Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • The Role of Women in Combating Climate Change

    Editor's Note: Ambassador Melanne Verveer is U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues. This blog was cross-posted from the Council on Environmental Quality Blog.

    Last week I traveled to Durban, South Africa to participate in the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to highlight the critical and largely untapped potential of women to combat climate change. Studies have shown that it is often women who are on the frontlines of, and suffer disproportionately from, the impacts of climate change. This is certainly important. But we must remember that women are also a powerful force for finding solutions to climate change across the board, including in areas such as agriculture, sustainable forest management, and energy access. 

    Agriculture, which accounts for approximately 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is a sector that can be particularly sensitive to climate variability and change, is one key area where women can play a major role. A recent FAO report shows that women, in many places, are the main producers of the world's staple crops, particularly in developing countries and regions likely to be adversely affected by climate change impacts.  However, globally, only a small minority of women farmers have access to land tenure. This is a problem for many reasons – including that it limits women's potential to combat climate change. Studies have shown that women with the right to property are significantly more capable of investing in climate-smart agricultural productivity; we have a lot of work to do to unlock women's potential in this area. 

    Women also have untapped potential for increasing energy access, which directly relates to climate change. For example, nearly 3 billion people globally still rely on traditional cookstoves and open fires to prepare food for their families. In most instances, women are responsible for cooking – not to mention also spending many hours per week collecting fuel, which often puts women at risk of gender based violence. The resulting smoke exposure causes an estimated two million premature deaths annually, with women and young children the most affected. Cookstoves also impact the climate through emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived particles such as black carbon. Engaging women is critical to tackling this problem. As we work to build a global market for clean cookstoves, integrating women into the cookstoves supply chain will help increase clean cookstove adoption rates while also creating new economic development opportunities. And as Secretary Clinton has noted, women create a multiplier effect in local communities because they disproportionately spend more of their earned income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling.   

  • Council on Women and Girls Weekly Highlights: "Welcome Home"

    Welcome to the Council on Women and Girls Weekly Highlights. If you have friends or family who would like to support the efforts of the Council on Women and Girls, please visit our website and share this link with others on Facebook and Twitter.

    Yesterday, President Obama and the First Lady went to Fort Bragg to deliver remarks to troops and military families. As we definitively end America’s war in Iraq this month, the President wanted to speak directly with the troops at Ft. Bragg and to members of the Armed Forces and their families everywhere. The President knows the enormous sacrifices and achievements of the brave Americans who served in the Iraq War, and he spoke about the extraordinary milestone of bringing the war in Iraq to an end.

    Today, as part of a series of Executive Actions, President Obama and the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis, announced new, proposed rules that would provide minimum wage and overtime protections for nearly two million workers who provide in-home health care services for the elderly and infirm. As Secretary Solis notes in her blog, “The vast majority of these workers are women, many of whom serve as the primary breadwinner for their families.”

    Please be sure to check out the highlights below for some upcoming engagement opportunities. 

    Best wishes for a great week!

    Photo of the Week

    Dr. Biden’s Children’s Holiday Party Focuses on Support for Military Families

    Dr. Jill Biden greets a student arriving at the Vice President’s Residence

    Dr. Jill Biden greets a student arriving at the Vice President’s Residence for a holiday party December 12, 2011. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    Stay Engaged

    Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of the small business community, but women continue to face challenges, including access to capital and lack of opportunities to grow.

  • The Impact on Women of Failing to Extend Unemployment Insurance

    In the midst of this year’s holiday season, it is important to remember the millions of families that continue to struggle in the current economic climate. We have made steady progress over the last two years in getting people back to work after the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The number of people laid off and going into unemployment has come down to their 2008 levels and job openings are on the rise. Yet, we still have more work to do.  There are millions of families who continue to struggle to make ends meet.

    With 4 job seekers for every job opening, we know that it is still difficult for unemployed workers to find jobs no matter how hard they look.  As these hard working Americans diligently fill out job applications, write and update resumes and cover letters and sit for interviews, we need to continue to help them to put food on the table for their families and keep a roof over their heads. 

    Over the next week, Congress will need to take action to extend the federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits program, which has served as a lifeline for the millions of long-term unemployed and their families who need this assistance to get back on their feet.

    This program helps the unemployed but also the entire American economy.  Last year alone, the UI program helped 3.2 million people stay out of poverty, according to the Census Bureau.  And independent analysts have stated, for every dollar spent on UI, the economy generates about 2 dollars in economic activity – meaning that an unemployed worker, who spends his UI benefits on food at a grocery store, helps the workers and suppliers of that grocery store stay employed.  The UI money makes its way to gas station attendants, retailers and many other small businesses.  As a result, in 2010, the program provided a vital boost to the economy and helped to keep an estimated 800,000 more people employed and to raise GDP by close to 1%.

  • Providing Protections for In-Home Care Workers

    In-home care service is a high growth industry, and it’s projected to grow by 50 percent between 2008 and 2018. In-home caregivers are an essential component of the health care system and will only become more important, as an increased number of patients turn to them for more affordable assistance with medical care as well as everyday tasks and household chores.

    Many homecare providers earn less than the minimum wage and no overtime for these vital services. In 2007, then-Senator Obama spent a day with professional homecare worker Pauline Beck, assisting with her daily tasks and observing firsthand the unique challenges of in-home care (watch the video). He was impressed by Pauline’s dedication, and determined to assist her and others in her profession.

