President Obama's Record on Empowering Women and Girls

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Since the day President Obama took office, he has fought for policies that are important for women and will expand opportunity for all Americans. He's signed major legislation like the Affordable Care Act, the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and the Li‎lly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — the first legislation he signed into law. He's dramatically expanded fair pay and paid leave protections. And his administration has systematically encouraged cities and states to embrace policies like higher minimum wage and paid leave.

Underpinning these actions, the President has spoken out and driven a conversation‎ about treating women fairly in America and around the world. He has pushed for cultural change that gives women the respect they deserve in schools and in workplaces, and joined advocates in dramatically changing our country's approach to sexual assault on campuses and elsewhere. That conversation has spurred changes in cities and states, businesses big and small, schools from early education to higher education.

The White House Council on Women and Girls (CWG), which the President created in March of 2009, has played an active role in working on these issues. The CWG is comprised of representatives from each Federal agency, as well as each White House office, and coordinates efforts across Federal agencies and departments to ensure that the needs of women and girls are taken into account in all programs, policies, and legislation. Learn more about the CWG’s work here.

Here is a look at the progress that has been made under the Obama Administration on issues that affect so many women and girls across the country.

Expanding Economic Opportunity

President Barack Obama signs into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in the East Room of the White House. January 29, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Joyce Boghosian)

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Fighting for equal pay

  • Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which empowers women to recover wages lost to discrimination by making it easier to bring pay discrimination claims
  • Prohibited federal contractors from retaliating against employees who choose to discuss their compensation
  • Created the National Equal Pay Task Force to crack down on violations of equal pay laws
  • Worked with the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to announce a new proposal requiring businesses with 100 or more employees to submit summary pay data by gender, race, and ethnicity, helping focus public enforcement of existing laws
  • Repeatedly called on Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act

Promoting broader economic participation through modern workplace practices and educational opportunity

  • Led the way on paid sick and family leave, including signing an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to provide up to 7 paid sick days each year to employees working on federal contracts, and calling on Congress to pass legislation providing the same paid leave to most Americans. Since 2014, four states have passed paid sick and family leave laws, including Vermont, and recently, New York passed a paid family leave law and California expanded its paid family leave program. Since 2014, 24 cities and counties have taken action on paid sick leave and 21 cities and counties have taken action on paid family leave.
  • Called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act which would allow millions of working Americans to earn up to seven days per year of paid sick time
  • Required federal contractors to raise their minimum wage and to lift the tipped minimum wage (which disproportionately impacts women), and led a national push for an increased minimum wage, supporting minimum wage increases in 18 states and the District of Columbia as well as 29 cities and counties
  • Extended minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act to home health care workers
  • Expanded overtime protections to up to 4.2 million workers – more than half of whom are women
  • Prohibited federal contractors from discriminating in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Invested $2 billion to significantly expand partnerships between employers and community colleges to prepare students for in-demand jobs in fields like health care, information technology and energy
  • Worked to expand participation in STEM fields by encouraging mentoring to support women throughout their academic and professional experiences and supporting efforts to retain women in the STEM workforce

Stopping the cycle of poverty

  • Cut unemployment by more than half to 4.7 percent during a record streak of private sector job creation, and reduced child poverty further in the last two years than it has been reduced in any other two-year-period since 2001
  • Improved the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit that are helping 16 million working families’ make ends meet
  • Worked with the private sector to tackle the diaper gap and increase access to affordable diapers to help the nearly 1 in 3 American families who struggle to afford enough diapers for their babies
  • Worked to strengthen high-poverty communities through better federal partnership with local leaders in place like the 22 urban, rural, and tribal communities that have been designated as Promise Zones since 2014
  • Fought homelessness through the Opening Doors plan which, to date, has resulted in significant declines in veteran, chronic, and family homelessness
  • Worked with a coalition of women’s foundations—Prosperity Together—who have collectively committed $100 million to a 5-year funding initiative to improve economic prosperity for low-income women, particularly women and girls of color
  • Engaged open data and technology to empower women and girls and expand ladders to opportunity through The Opportunity Project, a platform for using Federal and local data and digital tools to help people navigate information on resources they need to thrive

