Gender Equality
President Obama recently penned an article on gender equality, highlighting the strides made over his past two terms.

President Obama’s article appeared in a recent issue of Glamour Magazine. In it, he detailed the upbringing he had (raised by both his single mother and grandmother) that influenced his feminist views. He also discusses his successes and failures as a father, admitting that there were times when the pressures of raising two daughters often fell to his wife while he was off pursuing his career.

He cites the changes that have already been made in the past 50 years: from women gaining the right to vote to the ability to achieve financial independence, or being nominated as a major party’s presidential candidate for the first time.

Still, there is work to be done.

In the past eight years, during his Presidency, Obama has made concrete steps towards promoting equality amongst all genders. According to a White House press release, President Obama has created the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as appointed the White House Advisor on Violence against Women, the Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s issues, and two female Supreme Court justices.

Furthermore, when he signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he ensured that insurance companies could no longer charge higher premiums based solely on sex. More recently, with the help of Vice President Joe Biden, Obama has launched the It’s On Us campaign to help change the conversation and stigma surrounding sexual assault.

Obama’s gender equality policies extend beyond the domestic, however. Abroad, he and the First Lady launched Let Girls Learn in March of 2015, which aims to bridge the disconnect between adolescent girls and access to quality education.

Prior to that, in 2011, he announced Executive Order 13595 and the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. This act aims “to support women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity.”

Already, the United Nations’s Millennium Development Goals have achieved equality in primary education for girls and boys. The hope is that the new Sustainable Development Goals (launched in 2015) will take this a step further.

On its website, the U.N. explains why gender equality is so important: “Providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”

Sabrina Santos

Photo: Flickr

Legislation is one major factor that keeps the United States strong. Without rules and regulations, we simply wouldn’t be the United States. That being said, the year 2015 has been chock full of legislation plans.

In order to be a well-informed citizen, it is important to keep an eye on the current legislation that is in review by the government. The following list will showcase just a few of the many important happenings within Congress.

1. Affordable Care Act

For the nation’s endlessly controversial health care law, 2015 initially looks a little bit like 2012, with lots of uncertainty hinging on a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. States that want to get a head start against the possibility of disruption will have to act quickly.

2. Global Food Security Act

In the last 24 years, we have seen the number of undernourished people in the world go down by 209 million people. Out of that 209 million, 203 million came from “developing regions.” This act would enable our government to craft a comprehensive strategy to enable food security, utilizing the funds, personnel and brainpower of at least 11 different departments and agencies. These organizations would then collaborate with others around the world to advance innovative, cost-effective plans with strong accountability mechanisms.

3. Food for Peace Reform Act

The bill eliminates monetization of the international food market, which GAO has previously criticized as “inefficient” and unsustainable for the recipient’s market. Removing monetization would allow U.S. aid to reach an additional 800,000 people while freeing up to $30 million per year. Under the current process, 25 cents is lost on every taxpayer dollar spent.

4. International Affairs Budget

The International Affairs Budget makes up only a mere one percent of the U.S. federal budget, but impacts all aspects of life in America. These funds are imperative for helping the world’s poor, and as global citizens, we must back initiatives that can save millions of lives both domestically and abroad.

5. School Testing

When governors and state school officials released the Common Core curriculum standards four and a half years ago, the new program was touted as a fair and accurate way to measure student achievement across state lines and cultivate the analytical skills that many argue American children will need in order to compete on a global scale.

This legislation is in no order of importance, as they are all equal in importance to help the United States facilitate positive growth both domestically and internationally.

Alysha Biemolt

Sources: Governing, Borgen Project
Photo: The Whitehouse

The main problem with congress is that there is an inability for Democrats and Republicans to agree on how best to handle poverty in the U.S. and around the globe.

In 1964 Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed a joint session of congress and introduced his war on poverty. He introduced poverty alleviation strategies that left a lasting legacy in the minds of the American public. He stated, “Some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity. This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America.”

Today many Americans and people around the world reside in poverty. Some experts say that LBJ’s war on poverty was not a success, although it did bring the issue to the center stage for the first time on a national scale.

Today, parallels are being drawn between LBJ and Obama in their conviction to eradicate poverty.

Author Sasha Abromsky notes that President Obama, “understands the impact of poverty on people’s lives better than almost any other of his predecessors.” LBJ’s $20 trillion dollar strategy was much more aggressive than Obama’s poverty alleviation strategy. Obama supported economic packages that benefit those living in poverty, for example, the 2009 stimulus package increased funding for services such as food stamps. The Affordable Care Act is a safety net for Americans unable to afford the rising price of health care. Not only have his policies been aimed aid the poor, they also have prevented millions of Americans from falling into poverty.

