Obama Creates White House Council on Woman and Girls

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Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to
President Obama and chair of the
new White House Counsel on
Women and Girls.

Saying that the fair treatment of women and girls by U.S. public policy is an indicator of the overall well-being of the country, President Obama today created a new White House Council on Women and Girls.   

The council's creation comes after more than 50 women's groups signed onto a letter in December urging President-elect Obama and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden to create a Cabinet-level bureau on women's issues. President Clinton created a White House Office for Women's Initiatives and Outreach in 1995, but it did not operate at Cabinet-level. President George W. Bush disbanded that office in 2001.

Obama said after he signed an executive order creating the council that he wants "to be clear that issues like equal pay, family leave, child care and others are not just women's issues, they are family issues and economic issues."

"Our progress in these areas is an important measure of whether we are truly fulfilling the promise of our democracy for all our people," Obama said.

The council "will provide a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls and [its creation will] ensure that all Cabinet and Cabinet-level agencies consider how their policies and programs impact women and families," according to a White House press release.      

The council will include 24 Cabinet-level appointees and federal agency secretaries. Obama's long-time friend and fellow Chicagoan Valerie Jarrett, assistant to the president and a senior advisor overseeing the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, will chair the new council. Tina Tchen, deputy assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Liaison under Jarrett, was named executive director.

Jarrett, the divorced single mother of a daughter, was herself an only child, who sometimes traveled to underdeveloped countries with her geneticist father, Dr. James Bowman, and her mother Barbara Bowman, an early childhood development expert. She settled in Chicago after earning a degree in psychology from Stanford and a law degree from University of Michigan.

In addition to her White House duties, Jarrett remains the CEO of The Habitat Co., a real estate development and management company in Chicago. She is also the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago Medical Center, vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago and a trustee of Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

Tchen, also a Chicago attorney, was a top fundraiser for the Obama presidential campaign. While a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, she represented large corporations was well as public agencies, including the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Public Aid and the Chicago Housing Authority.

According to the White House press release, the council will ask each federal agency initially to "analyze their current status" regarding issues that impact women. Areas of focus during the council's first year are to include:

* Ensuring that each of the agencies is working to improve directly 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 to build healthy families and improve women's health care.