Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Ensuring a Level Playing Field for Women Consumers

    Women represent a significant force as consumers. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I would like to share some recent accomplishments by the FTC that have helped to empower women in the marketplace.

    Here at the Federal Trade Commission, a key part of our mission is to stop false, deceptive or unfair practices. Whether consumers are shopping for cars, appliances or computers and apps, they can count on the FTC to lead the fight for truth in advertising.

    Women are nearly fifty percent of the workforce and an increasing number of breadwinners in American families. They tend to make the majority of household spending decisions and yield great consumer power. And this likely holds true for car purchases as well. Some studies suggest that the majority of car buyers in the U.S. are women, and, according to the Boston Globe, over 500,000 women every month plan to buy a car soon.

    In January, the FTC announced “Operation Steer Clear,” ten law enforcement actions, including nine settlements in cases charging auto dealers with misrepresenting the facts about buying, leasing, and financing cars. The FTC filed a complaint, commencing litigation in the tenth case.

    Among the sales tactics challenged by the FTC were ads that touted low monthly payments, but failed to disclose they were only temporary teaser payments that later increased significantly; promises of low monthly payments that hid a sizeable balloon payment due at the end of the financing term; and “zero down” deals that required consumers to pay substantial upfront fees and other amounts. 

    Settlements in the cases will change how those dealers advertise from here on in, and send a message to dealers around the nation that deceptive advertising is not acceptable. That is good news for women navigating the car buying and financing process.

    Other recent actions have included combatting bogus business opportunities, a particularly pernicious form of fraud for women entrepreneurs.

    In one instance, the FTC went to court to shut down a telemarketing scheme that allegedly targeted Latino consumers with false promises that they could make money by reselling high-end, brand-name merchandise. 

    The agency’s investigation uncovered that would-be business owners paid hefty up-front fees, but received shoddy, off-brand products. When they tried to stand up for their rights, the defendants threatened them with arrest or lawsuits.

    And in “Operation Failed Resolution,” the FTC stopped national marketers who used deceptive advertising claims to peddle fad weight loss products. Some of the marketers involved will pay millions of dollars in refunds to consumers who bought their products.

    These are just a few examples of the many cases we bring to ensure a level playing field for consumers across the country.

    Women are a powerful force in the marketplace. The FTC will continue to work to protect America’s consumers, including women, from fraud and to hold companies to their advertised promises.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the Federal Trade Commission.

    Edith Ramirez is the Chairwoman for the Federal Trade Commission. 

  • Climbing Trees…and Ladders of Opportunity

    Every day, I come to work in a building named for Frances Perkins. Her biography is on my bookshelf and her portrait hangs directly above my desk. She is the Labor Department’s matriarch and lodestar. She wasn’t just the first woman to hold a seat in the President’s Cabinet.  She is one of American history’s most influential advocates for workers and their rights.

    Unfortunately, not all of Secretary Perkins’ contemporaries judged her on her merits. Throughout his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt received many letters of complaint about her. One man wrote in April, 1941: “Would it not be a much more desirable thing to have a man such as Wendell Wilkie holding the portfolio of Secretary of Labor, who from actual experience is familiar with the viewpoint of the laboring man?” (That’s the same Wendell Wilkie that the president had defeated in the election five months earlier).

    Others were more overt in their sexism. “With all kindness and respect to Miss Perkins, it is the opinion of many that a man should head this important department,” wrote another gentleman.

    But FDR’s confidence in Secretary Perkins never wavered. Nor did Secretary Perkins’ belief in herself and her work. “Being a woman has only bothered me in climbing trees,” she said. And she continued representing the interests of laboring men – and women – as effectively as anyone before or since. She did so for 12 years, making her the longest-serving Secretary of Labor in the Department’s history.

    At the Labor Department, we continue to draw inspiration from Frances Perkins. And not just because she fearlessly shattered a glass ceiling, but because the impact of her leadership is still felt in homes and workplaces nationwide. She was the architect of so many important labor protections – unemployment benefits, minimum wage, overtime, pensions and more – that Americans rely on.

