Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Protecting the Planet for Our Children

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the EPA Blog.

    Protecting the Planet for Our Children

    Administrator Gina McCarthy at Harvard Law School. July 30, 2013. (Photo Courtesy of the Environmental Protection Agency)

    Yesterday I had the honor and privilege of speaking at Harvard Law School about the future of EPA – our challenges, and our incredible opportunities. The highlight of my day, however, wasn’t the fact that I got to speak about issues that I care very deeply about. About how working to fight climate change can serve as an economic driver, helping create new jobs, new industries and new innovation. It wasn’t even that I got to stand in front of many of the environmental heroes who have paved the way before me. The highlight for me came when one my children – my daughter, Maggie – got behind the podium and introduced me before my first speech as the new EPA Administrator, in front of my younger daughter, Julie, who was all smiles in the front row.

    I think about all of my children – Maggie, Julie and Dan – when I go to work every morning. Because after all, the work we do is about the generations that will come after us, and the planet that we will leave behind. As I mentioned yesterday, I have a lot of hope for the next generation. And it’s my goal to make sure that we get out of the way and let them do what we know they will do – which is to ensure that we have a sustainable economy and a protected environment.

    We have challenges ahead, there’s no doubt about that. And it’s a pivotal moment for all of us to address those challenges. As parents – as Americans – it’s our job to face the challenges of a changing climate, of carbon pollution, of aging water infrastructure, of toxic chemicals head on. It is our responsibility to leave behind an environment that Maggie, Julie and Dan will be proud of. That’s what the goal is here.

    Gina McCarthy is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

  • Equal Pay for Equal Work

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, in the East Room of the White House, June 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Today, we marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Equal Pay Act with an event at the White House hosted by President Obama, the release of an important report from the National Equal Pay Task Force on the last fifty years since the Act was signed, a new web page with resources and information for women to make sure they’re paid equally, and a new video that gives an overview of our progress in equal pay.

    On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, a milestone piece of legislation that requires men and women receive equal pay for equal work. However, fifty years later, women are still only earning approximately 77 cents on the dollar compared to men, and even less for women of color, so we are far from ready to declare victory.

    To mark today’s anniversary, President Obama spoke at the event attended by leaders in the government, private sector and civil society who are all committed to  building a 21st century workplace.

  • Today’s Girls Are Tomorrow’s Leaders

    Last week, I attended the Equal Futures Partnership: From Promise to Progress event at the World Bank, to share progress made by the Obama Administration since the launch of the Equal Futures Partnership last September. The Equal Futures Partnership is a multilateral initiative that seeks to break down barriers to women’s economic empowerment and political participation so that every woman and girl can reach her full potential. It is a response to the challenge issued by President Obama in September 2011 at the UN General Assembly.  He said, “Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. That is what our commitment to human progress demands.” 

    For the United States, our Equal Futures commitments seek to promote four key objectives: opening doors to quality education and high-paying career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields; breaking the cycle of violence and ensuring economic security for survivors of violence; promoting civic education and public leadership for girls; and expanding support for women entrepreneurs. 

  • White House Announces Girl emPower as Equal Futures Challenge Notable App

    At the UN General Assembly in September 2011, President Obama issued the following challenge:

    “This week, the United States signed a new Declaration on Women’s Participation. Next year, we should each announce the steps we are taking to break down economic and political barriers that stand in the way of women and girls. That is what our commitment to human progress demands.”

    In response, the United States is working with countries around the world as part of a new international effort – the Equal Futures Partnership – to politically and economically empower women in each of our countries. As part of this effort, the White House launched the Equal Futures App Challenge to spur the creation of apps that inspire girls to become leaders in our democracy. Check out this video message about the challenge from President Obama:

    After a rigorous round of review from our panel of distinguished judges – including Jack Dorsey, Creator and Co-Founder of Twitter, and Academy Award-winning actor and advocate, Geena Davis – we’re thrilled to announce our notable app: Girl emPower, created by Laura Phelps and Andrew Cavanagh.

    This free iPad app includes the following features designed to inspire girls to serve as leaders in our government:

    • A map highlighting women members of Congress all across the country that allows users to immediately learn about their biographies, read their latest tweets about the issues they’re focusing on, review their websites, and more. 
    • Inspiring videos of distinguished women leaders talking about their diverse career paths.
    • A collection of fun facts about how our government works and a quiz game that allows users to test their knowledge of what they’ve learned.

    This app is ready to download – spread the word and help us inspire the civic leaders of tomorrow!

    Sarah Hurwitz is the Senior Advisor to the White House Council on Women and Girls

    Brian Forde is the Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Mobile and Data Innovation 

  • Students Invent the Future

    A rocket that launched raw eggs. A device that improves vision without glasses. And a mobile application for parents, created by a babysitter. Yesterday, I heard about and saw these amazing projects and more, at one of the liveliest events of the year—the third annual White House Science Fair. We welcomed 100 students from more than 40 states, representing 45 different STEM competitions and organizations.