Today, bipartisanship in congress remains the biggest obstacle for government assisted social service programs that support low income families. The fundamental problem remains that conservatives and neo-liberals hold vastly different beliefs when discussing the root problems of poverty. Liberals and neo-liberals believe that long-term poverty within certain demographics correlates with long-term structural problems and ongoing economic inequality within society. On the other hand conservatives and, most notably, conservatives like Paul Ryan hold that poverty is associated mainly with culture.

These distinctly different ideologies shed light on one of the reasons why Republicans and Democrats support separate economic and social service policies. The new Republican congress is pressing to reverse Obama’s second term packages that focused on providing substantial packages that supported the lower and lower middle classes. Obama’s policies show that he is aware of how the increasing income gap aversely affects low-income Americans. The Republican majority House and Senate has the ability to repeal legislation enacted during Obama’s terms in office.

It is likely that many of his bills will be on the chopping block next year.

– Maxine Gordon

Sources: NPR, New York Magazine Washington Post
Photo: Flickr

The well-being of global citizens relies heavily on the health of their health care systems. However, the type of medical attention you will receive when you go to the doctor, or even the likelihood you will attempt to seek care, varies vastly depending on where you live. Indicators like average life expectancy, infant mortality and obesity prevalence highlight the success of the health care systems. With this wealth of information, we can assess why certain nations’ health care systems are in better condition than others.

1. France

France had the best health system in the world in 2000, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) most recent assessment of world’s health systems. So what makes France’s method so successful? First, statistics on doctors and life expectancy are often on France’s side. France has less doctors per capita than second place Italy at 3.07 per 1,000 people, but more annual doctor visits than most of the top 10. It also has 3.43 hospital beds per 1,000 people, which is rivaled only by Japan and Italy of those in the top 10. Life expectancy is 81.66 and infant mortality rate is 3.31 of every 1,000 live births.

It falls on the government to negotiate doctor and hospital fees in an effort to keep costs low. In addition, a national insurance program flips 70 percent of the bill for everyone. The other 30 percent is picked up by private insurance. This means that out of pocket spending on health care is only $307 per capita.

2. The United States

The United States has one of the biggest economies in the world, yet it ranks 36 this year on the success of its health care system. Perhaps this is because the United States, while a wealthy nation, has an infant mortality rate of 6.17 per 1,000 births and a life expectancy of 79.56, neither of which are something to cheer over compared to other industrial nations where the average is higher. In addition, obesity prevalence has reached 36.5 percent, about three times as high as France. This signals that while the United States has the capability to provide good health care, it is falling far behind its peers. That being said, the United States is often considered the leader in medical research and cancer treatment.

In this country, insurance is provided mostly by for-profit private insurance groups, with some exceptions. Those over 65 years old qualify for Medicare and the disabled or low-income population qualifies for Medicaid, which are sponsored by the federal government and paid for by taxes. The number of uninsured is dropping, and in 2014, only about 15.6 percent of the population goes without insurance. However, citizens still pay a whopping $987 per capita out of pocket for health care. Changes will occur over the next few years with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but it is still early to assess how recent patterns will change the ranking of the health care system.

3. Pakistan

Pakistan ranked 122 according to the WHO in 2000 and continues to struggle with health care and disease today. The average life expectancy is 67.05 in 2014, below that of Syria and Iran. In addition, infant mortality is a frightening 57.48 of every 1,000 births. Pakistan has only .6 hospital beds and .8 doctors per 1,000 people. All this indicates that the health care system in Pakistan is struggling, leaving its citizens in serious trouble.

There is much to learn from the health care systems of other nations, but changes can be made at different levels for different countries. For countries like the United States where some tweaking to the costs and the insurance sector would vastly increase the overall health of the citizens and the system, taking notes on France’s system would be beneficial. Changes would allow more people to get coverage for less money from the federal budget. But for places like Pakistan where the system is in shambles, a functioning health care system must be in place first. Overall, different nations stand in different positions, but health care systems across the world could use a restructuring.

– Caitlin Thompson 

Sources: CIA(1), CIA(2), Commonwealth Fund, Gallup Poll, NPR, The Patient Factor, PBS, WHO(1), WHO(2), World Bank(1), World Bank(2)
Photo: Telegraph

The security and prevention against the chronic eruption of disease outbreak are tasks that no one country should face alone. On Feb. 14, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius took a respite from the searing spotlight of Obamacare to meet with international collaborators of a new Obama Administration-backed global health initiative.

The Global Health Security Agenda is a comprehensive strategy to prevent and reduce the likelihood of infectious outbreaks, to detect early threats, and to rapidly respond to biological danger with multi-sectoral and international co-ops.

The Obama Administration partnered with organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and existing collaborations under the G8, G20, Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the WHO have cited several current rampant outbreaks, including the H7N9 avian flu virus. H7N9 is reported to have a staggering potential to trigger a pandemic, given its easy transmission through infected poultry and its ever-mutating strains. MERS-CoV, a new novel strain of coronavirus, the same virus that caused the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak of 2003, emerged in the Middle East and is also under international surveillance.