    Today, Pauline joined me and President Obama as he announced a proposal from the U.S. Department of Labor to revise the Fair Labor Standards Act rules that would ensure fair pay for approximately 1.8 million workers who provide in-home care services for the elderly and infirm. This new rule would ensure that these hardworking professionals who provide valuable services to American families would receive the protections of minimum wage and overtime pay that nearly every employee in the United States already receives under the FLSA.

    Many of these workers are the primary breadwinners for their families. Of the roughly 2 million workers who will be affected by this rule, more than 92 percent are women, nearly 50 percent are minorities, and nearly 40 percent rely on public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, home health care aides earn about $21,000 a year and many lack health insurance. That is unacceptable.

    The proposed regulation would also ensure that employers who have been treating these workers fairly are no longer at a competitive disadvantage. Leveling the playing field for both workers and employers is a fundamental principle of the FLSA.

    My department is committed to fighting for good jobs for everyone, jobs that enable workers to earn a living wage, afford health insurance and save for retirement. The services provided by in-home health care providers aren’t just professional; they’re personal. And for millions of American families, they’re indispensible. That’s why it’s so important to ensure that they receive the same job protections available to the majority of working Americans

    Once published, we encourage you to provide comments on this important proposal by visiting the federal rulemaking website at www.regulations.gov. More information, including the proposed rule and fact sheet, is available at www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/companionNPRM.htm.

    Hilda Solis is Secretary of the Department of Labor

  • Open for Questions: Women’s Entrepreneurship

    As President Obama has said, “our Nation's doers, makers, and entrepreneurs have proven time and again that, in America, it takes only a single good idea and the courage to pursue it to change history.”

    Women-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of the small business community, but women continue to face challenges, including access to capital and lack of opportunities to grow.

    Ask questions and learn more about the federal government’s policies and programs that are designed to help women entrepreneurs at our upcoming “Open for Questions,” session with Christine Koronides of the National Economic Council, and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Associate Administrator for Small Business, Ana Harvey.

    • What: Open for Questions: Women’s Entrepreneurship
    • Who: Christine Koronides, White House National Economic Council, and SBA’s Associate Administrator for Women’s Business Ownership, Ana Harvey
    • When: Tuesday, December 20, at 3 p.m. EST
    • Where: Watch live at WhiteHouse.gov/live and submit your questions via Facebook, Twitter using the hashtag #WHChat or our webform.

    Hallie Schneir is Associate Director of the Office of Public Engagement

  • Championing Change for Women in Science

    Graduating Howard University senior Bianca Bailey is an impressive international engineering role model. As a chemical engineering major at Howard and President of Engineers without Borders, which supports sustainable infrastructure development around the world, Bianca has traveled to Kenya, Brazil, and Haiti to volunteer on numerous engineering projects. But her path to renown wasn’t easy.

    After losing her mother at a very early age, Bianca was raised by a single father and had to take on maternal responsibilities for her two younger siblings under difficult circumstances in urban Dallas. With the support of a non-profit organization, Girls, Inc., which encouraged her early interest in the sciences, Bianca pursued her love of engineering. And today, along with her many professional responsibilities, she is dedicated to inspiring other girls to do the same.

    Valerie Jarrett greets Champions of Change

    Valerie Jarrett greets Champions at the "Champions of Change: Women in STEM" event on December 9, 2011. (Photo by Riana Lynn) December 9, 2011.

    On Friday, December 9, 2011, the White House Office of Public Engagement in collaboration with OSTP welcomed to the White House Bianca and 11 other Champions of Change who have worked to increase the participation of women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and math fields.

    The following individuals were recognized as outstanding community heroes who are helping to build the ranks of women in the Nation’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce and ensure that America’s science and engineering enterprise is fueled by the diverse talents of all of its citizens:

    • Bianca Bailey - Howard University engineering major and President, Engineers without Borders
    • Barbara Bitters - Assistant Director for the Career and Technical Education Team at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
    • Tamara Brown - Project Controls Engineer, Praxair, Inc.
    • Angela Byars-Winston - Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin Department of Medicine
    • Judit Camacho - Executive Director, SACNAS (the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science)
    • Elizabeth “Liesl” Chatman - Director of Teacher Professional Development, Science Museum of Minnesota
    • Baker Franke - Teacher, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools
    • Jennifer Harper Ogle - Associate Professor in Civil Engineering, Clemson University
    • Elisabeth “Betty” Hayes - Professor of English, Arizona State University
    • Bobby Shnabel - Dean of the School of Informatics, Indiana University, Bloomington
    • Karen Thole - Professor of Mechanical Engineering , Head of the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, Pennsylvania State University
    • Avis Yates Rivers - President and CEO, Technologies Concept Group
    Aneesh Chopra- Women in STEM

    Aneesh Chopra joins "Champions of Change-Women in STEM" for a panel on December 9, 2011. (Photo by Riana Lynn) December 9, 2011.

    Exemplifying the President’s and First Lady’s vision for an “all-hands-on-deck” approach for broadening participation in the sciences, these individuals brought their diverse experience as educators, students, non-profit directors, corporate executives, and public sector employees from 11 states to bear in a moderated conversation around best practices for removing the roadblocks that too often discourage girls from pursuing STEM subjects or compel women to drop out of STEM fields.

    You can join similar conversations live at www.whitehouse.gov/live or at Twitter, hashtag #championsofchangewh.

    Mary Maxon is OSTP’s Assistant Director for Biological Research