On March 11, 2009 President Obama signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Women and Girls. From the White House website, the purpose of the Council is “to ensure that each of the agencies in which they’re charged takes into account the needs of women and girls in the policies they draft, the programs they create, the legislation they support” and “to ensure that in America, all things are still possible for all people.” It appears the Council was created to make sure policies are equal to women and their families.
The Council is chaired by Valerie Jarrett and Christina Tchen. Ms. Jarrett’s extensive experience includes Co-Chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, Senior Advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign, President of The Habitat Company, Deputy Corporation Counsel for Finance and Development in Chicago government, and she has practiced law. Christina Tchen’s experience includes Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, a partner in corporate litigation, and recipient of many awards. Each Cabinet, Cabinet-level Secretary, and White House Office has a senior level person to serve on the Council also.
So what has the Obama administration and White House Council on Women and Girls accomplished to improve the status of women and girls?
1. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 amended the statute of limitations for filing an equal pay lawsuit.
2. Obama lifted a ban on U.S. funding for international heath groups that perform abortions.
3. The U.S. Treasury Department held a Women in Fiance Symposium that addressed the gender imbalance of Wall Street.
Hannah Seligson for Forbes wrote an article titled Grading The White House On Women’s Issues. Ms. Seliigson interviews Terry O’Neil, president of the National Organization for Women who isn’t impressed by the Council’s efforts. O’Neil: “It was a promising start, but we have gotten bogged down in political realities.”
Change is predictably slow politically and it doesn’t surprise me of the discontent. However, I believe the council is a good step in the right direction. It should serve as a friendly and powerful reminder that the big white elephant in the room still exists.