    So much of our work today is about continuing her legacy and helping women climb ladders of opportunity:

    • Last September, we extended the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections to nearly two million direct care workers, the overwhelming majority of them women and about half women of color.
    • We’ve established a Women Veterans Initiative to increase awareness of DOL resources among female veteran jobseekers, and to better address the challenges they face.
    • We continue to vigorously enforce equal pay laws and promote the welfare of women in the workforce. Since 2010, DOL has closed more than 90 cases of pay discrimination and recovered approximately $3.3 million in back pay from more than 1400 federal contractors.

    These efforts all benefit working women, but their impact is in fact much greater. With women now comprising roughly half the workforce, we cannot separate women’s issues from the nation’s overall economic strength. As President Obama said in his State of the Union address: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Labor.

    Tom Perez is the Secretary of the Department of Labor. 

  • Expanding Opportunity for Women

    This Women’s History Month, we at the Department of Education celebrate the progress America has made toward reaching the goal of gender equity while recognizing that there is still a ways to go before women and girls have equal access to a quality, affordable education, from cradle to career.

    All of the Obama Administration’s initiatives to expand educational access and boost achievement benefit girls and women, starting with our earliest learners. Through the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, the administration has invested nearly $1 billion to bolster state early learning programs. And President Obama’s groundbreaking 2013 Preschool for All proposal would enable states to provide an additional one million four-year-olds with high-quality preschool.

    The benefits of high-quality early learning for young children are clear – and their mothers and families benefit too. Child care expenses for families with working mothers range from 20 percent to nearly 50 percent of a working mom’s salary. And that steep price tag leads too many mothers to put off pursuing their own educational and career goals.

    President Obama understands what it is like for families where parents struggle to care for young children, earn a living, and pursue their own education. He was raised by a single mother who struggled to balance her own education with her family responsibilities. President Obama wants every child to have the opportunity for a strong start in school, and every parent to have the opportunity to responsibly balance careers, home life, and finances.

    In elementary and secondary education, the Obama Administration has supported the state-led effort to set higher college and career-ready expectations for all students. We have invested billions of dollars to help struggling schools improve, to prepare and support great teachers and school leaders, to expand innovation, and to increase science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) opportunities for all students--including, especially, girls and women.

    My 12-year old daughter had the good fortune to get off to a terrific start in science at her neighborhood elementary school, which has a special science focus. She did hands-on experiments, like building a headlamp from scratch and even got to electrocute a pickle! I am determined to see that she and every other girl gets opportunities like these to explore and excel in STEM subjects.

    In higher education, the Obama Administration expanded the number of Pell Grant scholarships by about 50 percent during the President’s first term. We put an additional $40 billion into Pell Grants, without going back to taxpayers for a nickel. And of the roughly nine million students who have received Pell Grants since the President took office, 57 percent of them, or 5.1 million, are women.

    At the same time, the Obama administration has vigorously enforced civil rights laws. We have taken new steps to stop sex discrimination in educational settings, to ensure equitable access for women to STEM courses and career training, to reduce sexual assaults on campus, and to protect the rights of pregnant and parenting students.

    In April 2011, our department’s Office for Civil Rights released the first-ever guidance on how colleges must respond to sexual assault complaints to comply with Title IX civil rights law. Since then, more than 50 universities and colleges have revised policies to set the expectation for a community-wide campus culture of prevention, safety, and support for survivors.

    In addition, investigations by our Office for Civil Rights have prompted numerous universities to make far-reaching agreements with the Department to reform their sexual-assault policies.

    For example, the State University of New York system recently reached a comprehensive agreement with the department to improve campus climates and reopen investigations into past complaints of sexual harassment and violence. That landmark agreement covers all 219,000 students at 29 SUNY campuses.

    Today, far too many women still suffer from sexual violence. And far too many women still lack equal opportunities in STEM careers and corporate boardrooms.

    But we are making important progress. Because of Title IX, my sister had opportunities my mother never had, including the chance to play on her Division I college basketball team.

    I believe my daughter will have opportunities that my sister never had. And when my 12-year old daughter and 10-year old son have the same opportunity to learn and explore their passions throughout their lives, I’ll know that we, as a nation, have taken that last big step toward fulfilling the American commitment to equal opportunity.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Education.

