Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Supporting Women and Girls Through the Homeland Security Mission

    During Women’s History Month and every day, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) upholds the commitment to the rights, security and dignity of women and girls in everything we do. Through our work to combat human trafficking, protect the rights of immigrants who are victims of domestic violence and other crimes, and ensure parents have the tools they need to keep their children safe online, DHS continues to foster various initiatives that focus specifically on reaching out to and empowering women and girls every day.

    We also uphold that commitment within our own workforce, by doing all we can to recruit qualified and talented staff, and by helping to create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to advance and thrive.

    Leaders like Julia Pierson, who last year became the first female Director of the U.S. Secret Service, and Connie Patrick, the first female Director of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), have paved the way for women in law enforcement. These women are role models whose success encourages today’s young girls to pursue their dreams. They are also outstanding leaders, pure and simple.

    DHS is proud to have so many remarkable women serving across the Department, including Kirstin Grote, Marcy Donnelly and Harleen Singh, three individuals featured as part of our Faces of Homeland Security. We recognize those who serve on the frontlines to ensure our Nation’s borders are secure, our traveling public is safe, and our cyber infrastructure is protected.

    And through the work of the Blue Campaign, DHS’ unified voice to combat human trafficking; the DHS Council on Combating Violence Against Women; the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s (FLETC) international Women in Law Enforcement Leadership Training Program; and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) immigration relief for victims of crimes, as well as many others, DHS provides resources for the safety and empowerment of women and girls throughout the United States.

    I am proud to serve alongside so many remarkable women from across DHS, and to continue our work for the protection and security of women and girls every day.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Department of Homeland Security.  

    Jeh Johnson is the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security

  • Celebrating National Women’s History Month

    Forty years ago, women owned just 5% of all small businesses in America. Today, they own over 30%, creating 200,000 women-owned small businesses in the past year. Additionally, between 2002 and 2012, the number of women-owned firms with $10 million or more in revenues grew nearly 50% more than all firms of that size, and in 2012 alone, angel investors poured 40% more dollars into high growth women-owned companies than in the previous year.

    With so many positive trends, now, more than ever, women are poised to thrive as entrepreneurs.

    But gender gaps persist in certain areas. Men still start more companies and receive more capital to scale their operations, leaving many women-owned small business owners facing challenges to turn their great ideas into successful companies.

    Two of the major keys to bridging these remaining gaps are providing better access and opportunity to startup and growth funding. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has taken a number of steps to fully utilize the federal government’s resources in addressing these two critical areas, including all of the following:

    • Expanded our lending, making nearly $16.4 billion available through more than 45,900 SBA loans to women-owned businesses;
    • Set fees for loans under $150,000 to zero, providing greater access to small startup companies;
    • Increased the number of applicants and investment dollars in SBA’s Small Business Investment Company program;
    • Opened the doors to 23 new Women’s Business Centers. The network of Women’s Business Centers guide and counsel even more than the 120,000 aspiring small business owners they currently see each year; and
    • Created the Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contract Program so women-owned small businesses can tap into the $100 billion in contracts that go to small firms every year.

    Just last month, President Obama announced his federal budget proposal for FY 2015. The proposal provides a roadmap for accelerating economic growth, expanding entrepreneurial opportunity for all Americans, and ensuring fiscal responsibility. His budget invests in infrastructure, research and innovation, and advanced manufacturing, while reducing deficits through health, tax, and immigration reform. All of these priorities are good for women business owners.                                       

    As the President said in his State of the Union Address, “When women succeed, America succeeds.” Continuing to increase access and opportunities for our nation’s women-owned small businesses ensures women can reach their full potential so that when we mark Women’s History Month in another forty years, we will be able to see the gender gap as a vestige of history.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the U.S. Small Business Administration.   

    Marianne O’Brien Markowitz is the Acting Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration

  • Office of Personnel Management and Women’s History Month

    Each year, the President designates March as National Women’s History Month as one way that Americans in schools, workplaces and local communities can take the time to reflect on the accomplishments and legacies of women who have shaped our great country’s history.

    This year’s theme is “Celebrating Women of Character, Courage and Commitment.”

    Like many of you, when I see those words, I think of my mother, I think of my sister, and I think of my daughter, all strong and courageous women in my life.

    The theme of character, courage and commitment honors the extraordinary and often unrecognized determination of the tenacity of women. For generations, often facing social convention and legal constraints, women have persevered in their efforts to achieve their full potential.

    This month, the National Women’s History Project has named 12 honorees whose lives and achievements span centuries and cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Among the honorees are three women who are – or were – Federal employees. They are examples of the legions of women who go to work for the American people each and every day.

    Frances Oldham Kelsey was the Food and Drug Administration Pharmacologist who refused to approve thalidomide, a drug that was later proved to cause severe birth defects. Dr. Kelsey continued her work at the FDA until her retirement in 2005 at age 91.

    Ann Lewis has been a lifelong women’s rights organizer and women’s history advocate. She served as White House Communications Director under President Clinton.

