Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Happy 101st Anniversary of International Women’s Day!

    Yesterday I was excited to return to the International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony at the State Department here in Washington, D.C. These awards honor the critical role women are playing in growing economies and in contributing to peace and stability. Recipients included “Women of Courage” from across the globe who have overcome adversity, and in turn stood up and fought for social justice, human rights and the advancement of women. There was an incredible level of energy and support in the room, and I was humbled to be among these phenomenal women. I was also joined by women I admire deeply: First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer, First Lady Ernestina Naadu Mills of Ghana, and First Lady Vanda Pignato of El Salvador.

    Two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, spoke at the ceremony, and their words captivated the room. Gbowee realized during Liberia’s second civil war that it is women who bear the greatest burden in prolonged conflicts. She was a pivotal activist in the peace movement, organizing Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together, and organizing for the Liberian Mass Action for Peace.  Known as the “iron woman” and the “mother of the revolution,” Karman is a journalist and human rights activist who has long championed democracy and women’s rights in Yemen, co-founding “Women Journalists Without Chains.” She was among the first to participate and help organize the opposition protests in Yemen. Together, Gbowee and Karmanchallenged everyone to continue to work for women’s rights around the world.

  • First Lady Michelle Obama Speaks at the International Women of Courage Awards

    First Lady Michelle Obama at the International Women of Courage Awards

    First Lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks at the International Women of Courage Awards ceremony at the State Department in Washington, D.C., March 8, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

    Earlier today, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the International Women of Courage Awards at the Department of State. Please see below for her remarks, and don’t forget to check out President Obama’s 2012 Proclamation on Women’s History Month.

    Thank you. Thank you so much. Good morning, everyone. To say it is a pleasure to be here with all of you today would be an understatement.  This is truly an important opportunity, it is an uplifting opportunity, and I am happy to be a part of it every single year.

     And I have to start by thanking Secretary Clinton not just for that very kind introduction, but she has been an outstanding -- should I say that again? -- an outstanding Secretary of State. And she has been an inspiration to women and girls around the world. She is a role model for me in so many ways.  I don't think she realizes how what she has done has made what I am doing partially possible. So with all the respect and admiration that I can give to her, I will be wherever she needs me to be, whenever she needs me to be there. 

    I also want to join in recognizing our special guest, First Lady Mills, who is a dear friend. We enjoyed our visit to Ghana. And she is going to have a productive stay here in Washington, so she's going to be busy. Just take it easy.  And of course, Secretary Vanda Pignato, who is a dear friend as well.  We are honored to have you with us as well.  I also want to thank them for taking the time to be here today.  It means so much to us all for you to be here.

    I have to thank Ambassador Melanne Verveer for her terrific work she is doing -- what she is doing for  -- for Global Women’s Issues. This event is top-notch, and it wouldn't happen if not for her. We are so grateful. 

  • Inclusive Development: USAID’s New Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy

    There are moments that make you proud. Proud to work in an Administration led by President Obama and Secretary Clinton who have made gender equality a top priority.  Last week was one of those times.

    Last year USAID Administrator Shah and I established a task team to craft a new policy on gender quality and female empowerment, the Agency’s first in 30 years. I am proud to say that USAID released that policy, achieving great strides and reaffirming our commitment to close the gender gap in international development.

    The goal of this policy is to improve the lives of citizens around the world by advancing equality between females and males, and empowering women and girls to participate fully in and benefit from the development of their societies.

    USAID has long recognized that drawing on the full contributions of women is key achieving better, inclusive, and more sustainable results.  That’s why we’re integrating gender equality and female empowerment into the very DNA of everything we do.   From Presidential initiatives like Feed the Future (FtF), the Global Health Initiative (GHI), and Global Climate Change to the full range of the Agency’s programs, we are ensuring that gender is not just being included, but fully incorporated.  Eliminating gender bias and empowering women isn’t just a question of fairness or equity: it’s simply good business practice.   