    Arne Duncan is the Secretary of the Department of Education. 

  • Our Year in Review: Accomplishments in Women’s Health

    Women’s History Month reminds us to pay tribute to the generations of women who have contributed to the growth of our nation, in public and private life. As we celebrate Women’s History Month and recognize the extraordinary achievements women have made throughout history, I’d also like to reflect on the accomplishments the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has made over the last year to improve the lives of women and girls.

    • Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 26.9 million women now have expanded access to health coverage and important preventive care. This means women can receive screenings like mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, and their annual well-woman visits without a co-pay, coinsurance, or a deductible. We also launched the Health Insurance Marketplace, so for the 18.6 million women who are uninsured, there’s now an easier way for them to find insurance that fits their needs at a price they can afford. All private plans within the Marketplace must cover a set of essential health benefits — including many services important to women — like maternity and newborn care. In the individual market alone, 8.7 million Americans will gain maternity coverage because of the health care law. And perhaps most importantly, you can no longer be charged more for health insurance just because you’re a woman.
    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection rates in teen girls have been driven down 56 percent, thanks to vaccination. A new study shows that since the vaccine was introduced in 2006, the number of 14- to 19-year-old girls who have one of the types of HPV prevented by vaccine has dropped significantly. Why is this important? According to the CDC, HPV causes about 19,000 cancers in women each year; with cervical cancer being the most common.
    • The U.S. teen birth rate is at an all-time low. In 2012, we found that birth rates for teenagers 15–19 dropped to 29.4 per 1,000 — the lowest ever reported. Since 1991, the rate for teens 15–17 has fallen 63 percent, and the rate for teens 18–19 has fallen 45 percent. We also saw declines across all racial and ethnic groups.
    • We know more about intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and stalking victimization in the U.S. than ever before. For the first time, CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey collected data on the intersection of these types of violence and sexual orientation. The survey showed that those who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual reported intimate partner violence and sexual violence over their lifetimes at levels equal to or higher than heterosexuals.
    • More than 12 million medically underserved women received quality, culturally competent primary care in 2012, thanks to the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Health Center Program. Cultural competence ensures that a doctor or nurse is able to provide diverse patients with care that is respectful of their cultural and health beliefs, using appropriate languages and tools.

    As you can see, it’s been a busy but exciting year — and these are just our top five highlights in women’s and girls’ health! I look forward to continuing our momentum as champions for the wellbeing of all Americans. Learn more about how we’re expanding access to quality care by visiting

    Click here for fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Health and Human Services.

    Kathleen Sebelius is the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. 

  • Department of Commerce and Women’s History Month

    As President Obama declared in his State of the Union address, “When women succeed, America succeeds.” Here at the Department of Commerce, we are committed to strengthening the role of women in business and technology. Among the Department’s many initiatives aimed toward advancing this goal are the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) efforts to empower our country’s women to innovate and create good jobs.

    The USPTO provides the training and tools to encourage more women to get involved in, and contribute to, our innovation and knowledge-based economy.

    In fiscal year 2013 alone, USPTO worked with over 3,000 girls through targeted programming focused on intellectual property (IP) and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) opportunities, including workshops on 3D printing, invention concepts, engineering design, game development,  product packaging, and patent and trademark protection.

    One of USPTO’s many successful collaborations occurred this past November when they teamed up with representatives from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority to support the 2013 Girls Rock: Emerging Young Leaders Empowerment Conference, hosted at Woodson High School in Washington, DC. Over 300 girls spent the day learning about applied chemistry, coding, and robotics, and the USPTO workshop focused on encouraging girls to combine their STEM skills with IP knowledge and entrepreneurship skills.

    In an effort to build regional clusters to spur creativity and entrepreneurship and to encourage more women and minorities to innovate, USPTO has also focused greater attention on programs with school districts including Alexandria City, District of Columbia, Prince Georges County, Howard County, Detroit, MI, and Los Angeles, CA.

    USPTO’s outreach also includes their participation in many public-private partnerships, like supporting the Women Veterans Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship program and providing female veterans with the tools to become successful entrepreneurs.

