Outgoing administration can be expected to have a few ragged ends. So it is not altogether surprising to learn that President Carter has extended the presidential Advisory Committee for Women for two more years -- without letting the committee know before it had already packed up its belongings. The bureaucratic lapse is all the more understandable in light of Mr. Carter's early troubles with the committee. But it does seem to send out still another signal that women's issues do not have high priority at the White House.
The question now is whether Ronald Reagan will choose to disband the presidential committee, thereby reinforcing wrong public perceptions that he is against women's rights because he opposes the ERA. Or whether he will keep the committee, bolster it, and use it effectively to help the executive branch eliminate the many areas of sex discrimination still existing in federal laws and regulations. We hope the latter.
The President-elect will have an early opportunity to follow through on his avowed support for women's rights. By retaining the presidential committee and appointing a representative cross section of women (and men?) to it, he can make sure he is getting a broad range of advice and information. There are, after all, a whole array of problems to be dealt with, such as social security and educational equity. Abortion and ERA are not the only feminist issues, for all the press publicity given to them.
The President-elect should be aware, too, that, despite the opposition of some groups to ERA, public attitudes toward women in general have changed significantly. A study prepared by Yankelovich pollsters for the Advisory Committee for Women and released last week showed that the American public in 1980 began to regard women as equals to men, entitled to the same jobs, pay, and levels of responsibility. Last year the majority of Americans for the first time accepted the idea of women mayors, lawyers, and other professionals and expressed sympathy for the difficulties faced by women who work and also have families. The concept of equality is thus gaining ground, even though attendant problems are recognized as well.
Mr. Reagan, in short, will only be riding the winds of change if he vigorously continues the government's efforts, one, to make sure that federal laws are not discriminatory and, two, to see that they are enforced.