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Celebrating Women’s Achievements at the White House

The President and First Lady celebrated International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month with a reception honoring the achievements of extraordinary women from around the world.

Monday, in honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, the President and First Lady welcomed women of all ages to the White House. Women in the Obama Administration, members of Congress, leaders of women’s organizations, and high school students all gathered to hear remarks by the President and First Lady. Kerry Washington emceed the event, and attendees enjoyed performances by Katharine McPhee and Mozhdah Jamalzadah. Madeleine Albright discussed how we can organize across borders of nation and background to achieve real breakthroughs for women.

In her remarks, the First Lady recognized the girls in the audience who had been nominated by their school or Girl Scout troop to attend the event, and urged them to meet the extraordinary women in the room. She also spoke about women who paved the way for those who would follow:

We honor women who refused to listen to those who would say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue your dreams.  And we honor women who may not have had many opportunities in their own lives, and we all know women like that:  Women who poured everything they had into making sure that their daughters and their granddaughters could pursue their dreams; women who, as the poet Alice Walker once wrote, “knew what we must know without knowing it themselves.”

The President noted the challenges we face as we move forward to achieve gender equality and highlighted the amazing women working in posts across the Administration:

But even as we reflect on the hope of our history, we must also face squarely the reality of the present -– a reality marked by unfairness, marked by hardship for too many women in America.  The statistics of inequality are all too familiar to us -- how women just earn 77 cents for every dollar men make; how one in four women is the victim of domestic violence at some point in her life; how women are more than half the population, but make up only 17 percent of the seats in Congress, and less than 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

These, and any number of other facts and figures, reflect the fundamental truth that in 2010, full gender equality has not yet been achieved; that the task of perfecting America goes on; and that all of us, men and women, have a part to play in bending the arc in America’s story upward in the 21st century.

I’m proud of the extraordinary women -- and the extraordinary Americans -- I’ve appointed to help take up this task.  In addition to our outstanding Secretary of State, we’ve got Hilda Solis serving where the first female Cabinet Secretary, Frances Perkins, once served, at the Labor Department.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Kathleen Sebelius leading our Health and Human Services Department; Janet Napolitano running the Department of Homeland Security.  Susan Rice is our ambassador to the United Nations.  The chair of my Council of Economic Advisors is Christy Romer.  We got Lisa Jackson, who’s doing great work at the EPA.

We have just extraordinary talent all across this administration.  And from health insurance reform, to climate and energy, to matters of domestic policy, I’m seeking the counsel of brilliant women.  And that list doesn’t include, by the way, the Justice I appointed to the Supreme Court –- Ms. Sonia Sotomayor.  (Applause.)

So, yes, I’m very proud to have appointed so many brilliant women to so many essential posts in our government.  But I’m even prouder of what each of them is doing –- and what all of us are doing –- to make life better in America and around the world, because lifting up the prospects of our daughters will require all of us doing our part.  And that’s why we’ve established a new White House Council on Women and Girls, chaired by my friend and senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, that will help make sure that every part of our government is working to address the challenges faced by women and girls.

Watch the video of the event, read the President’s and First Lady’s full remarks, and learn more about the Council on Women and Girls.

Maggie Chen is Special Assistant to the Council on Women and Girls