    The USPTO is also actively engaged in patent reform initiatives that are designed to limit “patent trolling.” Lawsuits brought by patent trolls typically target small and medium sized enterprises.  With women owning over 7.8 million U.S. businesses worth over $1.2 trillion in generated receipts, these reforms efforts will have a positive impact on women in business and throughout the business community.

    In addition to its patent reform efforts, USPTO will launch the Girl Scout Intellectual Property Patch in mid-March, giving up to 90,000 Girl Scouts in Washington, DC, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia the opportunity to explore intellectual property creation and protection.

    USPTO is also collaborating with the University of Denver, the Colorado Small Business Development Center, the Colorado Bar Association, and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet to host the Third Annual USPTO Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium in Denver from March 20-21. The symposium will focus on female entrepreneurs and the significance of IP protection.

    These efforts are taken seriously throughout all levels of the USPTO and the Department of Commerce. USPTO Deputy Director Michelle Lee brings years of private sector expertise to her current position and has always encouraged more women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers. As former director of the USPTO’s Silicon Valley satellite office and co-founder of ChIPs (Chief IP Counsels), an organization dedicated to advancing the careers of women in patent-related fields, Michelle has been committed to closing the gender gap.

    However, there is always more to do.

    As a business leader and entrepreneur for 27 years, I support women who want to start a business. Innovation is a major pillar of the Commerce Department’s “Open for Business Agenda, ” and if we are successful in providing more paths for women – and all Americans – to innovate and create jobs, I am confident that our nation will become even more competitive in the years ahead.

    Click here for fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Commerce.

    Penny Pritzker is the Secretary for the Department of Commerce

  • Department of Justice and Women’s History Month

    Every March, as our nation pauses to observe Women’s History Month, Americans from all walks of life come together to reflect on the indelible contributions – and the many sacrifices – that women have made in advancing this nation, defining our history, and shaping our future. And we celebrate the courage, the strength, and the extraordinary resolve that animated pioneers like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ada Kepley – the first American woman to graduate from law school – and even my late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, who in 1963 became the first African-American woman to enroll at the University of Alabama.

    Their stories inspire us. Their examples challenge us to keep moving this country closer to its highest ideals. And their work – of advancing the cause of equality, opportunity, and justice – is now ours to carry forward.

    That’s why it’s a top priority for my colleagues and me – at every level of the Department of Justice – to fight against discrimination, to eliminate inequities, and to tear down the barriers to success that too many women and girls continue to face even today.

    Last March, I joined Vice President Joe Biden in announcing the first-ever Domestic Homicide Prevention Demonstration Initiative grant awards, which are enabling us to support innovative programs dedicated to predicting potentially lethal behavior, stopping the escalation of violence, and saving lives. The very next month, I unveiled an updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations – or, SAFE Protocol – to increase the quality of victim services and share best practices.

    Also last year, we secured the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act  which expanded the federal government’s ability to combat intimate partner violence, provided important new safeguards for LGBT individuals, and closed a jurisdiction gap that had long compromised the ability of American Indian and Alaska Native women to seek the justice they deserve. Our Civil Rights Division is fighting for equal employment opportunities for women – and to ensure safer and more inclusive schools and workplaces. The Department is leading by example in this regard, having become the first major federal agency to respond to President Obama’s call for a workplace policy to prevent domestic violence and address its effects on our workforce. And in 2013 alone, the Division obtained more than $875,000 in relief and damages for victims of workplace sexual discrimination.

    From the Office on Violence Against Women to the Office of Justice Programs; from the Office of Tribal Justice to each of our 93 U.S. Attorneys’ offices – all Americans can be proud of what the Justice Department and its allies have accomplished in recent years. And with the continued leadership of President Obama and the White House Council on Women and Girls, I’m confident that we can, and will, keep moving forward together. And we will never stop advancing the ideals, and honoring the extraordinary history, that we commemorate this month.

    Click here for fuller list of accomplishment by the Department of Justice.

    Eric H. Holder, Jr. is the Attorney General for the Department of Justice.