“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.”
–President Obama’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 21, 2011
President Obama has made empowering the world’s women and girls a guiding principle of his Administration. At home and abroad, the President understands that the world can no longer afford to do without the full contributions of half of its population: women and girls. When social order breaks down, when natural and man-made disasters hit, when the world’s economy slows, it is women and girls who suffer most. At the same time, evidence shows that women’s empowerment is necessary to maintain international peace and security, to build stable, democratic societies, to grow vibrant market economies, and to address pressing health and education challenges.
That’s why the Obama Administration has taken unprecedented steps at home to empower women and girls to realize their full potential, and steps abroad to put women front and center in our diplomatic and development assistance initiatives.
Since the day he took office, President Obama has fought for American women and girls, achieving historic victories that give them the support they need to succeed, while ending the discrimination that holds them back. President Obama understands that supporting women translates into stronger families and a stronger economy. From creating the White House Council on Women and Girls, to appointing a strong team of women leaders to his Cabinet and White House staff, to nominating two women to the Supreme Court, the Obama Administration has ushered in a new era of gender equality. And in March of 2011, the Council on Women and Girls published “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” the first comprehensive Federal report on the status of American women in almost 50 years. Over the past two and a half years, additional examples of the Obama Administration’s accomplishments in support of women and girls have included:
-Ensuring Equal Pay for America’s Women: The first piece of legislation President Obama signed into law was Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restored basic protections against pay discrimination, including giving women who have been discriminated against in their salaries their day in court to make it right. And President Obama has convened an Equal Pay Task Force to ensure that existing equal pay laws are fully enforced. The President also continues to advocate for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act, commonsense legislation that gives women the tools they need to fight pay discrimination.
-Securing Affordable and Accessible Health Care for America’s Women: For the first time, the Institute of Medicine has set forth guidelines for women’s preventive health care, and, as part of the Affordable Care Act, new insurance plans must cover these services, including: mammograms, STD/HIV testing and counseling, domestic violence counseling, contraception, gestational diabetes, with no deductibles, copayments, or coinsurance. Additionally, starting in 2014 all health plans will be required to cover the cost of a pregnancy, and it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against anyone with a pre-existing condition.
-Creating Jobs and Economic Security for America’s Women: President Obama has taken a number of vital steps to ensure that women in America have true economic security. Just most recently he sent the American Jobs Act to Congress – a bill that would save 280,000 teacher jobs, modernize 35,000 public schools, extend unemployment insurance for more than 2.6 million women, support 900,000 women who own small businesses by cutting their payroll taxes in half, give companies incentives to hire the long-term unemployed including 2.8 million women, and create new job-training opportunities for women who want to break into traditionally male-dominated fields like construction.
-Preventing Violence Against Women: In July 2010, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act, bringing new tools and resources to tribal communities to address the high rates of violence committed against Native American women. In April 2011, Vice President Biden announced historic new guidelines for schools and universities about their responsibilities under federal civil rights law to respond to and prevent sexual assault.
-Integrating Women into U.S. Foreign Policy: The State Department’s first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review prioritized the empowerment of women as a key element of U.S. foreign policy, and its implementation will institutionalize the integration of U.S. support to women across the Department and USAID.
-Promoting Women as Central to U.S. Development Efforts: Through the creation of a new Agency-wide policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment, USAID is ensuring better development results through enhanced attention to gender globally; and through the Obama Administration’s Feed the Future and Global Health Initiatives and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, State, USAID, MCC and the Peace Corps are investing in women, families, communities, and nations.
-Advancing Women’s Economic Participation: As evidenced at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum’s September 2011 Women and the Economy Summit, the first-ever high-level ministerial on women and the economy held in the United States and Chaired by Secretary of State Clinton, the United States is building consensus among regional partners to maximize women’s contributions towards economic growth.
-Advancing Efforts on Women’s Political Participation: From the Declaration on Women’s Political Participation signed by Secretary Clinton and other women leaders at the UN this week, to its actions in support of women as critical actors in conflict prevention and peacemaking, the United States continues to support efforts to elevate women’s leadership, to build the capacity of women legislators, to expand access to technology and the technology industry, and to increase the role of women in peace processes and democratic transitions.
Building on this knowledge and these efforts, in his Address today, the President challenged the assembled heads of state to announce, with him and in a year’s time, new steps that their governments will take to break down barriers and ensure women participate fully and equally in their countries’ economic and political spheres. Over the coming year, the Obama Administration stands ready to work with its partners in the international community, civil society, and the private sector, as well as with the UN and other international organizations, to broaden and deepen efforts to increase equal economic and political opportunity for women around the world. The President expects that this effort will take different forms in different countries, but may include commitments aimed at:
-Investing in women’s and girls’ health and education;
-Eliminating barriers that hinder women’s access to property, inheritance, capital and markets, while supporting women farmers, business owners and entrepreneurs;
-Implementing policies to ensure women are paid equal wages for equal work;
-Working to ensure that both men and women can contribute fully in the workplace while attending to family needs;
-Examining and amending discriminatory laws and practices;
-Reflecting on and revisiting attitudinal biases;
-Taking steps to increase women’s participation in elections and governance bodies;
-Enhancing the international community’s ability to respond effectively to the needs of women and girls in disaster and conflict-affected countries;
-Implementing steps to increase women’s participation in decision-making affecting peace and international security;
-Preventing sexual and gender-based violence; and
-Supporting UN Women and other national and international actors focused on women’s rights, protection, and empowerment.
In keeping with the President’s challenge, over the coming year, the White House Council on Women and Girls and National Security Staff will coordinate the Federal Government’s ongoing efforts to support women’s political and economic empowerment at home and with partners abroad. President Obama looks forward to joining his fellow heads of state in jointly announcing progress made on these worthy efforts in the year to come.