Council on Women and Girls Blog
- Posted byon November 16, 2011 at 5:13 PM EDT
This October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month took me around the country to participate in a variety of listening sessions, conferences, and local events. In many of the communities I visited, I hosted roundtable meetings with local domestic violence advocates to hear about their successes in the field as well as the challenges they are facing every day.
In early October, I traveled to Radnor, Pennsylvania to give an address at the Cabrini College Domestic Violence Symposium. The Symposium was part of Cabrini College’s broader initiatives on domestic violence education. While passing through Philadelphia, I had the chance to meet with local advocates who serve the Philadelphia community and bring their concerns back to the White House.
Later that week, I returned to Washington D.C. to participate in a panel at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on domestic violence safety and services in communities of color, discuss violence against women efforts at the World Bank, and participate in an Interagency Meeting and Listening Session for Tribal Leaders at the White House.
- Posted byon November 14, 2011 at 12:12 PM EDT
Ed note: This Op-ed was featured in the Huffington Post on Friday, November 11, 2011.
On Wednesday, November 9, 2011, President Obama addressed a dinner hosted by the National Women’s Law Center, and delivered a powerful speech on the importance of continuing the fight for equality for women and girls. The dinner honored women Freedom Riders, who put their own lives in jeopardy in order to fight for the end of segregation in the South.
It was an honor to spend an evening with these courageous women, and it was a moment when our nation’s past and present were truly woven together. One Freedom Rider whispered to the President Obama that on the day he was born, August 4, 1961, she was in jail in Mississippi.
The Freedom Riders’ stories should remind us all that change is hard. Very hard. It takes time. But with conviction, determination, and sacrifice, change is always possible. And when it comes to securing equal rights and opportunities for America’s women and girls, our country has made great progress in just a few short years.
Change is the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the very first bill President Obama signed into law, which strengthens a woman’s right to equal pay.
Change is health care reform that makes it illegal to deny coverage for women with pre-existing conditions such as breast cancer or being a victim of domestic violence, and requires insurance companies to cover preventive care, including mammograms and contraception.
Change is investing in STEM education for girls, so that America’s women can be equally represented in the next generation of scientists, researchers, and engineers.
Change is nominating two women to the Supreme Court, so that for the first time in American history, three of the nine justices are women.
Change is creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, which focuses every federal department and agency on working together to improve the lives of women and girls, recognizing that the issues that primarily affect women are not just women’s issues. When a woman is paid equally for equal work, her family is better off, her community is healthier, and our economy grows. When women succeed, America succeeds.
- Posted byon November 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM EDT
A woman whom I have always respected and admired is Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a leader amongst men. She was generations ahead of her time and she had an uncanny ability to move women to act. In 1942, as this country was engrossed in a war like we had never seen, she said, “This is not a time when women should be patient. We are in a war and we need to fight it with all our ability and every weapon possible. Women pilots, in this case, are a weapon waiting to be used.”
Her words became a rally cry in my life when I joined the Air Force and entered the first class of women to enroll at the Air Force Academy. It was my rally cry then, it was my rally cry throughout my career, and it still motivates me today as I lead the Veterans Benefits Administration within the Department of Veterans Affairs. Eleanor’s words appealed to a young woman in 1976 about to embark on an adventure I could only imagine because they reminded me that women can make a difference in military service to this nation. I knew this because the women who had served in the military before me had made the difference – their service had made the difference to me: they broke barriers that allowed me to enroll in the Academy and eventually achieve the rank of brigadier general.
Today, women serve in the US military in unprecedented numbers – 12 percent of those who have served since September 11 are women. Women are the fastest growing population within the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. Women have the honor of wearing the uniform – something that only 10 percent of the entire U.S. population can claim – because of the women who served before us and broke down barriers.
During the Revolutionary War, women had to disguise themselves as men to serve. The most famous woman credited with doing this is Deborah Sampson of Plympton, Massachusetts. She was only discovered after she was wounded for the third time. She received an honorable discharge and war pension.
Sampson made a difference to Dr. Mary Walker who did not have to disguise herself to serve. Dr. Mary Walker became the first woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for casualty care she provided to Civil War soldiers. She also wrote legislation that created a permanent nurse corps. Walker made the difference to more than 33,000 Army and Navy nurses who served during World War I The Military nurses made the difference to countless service members whose lives they saved.
During World War II, women flew airplanes in the Women Airforce Service Pilots – WASP. They flew stateside as ferries, test pilots and anti-aircraft artillery trainers. The Navy created WAVES -- Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service – women reservists who defended America.The Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and the Coast Guard established the Women’s Reserve.The women who served in these units made the difference. Their dedication to our country showed that women are as capable as men, and in 1948 women were granted permanent status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the newly created Air Force.
In Korea, 500 Army nurses served in combat zones healing our injured. In the 1960s, about 7,000 military women served in Southwest Asia. In the 1970s the academies and ROTC opened to women.
