Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • Ensuring Economic Equality and Opportunity for Women and America’s Working Families

    President Barack Obama holds a women's roundtable discussion prior to remarks on the economy at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island, Oct. 31, 2014. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez attends at right.

    President Barack Obama holds a women's roundtable discussion prior to remarks on the economy at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island, Oct. 31, 2014. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez attends at right. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Last week, in Providence, President Obama delivered remarks on the importance of empowering women and girls in our economy. “When women succeed, America succeeds, and we need leaders who understand that,” he told the audience at Rhode Island College (RIC).

    But before delivering those remarks, I had the pleasure of joining the President and Labor Secretary Tom Perez, for a roundtable with the President of Rhode Island College, local woman business owners, working moms, and an RIC student to discuss what we need to do to ensure that 21st century workplaces meet the needs of our 21st century workforce -- which is increasingly being led by women.

  • The Power of Pink: Raising Awareness for Breast Cancer

    The North Portico exterior of the White House is illuminated pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Oct. 15, 2014

    The North Portico exterior of the White House is illuminated pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Oct. 15, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

    The painful reality is that whether it’s our mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters or friends, breast cancer will touch the vast majority of our lives in some way, and it is up to each of us to make sure that we, and our loved ones, remain vigilant about scheduling regular breast exams. Early detection can help save lives, which is why President Obama ensured that the Affordable Care Act provides preventive care for women without a co-pays, and why the White House is making a point again this Breast Cancer Awareness Month to elevate this issue. 

    Today, Dr. Jill Biden hosted a conference call with women from around the country on how the Affordable Care Act is helping to combat breast cancer. And tonight, in keeping with an annual tradition to honor Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the North Portico of the White House, as well as the Vice President’s residence at the Naval Observatory, are lit pink to honor those battling the disease, those we’ve lost, their families, and the survivors who are often the first to remind us that survival is not only possible, but highly probable for most women when the disease is detected early and addressed with proper care. Every woman is different, so it’s important to speak with your health care provider about the breast cancer screening schedule and tools that are most appropriate.

  • Improving the Fight Against Intersecting Epidemics: An Update on Federal Efforts to Address HIV/AIDS and Intimate Partner Violence Among Women and Girls

    October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and an important time to draw attention to the alarming prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) among women and girls. This is particularly true for women living with HIV, over half of whom have experienced IPV in their lifetime. An HIV diagnosis can trigger or exacerbate violence, while trauma and abuse can negatively impact management of this illness. Thus, for women and girls affected by the intersecting epidemics of HIV/AIDS and IPV, the consequences for their health and well-being can be devastating.

    As physicians who care for women, we see this intersection among our patients all too often; and, both data and experience have shown that women and girls of color are often disproportionately affected. Addressing the violence in our patients’ lives is therefore a critical part of supporting them to achieve optimal health outcomes, including improving their ability to adhere to treatment, achieve viral suppression, and live longer and fuller lives. 

    In an effort to respond to these complex problems, last year the Interagency Federal Working Group established in 2012 under President Obama’s memorandum released a report titled Addressing the Intersection of HIV/AIDS, Violence against Women and Girls, and Gender–Related Health Disparities. The report outlined five major recommendations and emphasized the need for cross-agency collaboration to better address how violence against women and girls influences HIV acquisition and negatively affects the health of women living with HIV.

    Today, we are proud to announce two major accomplishments stemming from this report. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program have provided an outstanding example of Federal interagency collaboration. This joint effort will specifically allocate funding and resources to support transitional housing for women living with HIV, and who are experiencing violence in their lives. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is also releasing a Trauma-Informed Approaches concept paper that identifies a new framework to address trauma experiences and victimization. This framework aims to help individuals, like women living with HIV, to modify negative behaviors resulting from trauma and ultimately improve health outcomes.

  • Placing Women and Girls at the Heart of the Global Development Agenda

    In an address today to the UN’s Global Education First Initiative – for which the United States is a proud champion country, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to one of the Obama Administration’s major international priorities, and the focus of her international work: promoting quality education for girls around the world.   Her remarks helped to anchor an important week at the United Nations which, in addition to Wednesday’s remarks by President Obama to the UN General Assembly, featured a number of events focused on the support and empowerment of women and girls around the world. 

    Secretary of State John Kerry and I kicked off the week by hosting the 5th high-level meeting of the Equal Futures Partnership on Monday.  Secretary Kerry underscored America’s continued commitment to the Partnership, and its goals for promoting the full civic, political, and economic inclusion and empowerment of women around the world.  There was a fantastic panel featuring the Foreign Ministers of Croatia, Australia, Japan, and Finland, and the Minister for Social Development and Inclusion of Peru, on strategies for increasing women’s representation in leadership positions in the public and private sectors.  We received updates from the partner countries on their accomplishments and progress toward fulfilling their Equal Futures commitments.  On behalf of the United States, I provided an update on our domestic efforts to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, highlighting steps like the White House’s first ever Working Families Summit, and our It’s On Us campaign to end sexual assault on college campuses.  And we had the great pleasure of welcoming the three newest countries to the Equal Futures Partnership— Chile, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, bringing the total number of participating nations to 27!   

