Council on Women Launched

Valerie JarrettValerie Jarrett will chair the committee.

NASW celebrated a milestone victory in its goal of achieving gender equity.

President Obama signed an executive order on March 11 to create the first-of-its-kind White House Council on Women and Girls. The conception of such a council was encouraged just a few months earlier by a coalition of women's groups. NASW signed the letter and members wrote to Obama encouraging this action.

NASW Executive Director Elizabeth J. Clark, NASW Pioneer Dr. Dorothy I. Height and Joan Levy Zlotnik, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of Social Work Research, attended the signing ceremony for the creation of the new council at the White House.

"We're pleased that President Obama has taken our concerns for gender equity seriously," Clark said.

The White House Council on Women and Girls will ensure that every government agency is addressing challenges facing women and girls, as well as considering how legislation and regulations affect women and girls.

The council is chaired by Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to the president and will include cabinet-level federal agencies as its members. Tina Tchen, deputy assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House, is the council's executive director. Clark participated in a conference call the day after the signing ceremony with Jarrett and Tchen to learn more about the council's operations and focus.

Obama told the audience at the signing ceremony that he wants to ensure "that our daughters and granddaughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements - and that they have . . . opportunities their mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers never dreamed of. That's the purpose of this council. Those are the priorities of my presidency. And I look forward to working with all of you to fulfill them in the months and years to come."

The letter sent to the president to encourage the creation of the council stressed the need to improve gender balance in the White House, Cabinet and executive branches. The letter noted that in the U.S., women compose just 17 percent of the members of Congress, ranking 71st among the world's parliaments in representation of women.

An NASW advocacy alert was sent to members, encouraging them to write to the president for his support. The alert generated 676 letters to Obama.

According to the latest edition of Social Work Speaks, inequitable pay for women is also a serious problem for families, because so many women are the sole supporters of their families. Equal pay for equal work will allow women to support their families, the document states. It also notes that women tend to earn less than men for the same jobs.

Joan Kuriansky, executive director of Wider Opportunities for Women, was among the women who signed the letter to the White House. She said the speed at which the president approved the coalition's suggestion to create a Council on Women and Girls impressed her. "I think the fact the council will work on such a high level speaks volumes," she said. "The council seems clear about how its visions will be implemented."

Another milestone victory for women's and family rights occurred in January when Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which reserves the U.S. Supreme Court decision that limited women and other workers' ability to sue for wage discrimination.

Kuriansky said these recent events are a positive sign that women will see transformative programs and policies to promote gender equity in the U.S.

"And because of this, many families will be able to prosper - to be self sufficient and return the investment back into the community," Kuriansky said.

Clare Giesen, executive director of the National Women's Political Caucus, said she was impressed by the detailed objectives outlined for the Council on Women and Girls.

"This is a first for any administration to work directly within each administrative agency to ensure that women's issues are taken into account," she said.

"As a former White House Liaison for the Clinton administration, I recognize what an excellent opportunity this council is for focusing on women and women's issues," Giesen said.

According to the White House, in its first year, the council will focus on the following areas:

  • Improving women's economic security by ensuring that each of the agencies is working to directly improve the economic status of women.
  • Working with each agency to ensure that the administration evaluates and develops policies that establish a balance between work and family.
  • Working hand-in-hand with the vice president, the Justice Department's Office of Violence Against Women and other government officials to find new ways to prevent violence against women, at home and abroad.
  • Helping build healthy families and improve women's health care.