    Lisa Taylor is a civil rights attorney for the Department of Justice where she has enforced the rights of HIV victims, autistic children, and educational opportunities for minority students. As an officer aboard the USS Tarawa, she developed the ship’s first program to address sexual harassment.

    I salute all of these women.

    Every day, women bring their talents, their insights, their experiences and their wisdom to every department and agency in the Federal government. We at OPM are working hard to make sure they have the tools and the training they need to develop to their full potential.

    All of us need to mentor and sponsor women, in order to ensure that they see a clear career path to leadership. We especially must prepare more women for the Senior Executive Service (SES).

    Currently, 34 percent of our executives are women. This is progress, but we must do better. Last summer, the Equal Pay Task Force held the Federal Women’s Leadership Summit. We had a tremendous response.  Twelve hundred women signed up for the leadership webcast. This month, I had a successful roundtable in Atlanta with some incredible women leaders. This was a prelude to the regional Working Families summits, including one in Denver, where I will be participating in April. All of this will culminate in the White House Summit on Working Families on June 23.

    I am also meeting with our  Federal Executive Boards where women from every level of government can learn more about other women’s experiences on their paths to the SES and how they too can succeed. Through these initial meetings, we will help create mentorships for Federal women at all stages of their careers.

    I hope we all take time out of our busy lives this month to remember the women who have been important in our lives. And still are.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Office of Personnel Management.   

    Katherine Archuleta is the Director for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

  • Protecting Public Health and the Environment

    In 1962, Rachel Carson’s renowned book “Silent Spring” warned us of the dangers of uncontrolled pesticide use threatening our natural resources and the many living thingslike peoplethat rely on those resources to survive. Against all odds, her passion and empathy, catalyzed and empowered the modern environmental movement as we know it today. 

    That movement remains firmly rooted in the principle that no matter who you are or where you come from, we all deserve clean air, clean water, and healthy land to call home. I'm proud to be part of an Agency whose mission to protect public health and the environment is fueled by that principle.

    From mercury poisoning to pesticide exposure—credible scientific information empowers women to protect themselves and their families. Over the last 15 years, EPA has sponsored information campaigns that have helped lower blood mercury levels in women of childbearing age by 34%. Just last year, EPA partnered with the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs to develop trainings to teach women farmworkers the risks of pesticide exposure when pregnant. 

    Warnings are important, but they’re not enough. The lives of nearly 7 million children, including 3 million girls, are affected by asthma every day. In the U.S., 10 million of the 16 million adults that suffer from asthma are women. In May 2012, thanks to President Obama’s leadership, EPA, HHS and HUD took action to implement an Asthma Disparities Action Plan. Through that plan, EPA is supporting training programs for 16,000 health care providers, preparing them to deliver badly needed, comprehensive asthma care.

    Although our focus is protecting public health here at home—we know that pollution is blind to borders.  Every year, more than 4 million people die prematurely from indoor smoke exposure, with women and girls disproportionately affected. Much of that smoke comes by cooking food using rudimentary stoves that burn coal, wood, and other solid fuels. That’s why EPA built on its Partnership for Clean Indoor Air to help launch the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. And we’re making progress. Alliance members delivered more than 8 million improved cookstoves last year, bringing a healthier, higher quality of life to more than 40 million people worldwide—mainly women and children.

    Back in the ‘60s, thanks in part to Carson’s foresight, President Kennedy took action that ultimately led to banning DDT. If she could see us now, Carson would not only be proud of our march toward a cleaner environment, but also of our march toward a more equitable society. Today, almost 40% of EPA scientists and engineers are women. But we know that there’s a lot more to do on both fronts. With a changing climate, our environmental challenges have evolved. We must too. 

    Rachel Carson overcame the odds and blazed a trail toward a safer, more equitable future. During Women’s History Month, we not only recognize women like Carson, we also celebrate our intrepid women scientists today who continue to fight for a healthier, more prosperous planet for all. 

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Environmental Protection Agency.   

    Gina McCarthy is the Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. 

  • Hook ‘Em Early: The Importance of STEM Education For Girls

    Some of my most formative experiences happened over three summers in Seattle beginning when I was 9. A friend’s mother organized a group of my peers to spend two weeks in Washington’s wilderness with graduate students from the University of Washington who taught us about the clouds we were seeing, the trees that were all around us, and the marine critters that inhabited the waters of Puget Sound. We had so much fun we barely noticed we were learning about meteorology, ecology and taxonomy.

    This early love of science propelled me to study engineering in college – knowledge that has helped me in every stage of my career, as a petroleum engineer, as a banker in natural resources, as CEO of REI, and now, as Secretary of the Interior. 

    I know how important it is to develop a passion for science and math in the next generation of women. At the Department of the Interior, for example, about a third of our employees will be eligible to retire within five years. It’s critically important that we develop the next generation of park rangers, wildlife biologists, scientists and policymakers.