  • Women's History Month Proclamation

    As Chair of the Council on Women and Girls, I’m proud to post the president’s proclamation in honor of Women's History Month 2012:

    As Americans, ours is a legacy of bold independence and passionate belief in fairness and justice for all. For generations, this intrepid spirit has driven women pioneers to challenge injustices and shatter ceilings in pursuit of full and enduring equality. During Women's History Month, we commemorate their struggles, celebrate centuries of progress, and reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the rights, security, and dignity of women in America and around the world.

    We see the arc of the American story in the dynamic women who shaped our present and the groundbreaking girls who will steer our future. Fifty-one years ago, when former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt confronted President John F. Kennedy about the lack of women in government, he appointed her the head of a commission to address the status of women in America and the discrimination they routinely faced. Though the former First Lady passed away before the commission finished its work, its report would spur action across our country and galvanize a movement toward true gender parity. Our Nation stands stronger for that righteous struggle, and last March my Administration was proud to release the first comprehensive Federal report on the status of American women since President Kennedy's commission in 1963. Today, women serve as leaders throughout industry, civil society, and government, and their outstanding achievements affirm to our daughters and sons that no dream is beyond their reach.

    While we have made great strides toward equality, we cannot rest until our mothers, sisters, and daughters assume their rightful place as full participants in a secure, prosperous, and just society. With the leadership of the White House Council on Women and Girls, my Administration is advancing gender equality by promoting workplace flexibility, striving to bring more women into math and science professions, and fighting for equal pay for equal work. We are combating violence against women by revising an antiquated definition of rape and harnessing the latest technology to prevent dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault. From securing women's health and safety to leveling the playing field and ensuring women have full and fair access to opportunity in the 21st century, we are making deep and lasting investments in the future of all Americans.

    Because the peace and security of nations around the globe depend upon the education and advancement of women and girls, my Administration has placed their perspectives and needs at the heart of our foreign policy. Last December, I released the first United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security to help ensure women play an equal role in peace-building worldwide. By fully integrating women's voices into peace processes and our work to prevent conflict, protect civilians, and deliver humanitarian assistance, the United States is bringing effective support to women in areas of conflict and improving the chances for lasting peace. In the months ahead, my Administration will continue to collaborate with domestic and international partners on new initiatives to bring economic and political opportunity to women at home and abroad.

    During Women's History Month, we recall that the pioneering legacy of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers is revealed not only in our museums and history books, but also in the fierce determination and limitless potential of our daughters and granddaughters. As we make headway on the crucial issues of our time, let the courageous vision championed by women of past generations inspire us to defend the dreams and opportunities of those to come.

    NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2012 as Women's History Month. I call upon all Americans to observe this month and to celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, 2012, with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that honor the history, accomplishments, and contributions of American women. I also invite all Americans to visit to learn more about the generations of women who have shaped our history.

    IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this first day of March, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth.

    Valerie Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls

  • A Good Day

    I’ve been working in the field of combating trafficking in persons (C-TIP) for over a decade. In this arena, where people are bought and sold as chattel, there are a lot of bad days. Still, over the past ten years, I’ve seen brave shelter directors take on traffickers, despite threats of violence. I’ve seen trafficking victims overcome incredible hardship and go on to help other survivors. I’ve seen diplomats take a stand and say, enough, we are not going to look the other way. And I’ve seen NGOs, together with policy makers, fight to get laws adopted that literally change the lives of people.

    Those are the good days, where we need to take stock and celebrate.  Today is one of those days.

    This morning, the Administrator of USAID, Dr. Rajiv Shah, launched the Agency’s new Counter-Trafficking in Persons Policy.

  • Career-Life Balance Fair continues to promote flexible workplaces for America’s Scientists and engineers

    In order to maintain global leadership in science and engineering (S&E), as well as promote economic prosperity and national security, America must develop its own domestic scientific talent at a pace similar to other nations worldwide.

    In science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, women are earning an ever-larger share of doctoral degrees- 41 percent in 2009, compared to 38 percent in 2004. Yet, their representation in full-time tenured faculty positions - only 29 percent in 2008 - is not keeping pace. For women of color, the proportion is even lower, constituting only 6 percent of tenured faculty. Family characteristics – including marital status and presence of children – are directly related to this diminished chance of earning tenure, with unmarried women making significant gains over their married female colleagues throughout the last four decades.