    The White House Science Fair is a key commitment in the President’s Educate to Innovate campaign to inspire more girls and boys to excel in STEM subjects. As the President has noted, “If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House. Well, if you're a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

    I had the opportunity to visit several of the 30 exhibits, and met students like Jessika Baral, from Fremont, California, who created a device to strengthen eye muscles and improve peripheral vision in children and adults by as much as 87%. And Shaquiesha Davis, from Chicago, who created a mobile application, Baby B 4 Me, to help give parents a sense of comfort while their children are in the care of a babysitter or nanny. She drew upon her own babysitting experience to create this technology, and wants to one day write books to teach children how to code. And a trio of high school girls, Isabella Marie Leighton, Dalia Ivon Castillo, and Ruth Marie Moltz Long, from San Antonio, who made and launched a rocket full of eggs to a precise altitude and landed the rocket in a specific time window. 

    I also visited with Cassidy Wright, from Boston, who created a light-up banner made with LED lights to encourage teens to be themselves, as well as Chevanne Binns-Wallace from Baltimore, who built a underwater robot.

    These young women and men are an inspiration for our efforts to encourage STEM careers, especially for girls. Throughout the Administration, including the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, we are launching initiatives that include STEM mentoring and education.

    President Obama also visited several exhibits. He concluded by giving remarks to the group, and noted that yesterday was Earth Day, when the world comes together to reflect on how we can better preserve the world for future generations. Fittingly, several of the exhibits focused on energy technology. 

    President Obama also announced new commitments for STEM education and innovation, such as a new AmeriCorps track for STEM and new mentoring campaigns.

    In his remarks yesterday to the students, President Obama said, “We’re here to celebrate these young scientists and visionaries who dream, and create, and innovate; who ask the question, why not?  Why not try something better? Something that’s faster; something that helps more people. And that drive, that refusal to give up, that focus on the future is part of what makes America great.”

    I was incredibly inspired and excited by all the students I met yesterday. Combined with hard work and persistence, the students showed us that the future is as limitless as their imagination.

    Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. She is also the Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls and oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.

  • Women in Foreign Policy and Politics

    How to find a mentor. How to face a difficult challenge.  The definition of success. These were just a few of the topics covered during the two events we held yesterday in honor of Women’s History Month. Here at the White House, we’ve had a whirlwind Women’s History Month, which has been full of discussions, events, and even a film screening.

    In just the past two weeks, we’ve welcomed guests to a mentoring panel event and an East Room celebration with President Obama and the First Lady, highlighting President Obama’s commitment to supporting women and girls. Just yesterday, we hosted a group of students at a panel and screening of the “Makers: Women Who Make America” documentary. We closed out the month with two great events focused on career development.

    Women in Foreign Policy

    First, the East Room was transformed into a foreign policy classroom as we welcomed college and graduate students from across Washington DC for a discussion on Women in Foreign Policy. Our panel of seasoned practitioners shared stories and advice about breaking into foreign policy and national security careers. The panelists included:

    • Linda Etim, Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa for USAID. In this capacity, she oversees the Office of Sudan and South Sudan Programs and the Office of West African Affairs. Prior to joining USAID, Linda served as the White House Director for Sudan, South Sudan, and East African Affairs.
    • Caitlin Hayden, Spokesperson for the National Security Council here at the White House. Caitlin also has spent time at State, focusing on press, speechwriting and South and Central Asia policy. She also has worked as the spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.
    • Michele Flournoy, Former Undersecretary for Defense for Policy.  In that role, she was the principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense in the formulation of national security and defense policy, oversight of military plans and operations, and in National Security Council deliberations.
    • Maria Otero, Former Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, U.S. State Department. In her position, Maria oversaw U.S. foreign policy issues of democracy and human rights, trafficking, rule of law, crisis prevention and response, global criminal justice, countering violent extremism and much more.

    Nia-Malika Henderson, a national political reporter for The Washington Post, moderated the panel. The panelists offered some bits of advice for the young women in the audience:

    Learn languages. Don’t be afraid to take the unbeaten path. And travel to another country, in order to be the global citizen you need to be to represent the United States.

    See below for the full video.

    African American Women on the Hill Panel

    Later in the afternoon, we hosted an African American Women on the Hill panel.  African American women working in Capitol Hill or other political and policy organizations for a lively discussion with a panel of White House staffers, who shared their stories about how they became passionate about public service, how they ended up at the White House, and how they define success. The panelists, which included Danielle Crutchfield, Assistant to the President and Director of Scheduling and Advance, Racquel Russell, Deputy Assistant to the President on Economic Mobility and Urban Affairs, Tonya Williams, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Legislative Affairs for the Vice President, encouraged the audience to stay true to themselves, to reach out and help others as they professionally advance, and to learn from every opportunity.

    It is our hope that the events provided guidance, encouragement, and perspective for all who attended. If their energy and enthusiasm is any indication, our next generation of leaders is ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century and change the world. 

    Avra Siegel is the Deputy Executive Director of the White House  Council on Women and Girls