Encouraging Young Women to Become the Leaders and Advocates of Tomorrow

Yesterday, in honor of Women’s History Month, we welcomed a group of high school students to participate in a conversation with a mentoring panel at the White House.

Our panel included luminaries from a diverse range of fields: Tamika Catchings, professional basketball player, and founder of Catch the Stars Foundation, which works with at-risk youth. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America and a lifelong advocate for civil rights, workers, and women. Abbe Raven, President and CEO of A&E Networks. And Suni Williams, an astronaut who took recently took charge of the International Space Station.  Alex Wagner, News Anchor at MSNBC, moderated the panel.

Each woman talked about their trajectory, their role models and influences, and gave advice on success in their career. The young people in the audience asked questions such as, “What makes a strong woman?” and “What do you do during moments of self-doubt?”

It was a wonderful opportunity to have an honest dialogue between generations, and I left feeling so encouraged by the stories of the panelists and the voices of the audience.

This event was one in a series to honor Women’s History Month. It was followed by a celebration with President Obama and the First Lady in the Residence.

At the celebration, we heard from Amanda McMillan, who was a guest in the First Lady’s box at this year’s State of the Union. Amanda worked as a secretary for several years. She was doing many of the same duties as the men in her company, but at lower pay. She was told she would not be promoted, despite her years on the job. With the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission she sued—and won.

When asked why she has pursued the case, McMillan said, “I’m doing this because it was wrong, and [if I didn’t], I could never look my girls in the face and then tell them they live in America and could be anything they wanted to be.”

Every March, we celebrate courageous women like Amanda. We reflect on the contributions of women to our great country. We remember the sacrifices that so many women and men have made to ensure equal opportunity for all. And we look ahead to the next generation who will be the leaders and advocates of tomorrow.

Supporting women and girls is not just the right thing to do-- it's the smart thing to do for our families, our communities, and our businesses.

President Obama’s hope is for his daughters to grow up in a country where they can compete on an even playing field.  President Obama’s commitment to empowering women and girls is unwavering. And that’s not just because he lives with four women. It’s because empowering women is the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do.

That’s why he established the Council on Women and Girls, which I proudly chair. The Council, whose executive director is Tina Tchen, is tasked with making sure we take the needs of women and girl into account for every policy and program we create, and every piece of legislation we support.

From the first piece of legislation he signed in his first term, the  Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to the first piece of legislation President Obama signed in his second term— the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act . From Equal Futures, a multilateral initiative to break down barriers to women's political participation and economic opportunity, to our efforts to end human trafficking both home and abroad,  to prioritizing women and girls in his national security strategy, our President has demonstrated his commitment to equality. 

We're also continuing to make progress on several other fronts-- providing vital preventive health care services for women through the Affordable Care Act, furthering STEM education for girls, and advocating for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Yesterday’s events left me feeling so inspired to continue to work toward a better future —to create more opportunity so that everyone has a chance to live out their dreams. 

Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the Council on Women and Girls.

Related Topics: Equal Pay, Women
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