Celebrating the Past and Making Progress in the Future

While we know that lasting change takes time, perseverance, and a commitment to the truth that we can make this world a better place, we also know that there are defining moments in every major movement, where we feel the ground shift, and we know that change is in fact coming.

Tomorrow, marks the 165th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, where Elizabeth Cady Stanton first presented the “Declaration of Sentiments,” and dared to propose that women had the right to vote, or, as she put it “to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.” We know that a great deal has changed – and yes improved – for women in America, but we know that there is much more work to be done.

Since taking office in 2009, President Obama has made empowering women and girls a top priority, starting with the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, which I have the honor to Chair. Our job is to ensure that in every agency, department, and office in our federal government – with the policies they draft, the programs they create, and the legislation they support – takes into account the needs, and aspirations of women and girls.

I’m delighted that today, Democratic Leader Pelosi and many of her colleagues are continuing to fight for the women of this country, rolling out their comprehensive plan “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” #WomenSucceed. These women are fighting to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work,  access to fair policies for paid leave, and improved access to safe, affordable, high quality child care.  As the President often says, “you can tell how well a society is doing based on the success of its women and girls.” He also reminds us that “women’s issues” are not just women’s issues, they are family, and economic issues. We know that when women are able to earn a living wage, and fully participate in our country’s workforce in all sectors, that America will prosper.”

The economic security of America’s families depends in large part on policies that guarantee women equal pay for equal work, ensuring workers are not treated unfairly because of their family responsibilities, and creating workplaces that help families meet their work and home obligations. Too often, staying home to care for a sick child, taking an elderly parent to a doctor’s appointment, or asking for a flexible work schedule can mean risking one’s job. No person should have to choose between a job and their family – especially not during times of economic hardship. 

The President has helped to secure numerous wins for women, and particularly for their economic security, including signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help ensure women receive the pay they deserve; signing the Affordable Care Act into law which includes historic wins for women in terms of coverage, access, and affordability; and securing historic expansions in refundable tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit for low-income families.

He has also elevated the issue of workplace flexibility, and the importance of helping families better balance their caregiving and work responsibilities to a national conversation, through initiatives such as his budget proposal to help states with the start-up costs of starting their own paid leave programs. And, in this year’s State of the Union address, President Obama called for expanded access to quality early childhood education for all Americans.

Let us take a moment to appreciate all the great women, past and present, and recommit ourselves to standing up, and speaking out for the rights of women and girls both at home and abroad.

Valerie B. Jarrett is a Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama. She oversees the Offices of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs and chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Related Topics: Civil Rights, Women
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