women in its print and digital collections, and is the type of institution that loves to create guides on finding information on all kinds of topics. The most comprehensive, prominent, and current Library of Congress guide to materials on women is its page on Women's History Month (http://womenshistorymonth.gov/index.html). It is a great guide, with links to fascinating exhibits on women in World War II and on quilts and quiltmaking in the U.S.; and to collections such as photos from the campaign for women's suffrage and videos and motion pictures of dancer Katherine Dunham. This page also links to other, more specialized Library of Congress resource guides, such as African American Women in the Sciences and Related Disciplines (http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/tracerbullets/africanwomentb.html) and Women's History Resources in the Prints & Photographs Division: Picture Pathfinder (http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/237_path.html). I'm delighted that these pages exist, but confused by their labels. The resources to which these guides point are available year-round; I wonder why they're grouped under a "Women's History Month" label, rather than just "Women"?
Second, I recommend establishing "women" as an audience category on the USA.gov website (http://www.usa.gov/), the general citizen electronic gateway to federal government websites. Specific audiences listed on the "Audiences" page (http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Audiences.shtml) include "Grandparents Raising Grandchildren," "Teens," "Homeowners," and even "Outdoor Enthusiasts," but not "Women." And trust me, citizens would benefit from a collection of links to women-related government sites. It was hard enough for me to find these sites, and finding information is what I do for a living! I can't imagine approaching this as an everyday citizen. Again, an example: in reviewing federal websites for women, I looked at women's health sites from the National Institutes for Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Health and Human Services Department's Office of Women's Health. I also looked through the list of agencies and commissions found in the U.S. Government Manual, a reference resource that describes all the major federal agencies and commissions, searching for agencies and bureaus that deal specifically with women's issues. After doing all this research, how did I discover that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had an Office of Women's Health (http://www.fda.gov/womens/default.htm)? By looking at the "Additional Links" section of the Social Security Administration's Social Security Information for Women page (of course! …