In 1983, the Army named a woman, Galen Grant, the first “Drill Sergeant of the Year.” I am sure Galen Grant’s service made the difference to Army Sgt. Major Teresa King, who in 2009 became the first woman commandant of the Army Drill School at Ft. Jackson SC. where she still currently serves. I can only imagine how future generations of service women Sgt. Maj. King will impact.
In the 1990s women continued breaking barriers and impacting future generations. My Air Force Academy classmate, Lt. Gen. Susan Helms, became the fist U.S. military woman in space aboard the Shuttle endeavor. In 2005, Army National Guard Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester of Kentucky became the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for combat action.
Today, women serve multiple rotations performing security patrols in war zones even though the ban on combat has not officially been lifted. They fly jets, serve aboard ships, gather our intelligence, provide security, patrol dangerous environments, and execute their military duties flawlessly.
At the Department of Veterans Affairs, we honor the service of all Veterans -- all 23 million alive today. We honor their families who support them throughout their service, and we honor their survivors who make unimaginable sacrifices everyday in the absence of their loved ones.
We are working harder than ever to reach out to women Veterans, many of whom do not embrace their identities as Veterans. We want them to know about the programs they have earned with their service. We want each woman who has served in uniform to proudly call themselves Veterans.
The VA Center for Women Veterans is focused on women Veterans’ issues and advocates for Women Veterans by helping to shape for VA, our partners, and policy makers, what it means to treat women Veterans with dignity and respect.
The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has Women Veterans Program Managers at all VA medical centers and at outpatient clinics in the community. VHA has built a program that helps women Veterans navigate the VA medical system and utilize our women-specific wellness and comprehensive medical programs.
At the Veterans Benefits Administration, we’re expanding our numbers of full-time Women Veterans Benefits Coordinators, who are trained and focused on helping women.These coordinators will advocate for women Veterans in every one of our 57 regional offices.
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki has formed a VA Task Force on Women Veterans to identify gaps in services and opportunities to better serve women Veterans, and develop results-oriented recommendations to advance VA's efforts to address women Veterans' needs. He is committed to breaking down all barriers in VA to better serve our women Veterans.
The efforts include championing our Homeless Women Veterans Pilot Project, which was created to provide a safe environment for homeless women Veterans to obtain the services they need.
We also are devoting resources to help women Veterans find jobs. These women have extraordinary skills, abilities and commitment that I know employers want in their employees.
“This is not a time when women should be patient,” Eleanor said. Generations of military women have heard that call and taken it to heart. I am proud of their legacy and I am proud to be a part of it. I am honored to serve all Veterans, their families and their survivors. I am a Veteran!
Thank you for your service and happy Veterans Day.
Allison A. Hickey is the Under Secretary for Benefits at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
- Posted byon November 10, 2011 at 6:31 PM EDT
In honor of Domestic Violence Awareness month this past October, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development collaborated to hold ten town hall events throughout the country on the topic of Engaging Men and Boys in Ending Violence Against Women.
These town halls provided a unique opportunity for federal and community partners to participate in important discussions regarding the inclusion of men in ending violence against women and helped to further the efforts of those working tirelessly for this cause in local and regional communities across the nation.
- Posted byon November 10, 2011 at 5:50 PM EDT
President Obama Speaks at the National Women's Law Center Annual Awards Dinner on November 9, 2011. This year's dinner celebrated the 50th anniversary of the women freedom riders.
- Posted byon November 10, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT
Ed note: This blog was cross-posted from the White House Blog.
For many kids, their first cigarette leads to a lifetime of addiction, and for many, serious disease. With 20 percent of U.S. high school students smoking, keeping tobacco out of the hands of minors can have a huge impact on our nation’s health now and in the future. That’s why President Obama and his Administration are committed to doing all we can to stop kids from smoking.
We took an important step toward achieving that goal when the Food and Drug Administration issued more than 1,200 warning letters to retailers for selling tobacco to kids. The letters come after we conducted more than 27,500 inspections nationwide. Most retail store owners follow the law and don’t sell cigarettes to kids, but we’re reminding those who don’t that they have a responsibility to follow the law and that there are serious consequences if they fail to do so.
You can search our database of inspection reports for tobacco retailers by name and location to see how your community checks out. You can also take the pledge to protect our nation’s children by supporting retailers who follow the law and do not sell cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to youth. Let your local establishments know you appreciate their efforts to protect our kids.
These kinds of activities are just a part of our campaign to stop children from smoking. President Obama was proud to sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which gives us new tools to help stop young people from smoking before they start. Those tools include graphic warning labels that make the danger of smoking abundantly clear. Big tobacco companies are trying to stand in the way of these commonsense measures to protect our kids, but we’re confident their attempts will ultimately fail.
We know our campaign against tobacco is a ‘winnable battle’. It is a public health challenge where the strategies to address it are proven and in-hand. We have the science. Under President Obama, we have the leadership and commitment. And now, more than ever, we have the laws and policies that will allow us to protect the health of our nation’s kids.
Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
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