    Also on Monday, Secretary Kerry convened a group of senior representatives from governments and international organizations at a high-level event for the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies, an initiative launched by the United Kingdom in 2013, and now led by the United States.  At Monday’s event, Secretary Kerry announced $12 million in additional funding for Safe from the Start, a U.S. initiative that helps nations prevent and respond to gender-based violence from the onset of humanitarian emergencies.  This new funding more than doubles the initial $10 million that was allocated for this initiative when it was launched a year ago. 

    On Tuesday, the Administrator for USAID, Dr. Rajiv Shah, co-chaired a meeting to engage private sector, international, and inter-agency experts on the future of efforts to empower Afghan women.  This event recognized the vital importance of public and private sector partnership and investment to promote opportunities for Afghan women in government, education, and the economy.  Efforts like USAID’s largest-ever women-focused program, Promote, which aims to empower women and girls in Afghanistan in order to strengthen the political and economic future of Afghan women, families, communities, and the entire country.  The U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Catherine Russell, joined the Afghanistan event to underscore the United States’ commitment to promoting women’s participation in building peace and preventing conflict around the world.   Throughout the week, she also spoke on the importance of investing in the rights and needs of adolescent girls. 

    And on Wednesday, the First Lady addressed the 3rd annual UN Global Education First Initiative on the importance of providing quality education for adolescent girls around the world, while keeping them safe and fully supported.  It’s an issue that remains very personal to the First Lady, which she made clear in her address. 

    “I know that I am standing here today,” she said, “because of the people in my life, particularly the men – men like my father, grandfathers and uncles – who valued me, and invested in me from the day I was born…pushing me to succeed in school…insisting that I have the same opportunities as my brother…urging me to find a husband who would treat me as an equal.” 

    The First Lady issued a call to action to leaders around the world, underscoring the need for the global community to come together to ensure girls have opportunities to complete their secondary education, and to tackle harmful cultural norms that the world imposes on women: 

    “Keeping girls safe on their way to school, teaching them relevant skills once they get there, and ensuring they graduate from secondary school - all of that needs to be on our agenda.  Addressing gender-based violence in all its forms – from domestic violence, to genital cutting, to early and forced marriage – that needs to be on our agenda too.  Because girls around the world deserve so much better – they are so eager to learn…and so many of them are sacrificing so much for the chance to get an education.” 

    Since taking office, President Obama has been dedicated to ensuring that girls grow up in a country, and a world, where they can feel safe, supported, and encouraged to reach their full potential.  As we heard this week from President Obama, the First Lady, and Secretary Kerry, the U.S. will continue to look for ways to lead by example, and to partner with countries who are investing in, protecting, and empowering women in their countries and around the world. 

    It’s safe to say, countries that are squarely focused on unlocking the full potential of women and girls, are positioning themselves to compete and succeed in the global economy for years to come.  As President Obama put it in his remarks today to the UN General Assembly:

    “When young people have the tools to succeed -- good schools, education in math and science, an economy that nurtures creativity and entrepreneurship -- then societies will flourish…Where women are full participants in a country’s politics or economy,  societies are more likely to succeed.  And that’s why we support the participation of women in parliaments and peace processes, schools and the economy.”   

    The United States is pushing to ensure that quality education for every child and the empowerment of women and girls are dedicated goals on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.  This is an unprecedented opportunity for the global community to come together around a new set of global development priorities, and to recognize that ensuring women and girls can participate on an equal footing with men and boys in their societies, communities, and families, would be transformative.

    When we do this work together, and capitalize on the full potential of women and girls to serve as leaders, elected officials, workers, parents, scholars and employers, we will watch the future and the world become more stable, more secure, and more promising for generations to come.

    More detailed information on U.S. efforts to empower women and girls in the United States and around the world can be found here.

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

  • In Support of Paid Leave: 25 Million Stories

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Labor blog. See the original post here.

    Today, more than 30 million of America’s working families have young children, and more than 25 million workers provide unpaid care for elderly relatives and loved ones every year. The needs that they tend to aren’t always the kind that can be addressed in a day here or there.

    While caregiving roles in the U.S. are changing, with more fathers and sons taking up primary caregiving responsibilities, the majority of family caregivers are women. In 2011, BLS data documented more than 5 million working women with children under three years old, translating into more than 5 million births or adoptions in the preceding three-year period – major life events that require absences from work.

  • Secretary Pritzker Says Increased Gender Diversity in Corporate Boardrooms Is Vital to Economic Success

    Secretary Pritzker delivers remarks at the Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom

    Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker delivers remarks at the Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom, hosted by the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Sept. 16, 2014.

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Commerce's blog. See the original post here.

    Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker addressed the urgent need to boost our companies’ economic competitiveness by bringing more women into corporate leadership at the Global Conference on Women in the Boardroom, hosted by the Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

    Pritzker noted that this pressing challenge of addressing the of a lack of women in corporate leadership is nothing new in American business. Female advancement in corporate America is stagnant. Women hold less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions. Women hold less than 17 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. And 10 percent of these companies have no women on their boards at all.