There remain dozens of countries around the world, however, lacking the support and facilities to combat against drug resistance and preventative therapies. Basic immunization is still not a universally accessible necessity.

The U.S. committed to working with 30 partner countries including Vietnam and Uganda, the latter of which continues to writhe under malaria and hepatitis B endemics.

President Obama has requested an allocation of $45 million in the FY 2015 Budget for the Global Health Security Agenda. If passed, the funds will be used to expand laboratories around the globe for the research of national biosecurity systems.  Global health and the fight and prevention against infectious diseases around the world is a fight that the United States can and will lead in the upcoming decade.

– Malika Gumpangkum

Sources:, Global Health, Washington Post, Global Health, WHO, Global Health, Center for Disease Control
Photo: HNGN

World map
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim spoke in Tokyo last week on how to promote economic growth in developing countries.  Kim says that the most crucial factor in poverty alleviation is universal health coverage. “Anyone who has provided health care to poor people knows that even tiny out-of-pocket charges can drastically reduce their use of needed services,” he said. “This is both unjust and unnecessary.”

According to the World Heath Organization, 100 million people fall into poverty each year due to medical expenses.  Kim believes implementing universal health insurance coverage in every country could help end extreme poverty by 2030.

In May 2013, Kim announced his support of universal health insurance coverage to the 66th World Health assembly saying, “We have the opportunity to unite global health and the fight against poverty in action focused on clear goals.”  These goals include decreasing child and maternal mortality, developing a monitoring framework for universal coverage, improving health education and performing scientific research on delivery techniques.

Last year the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution urging countries to eliminate point-of-service fees in order to make health care more accessible.  Now, Kim pushes developing countries to shift towards a universal model.  Japan has been providing universal coverage since 1961, when many thought it was not financially possible.  In Japan, a patient can pay a maximum of 30% of medical bills while the rest is paid through social insurance programs and taxes.

In the U.S., Kim has been a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act, saying his only concern is that it doesn’t go far enough to expand access to medical care. Kim told those at the conference that universal healthcare is “one of the best things you can do to spur immediate and long-term economic growth … and one way of reducing inequality (which can) slow economic growth.”

Stephanie Lamm

Sources: Aljazeera, The World Bank, Money News, Think Progress

Government Shutdown Brinksmanship Foreign Aid Cuts
Even to those who display the most passive attention to the news, it is clear that politics in Washington D.C. has reached a fever pitch. Without any doubt, the implications of what is being discussed are, in fact, no hyperbole. Beholden to special interests, factions within the Republican Party have resolved to agree on a continuing resolution to fund the government – absent defunding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Short of passing the continued resolution, a government shutdown has taken effect. Yet, while the detractors of the ACA site economic concerns over the law, it is in our interests to consider the victims of even a short-term government shutdown.

While The Borgen Project is a non-partisan group, the implications of a government shutdown are serious and will have great effect on foreign aid and all government programs moving forward.

To put this argument into perspective, we should take an objective stance. By turning our attention towards the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), we can keep our feet rooted in the ground rather than in the clouds of ideological waffling. In their estimation, the CBO found the ACA would grant health coverage to 32 million people and raise government spending by almost one trillion dollars. While the specter of raising spending tickles the ire of republican ideologues, the CBO also found that revenues and savings would exceed this amount, effectively reducing the deficit over time.

With the non-partisan CBO stating the ACA would, in fact, benefit our economy, we must direct our attention to the victims of a government shutdown.

First and foremost, hundreds and thousands of government employees will effectively lose their jobs for the period of the shutdown. From many Pentagon employees, to park rangers, pockets will be squeezed tightly as they will not be receiving income for the period of the shutdown. Despite this, members of Congress will continue to be paid. The only bright side seems to have been President Obama’s decision to sign a bill in the midnight hour that would allow members of the military or any civilians working for the Pentagon who provide “direct support to the military” to be paid during the shutdown.

Secondly, the health of our economy is on the line. Looking back to August, 2011, our economy was dealt a blow when, for the first time in history, a credit rating agency, Standard and Poor, downgraded our rating from AAA to AA+. Dealing with confidence in markets, the mere fact that we were having the discussion we are having now was enough to reduce confidence in our economy. An actual government shutdown will have far wider and much deeper consequences.

While this is strictly political at the moment, the economic consequences will be difficult to assess until we are in the muck of it. Yet, as Obama addressed a crowd in Maryland early on Thursday, he sited the fact that even a short government shutdown will affect worse economic consequences than the proclaimed economic consequences of the ACA.

This form of brinkmanship will carry with it ramifications in all areas. If we cannot afford a cost-effective health care law in our own land, the fate of allotments for foreign aid will be the next bit of meat on the chopping block. While we call our representatives to advocate for the poor, let them know that political brinkmanship will only hurt humanity.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: MIT, NPR, ABC News, Politico
Photo: CNN Money