    As a department that develops and relies on the best scientific knowledge available, Interior is uniquely devoted to supporting women and girls interested in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). In 2013, for example, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey reached thousands of women in elementary, high school, college and post-graduate programs with educational presentations and internships— including the oldest STEM internship in the country. These activities particularly benefit girls because so many are otherwise “counseled out” of STEM fields – something I experienced in high school myself.

    The successes of thousands of young women participating in service projects on lands managed by the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management are receiving increasing recognition. Lesser known successes include the Volunteers in Service to America teams sponsored by the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, which have placed 238 young professional women in capacity-building roles with non-profits in mining communities challenged by environmental degradation.  

    There’s no doubt that much work remains to be done to create more opportunities for women. That’s one reason why we are ramping up President Obama’s 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. Like FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, the 21 CSC will create more work opportunities for young people while helping rebuild and enhance our parks, refuges and other public lands. 

    Our 21st century version is bigger and broader than the Depression-era Corps because it includes women and the private sector as we strive to bridge the growing disconnect between young people and the outdoors in the digital age.

    All of these programs are aimed at supporting the President’s goals for improving the lives of  American women and girls, for promoting STEM education, and for preparing tomorrow’s leaders to preserve our natural resources for future generations.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Department of the Interior.   

    Sally Jewell is Secretary of the Department of the Interior.

  • Department of State and Women’s History Month

    In the early days of World War II, years before I was born, my mother was living in Paris, helping to treat the wounded in Montparnasse. The day before the Nazis entered the city, she escaped on a bicycle, made her way across France, finally reaching Portugal, where she boarded a ship that brought her home to the United States.

    Less than a year after she passed away, my brother found a letter she’d sent my father during those days when war was everywhere. It’s a letter that my brother, sisters, and I still cherish. Speaking of the war effort, she wrote simply: “There is something for everyone to do.”

    I’ve always thought it was a beautiful expression, and I try to hold onto it in my work as Secretary of State. It’s a reminder that while we’re not all going to solve every problem the world faces, there is something that each of us can do that can make the world a little bit stronger and make even just one life a little bit better.

    One of the lessons my mother taught me and my siblings  and which my sister Peggy, particularly, carried on in dedicating her life to global women’s issues  is that there is no greater return on investment than the work to protect and advance the security and fundamental dignity of women and girls around the world.

    Placing women at the center of our foreign policy isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s also a strategic necessity. Societies where women are safe and empowered to realize their full potential are more stable, prosperous and secure. 

    The State Department is doing its part. Just look at the progress we’ve made this past year.

    Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence

    We’ve taken concrete steps to protect women and girls and address gender-based violence at the onset of humanitarian emergencies.

    That’s the goal of our Safe from the Start Initiative. And we’re building on our efforts by leading the Call to Action on Protecting Women and Girls in Emergencies. 

    We’ve also launched the Gender-Based Violence Emergency Response and Prevention Initiative. This public-private partnership between the Department of State, Vital Voices, and the Avon Foundation provides emergency assistance to survivors of extreme acts of GBV. 

    I’m especially proud of our $10 million commitment to support the goals of the United Kingdom’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. Foreign Secretary Hague and I came together last month to bring greater attention and focus to this issue. And the United States will continue to make protecting and empowering vulnerable populations a top priority on United Nations bodies such as  the Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission on Population and Development, and the Human Rights Council.

    Women, Peace, and Security

    We also know that peace is more durable and societies are more stable when women’s voices are heard at the negotiating tables and in peace building.

    The Obama Administration has worked hard to ensure that women are fully represented in peace and security efforts in conflict and post-conflict areas, from Afghanistan to Yemen to Burma. 

    And in Syria, we’re working with international civil society groups that provide ideas and training on negotiations, mediation and coalition-building. Syrian women can be strong voices for peace and reconstruction, and they need our support.

    Advancing Women’s Political and Economic Empowerment

    That’s as true when it comes to ending conflicts as it is jumpstarting economies.

    I say it all the time: no team can win with half its players on the bench. Believe me, as the proud father of two daughters and as the husband to an extraordinarily accomplished philanthropist and activist, I know the value of playing on that kind of team.

    I’m proud of the State Department’s efforts to integrate gender issues in our work across all regions and subject areas. That’s why I launched the Full Participation Fund to support our bureaus and embassies as they advance gender equality through diplomacy and development. 

    And that’s why we launched the Equal Futures Partnership. The United States is committed to tearing down barriers to women’s political and economic participation. I was proud to join with representatives from 23 other countries at the UN last fall to elevate this important initiative.

    President Obama and I firmly believe that as the opportunities for women in all of our countries grow so will the possibility of prosperity, stability and peace throughout the world. 

    Here at the State Department we are committed to working toward these goals with our partners throughout the Administration, across the private sector, and around the world.

    That’s what this is all about. We remember that there is something for everyone to do, that someone else’s life depends on it  and that we all benefit when those lives know a brighter future.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by the Department of State.   

    John Kerry is the Secretary of Department of State