Council on Women and Girls Blog

  • 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.

  • Gender Equality: Getting There Starts Here

    Winning the fight against global poverty means fighting for women to win in the global economy. As we mark our 10th anniversary, the Millennium Challenge Corporation remains committed to designing, implementing and evaluating the impact of our worldwide development investments to ensure that both men and women contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity. Among our achievements, we are proud of getting our partner countries to change their laws, practices, policies, and institutions to advance gender equality.

    While the work of reform is far from glamorous, it is fundamental for success and sustainability. We work with our partner countries to ensure that policies make sense and institutions perform well so men and women are included in the economic vitality of their communities.

    Because of MCC’s focus on gender inequality, a married woman in Lesotho can now own a business and obtain a loan without her husband’s consent. Women in Mongolia are securing titles to land, using them for collateral. Women in Tanzania are benefiting from MCC-funded training that provides income-generating skills. Women in Cabo Verde will have access to affordable water and sanitation because a social and gender unit established within the new national water and sanitation agency will be looking out for their interests. And research funded through MCC’s investment in Indonesia will empower women politically and economically, supporting President Obama’s Equal Futures Partnership.

    In these partner countries and others, progress is possible because MCC turns policy into action. We translate the promise of gender equality into reality through required operational steps, even waiting to disburse funds until our gender requirements are met.

    For example, when MCC selects countries to partner with, we consider gender rights. Among the 20 objective third-party indicators we use to evaluate countries is the gender in the economy indicator, which assesses a government’s commitment to gender equality in economic rights.

    Once a country is selected for MCC assistance and begins to develop a proposal for funding, we conduct an Initial Social and Gender Assessment. This examines how cultural beliefs and preferences, social norms and practices, formal and informal institutions, and legal and policy frameworks affect the ability of particular social groups—including women—to participate in and benefit from growth-focused investments.

    We hold our partners accountable for gender equality at a level not often seen. As we move from developing projects to implementing them and assessing their performance and impact, MCC requires that each investment include a Social and Gender Integration Plan. Outlining objectives, activities and targets toward social inclusion and gender equality, this plan must be part of all projects.

    With such rigorous analysis and planning behind our investments, MCC creates economic opportunities for both women and men. As the U.S. government works to empower women and girls around the world, I am proud that MCC is helping to lead the way. By making sure the right policies, tools and institutions are in place early on, MCC deepens gender equality and brings our partners closer to sustainable development for the long run.

    Click here for fuller list of accomplishments by Millenium Challenge Corporation.

    Daniel W. Yohannes is the Chief Executive Officer of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

  • Peace Corps Volunteers Work to Increase Opportunities for Women Around the World

    During Women’s History Month and throughout the year, thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers are working in communities around the world to increase opportunities for women and girls.

    Peace Corps Volunteers know that women and girls in developing countries play a critical role in the well-being of their families and communities.  That’s why a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines worked with women in her community on a small business venture to sell colorful handbags crocheted from discarded plastic bags, and why Volunteers in Moldova are working with a local domestic violence shelter to improve the shelter’s direct services and provide training on domestic violence interventions and prevention strategies.

    Peace Corps is unique in that Volunteers work at the grassroots level to identify gender barriers in individual communities. In Kenya, Volunteers have been working to end the practice of trading sex for fish, which has perpetuated the spread of HIV/AIDS among communities along Lake Victoria and forces women to become financially dependent on men. Since 2011, three Volunteers have helped local women find financial independence by working with Kenyan businesses and U.S. federal government partners to acquire boats for women involved in the fish trade and support the development of their own fishing business.

    One of the agency’s most successful and widespread gender-based initiatives is Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Camp GLOW was first established in 1995 by a group of Peace Corps Volunteers in Romania to promote gender equality and empower young women by creating a safe and supportive environment for cultural exchange, individuality, creativity, leadership development and fun. Since that time, Volunteers in 60 countries have established GLOW camps to promote the empowerment of women. In recent years, Volunteers have started to incorporate men and boys in GLOW camps to bring attention to the role that males play in gender equality. For example, Volunteers in Senegal invite fathers to attend Camp GLOW with their daughters so the males can see their daughters as individuals with dreams, goals and ambitions.

    We have worked hard to integrate gender equity programming across sectors in the countries where Peace Corps Volunteers live and work. More than a thousand Volunteers in our education sector received training that gives them the skills to work with in-country counterpart teachers to introduce more gender equitable practices into the classroom routine and create safe spaces for all children to learn.  In addition, over one hundred host country national staff in Africa and Asia received training on gender equitable teaching practices and addressing gender based violence at the community level.  In addition, every Peace Corps trainee at every post worldwide receives one hour of gender training as part of pre-service training.

    Peace Corps Volunteers are making a difference in the lives of women and girls while supporting gender equality in communities around the world.

    From our Peace Corps family to yours, happy Women’s History Month!

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by Peace Corps.

    Carrie Hessler-Radelet is the Acting Director of Peace Corps.


    One of the world’s most celebrated pilots, Amelia Earhart, once explained that the reason she chose to explore the skies was to produce practical results “for the women who may want to fly tomorrow’s planes.” Of course, during Earhart’s lifetime, it was almost as rare to find a woman at the helm of an American business as it was to find a woman in the cockpit of an airplane. But thanks to the hard work and enterprising spirit of generations of female pioneers, today women aren’t merely flying planes—they’re building, buying, and selling them, too.

    As the son of a proud American businesswoman, I’ve had a front row seat to that progress. My mother, Lillian Vernon, was a German immigrant who started her retail business from our kitchen table; growing up, I learned firsthand what it was like for female business owners to struggle and, ultimately, succeed. That experience is something I keep in mind every time I meet with women entrepreneurs here in America and around the world, and discuss ways to empower them in the global market and help their businesses grow.

    At the Export-Import Bank, we’re supporting American businesswomen as they continue to conquer new frontiers. Last year, we helped a record number of women-owned businesses reach new customers around the world and create new jobs here at home. Since 2010, our authorizations for women-owned businesses have jumped 33% to reach historic highs. And 2013 saw the highest percentage in our 80-year history of authorizations going towards businesses primarily owned by women.

    One of those businesses belongs to Jenny Fulton, the co-founder of Miss Jenny’s Pickles in Kernersville, NC. Like so many small business owners, Jenny knew she had a great product—but credit obstacles kept her business from reaching its global potential. After teaming up with the Export-Import Bank, however, Jenny gained the financial security she needed to ship her pickles to customers around the world. Today, pickle lovers from Canada to China are enjoying her product—and 10 more employees are drawing a paycheck in North Carolina.

    Jenny’s story is what the Export-Import Bank is all about—and Jenny isn’t alone.  We’re supporting hundreds of women-owned businesses each year as they seek to reach new customers. Because of the partnerships we’ve forged, Susan Axelrod has taken her desserts from Long Island to Saudi Arabia. Lisa Howlett’s leather company has gone from serving customers in western Kentucky to serving customers in Hong Kong. Nancy Mercolino now sends her aluminum and wood ceilings from California to Qatar. And the international success enjoyed by all of these women has translated into new jobs for American workers.

    We know that women will be one of the most important engines of economic growth here in the U.S. and across the globe in the years to come. In fact, they already are. If America’s women-owned businesses were to form their own country today, that country would have the world’s fifth-largest GDP. And by 2018, more than half of American small business jobs being created will be from women-owned firms.

    As we celebrate Women’s History Month and look back on the remarkable accomplishments of our female innovators, entrepreneurs, advocates, and pioneers, we also celebrate the bright future ahead. And here at the Export-Import Bank, we’ll continue to break down financing barriers and support women as they expand their customer bases, create American jobs, and propel their businesses to new heights.

    Click here for a fuller list of accomplishments by Export-Import Bank.

    Fred Hochberg is the Chairman and President of Export-Import Bank. 

  • Advancing Women's Potential Around the World

    Ed. note: On March 11, 2009, President Obama established the inter-agency White House Council on Women and Girls to ensure the programs and policies of the federal government are being crafted and implemented with the wellbeing of our women and girls at the forefront of our thinking and priorities. This post is part of a month-long series highlighting government-wide progress toward that goal. Read more posts here.

    Last spring, I visited Burma for the first time and met Dr. Aye Aye Mu. She is dedicating her life to serving vulnerable women and children by working closely with individual doctors to improve the equality and accessibility of their life-saving care.

    In a country where 35 percent of all children suffer from stunting, Dr. Aye Aye’s work has saved countless lives. Last year alone, she conducted over 5,000 reproductive health consultations and treated more than 250 cases of tuberculosis. An innovative and dedicated physician, Dr. Aye Aye Mu embodies our Agency’s commitment to ensuring that everyone everywhere enjoys the opportunity to live to her full potential.

    From Burma to Afghanistan to Senegal, I have seen the profound impact that our investments in women and girls can have—from empowering women during political transitions to helping end the outrage of child death. If we are going to truly achieve the goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, we cannot leave behind half of the global population. We have to invest in women and girls as champions of development who can lift their families out of extreme poverty.

    Across our projects in more than 80 countries, we are doing just that—by making evidence-based investments in gender equality and female empowerment.