Fighting against human trafficking

  • Through the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State, played an important role in combating human trafficking through the civil enforcement of federal labor laws, research and funding for grants overseas, and employment and training expertise

Increasing Opportunity for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk with students while visiting a classroom at the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) in Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 25, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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  • Provided training and counseling for women entrepreneurs through the Small Business Administration
  • Increased access to credit for women business owners through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Small Business Jobs Act, through which lending to women-owned businesses has reached historic levels
  • Expanded access to federal contracting for women business owners, opening up more opportunities for women-owned small businesses
  • Enhanced investing and innovation for women entrepreneurs through the Small Business Administration’s ChallengeHER National Initiative, the InnovateHER Business Challenge, and the USPTO Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium
  • Supported entrepreneurship for women around the globe through multiple programs including the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership and the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program
  • Led a movement for inclusive entrepreneurship through dozens of partnerships between the federal government and private sector

Improving Educational Opportunity

Students, from left, Gaby Dempsey, 12, Kate Murray, 13, and Mackenzie Grewell, 13, read in the Red Room of the White House after setting up their science fair exhibit, Feb. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Hebert)

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Expanding access to quality early childhood education

  • Expanded and improved Head Start by investing an additional $4 billion in the program, and implementing important reforms to raise the program’s standards, focus on school readiness results, and promote accountability
  • Expanded access to high-quality early learning for our youngest learners by launching new Early Head Start-Child Care Partnerships, which are providing early learning opportunities to more than 30,000 additional infants and toddlers in 275 communities across the country
  • Expanded access to high-quality preschool through the Preschool Development Grants competition, which has provided development and expansion grants to 18 states to support high-quality preschool programs for children from low- and moderate-income families
  • Proposed landmark investments to expand high-quality, affordable child care to every eligible working family with young children and to expand high-quality preschool to every 4-year-old
  • Expanded access to voluntary, evidence-based home visiting programs by serving more than 145,500 parents and children in 825 counties across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories

Fostering school success

  • Signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which fixes the No Child Left Behind Act by building on the progress we have made over the past seven years while maintaining critical protections for equal educational opportunity and civil rights of all students
  • Addressed the disproportionately high rates of suspension for girls of color by releasing a school discipline guidance package to assist states, districts, and schools in developing practices and strategies to enhance school climate, and to ensure those policies and practices comply with federal law

Increasing access to and support for those who want to enter STEM fields

  • Supported the increased participation of women and girls in STEM by including a STEM education priority in the $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition, which encouraged states to develop comprehensive strategies to improve achievement and provide rigorous curricula
  • Launched new commitments to help institutions better understand their obligations under Title IX and remove barriers to women’s participation within STEM fields

Expanding secondary and higher education opportunities

  • Oversaw the highest rate of students graduating college than ever before
  • Invested in college affordability for millions of low-income and middle class families across the country by raising the maximum Pell Grant award by $1,000 and awarding Pell Grants to 2 million additional students each year
  • Improved college affordability by establishing the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which provides a maximum credit of $2,500 per year, and will cut taxes by over $1,800 on average for nearly 10 million families
  • Made applying for financial aid easier and faster by revamping the online form of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and allowing students to use tax information from an earlier year
  • Through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, the President and First Lady announced over 700 commitments to expand opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college
  • Proposed making two years of community college free for responsible students, with states, communities, and community colleges across the country announcing new programs or introducing legislation since the President’s announcement of the America’s College Promise Act in January 2015
  • Capped loan repayments to 10 percent of income and expanded enrollment in income-based student loan to nearly 5 million borrowers, up from 700,000 in 2011
  • Helped student borrowers better understand their repayment options by launching the streamlined website
  • Launched the Let Girls Learn initiative to address adolescent girls’ secondary education globally
  • Worked with a coalition women's foundations called Prosperity Together, and a coalition of academic institutions and civic groups called the Academic Collaborative to improve outcomes for women and girls of color.  Collectively, these groups have committed over $175 million dollars to advance equity for women and girls of color
  • Launched a U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls to address the challenges faced by adolescent girls, safeguard their rights, and encourage their full social, political, and economic participation

Increasing Access to Quality and Affordable Health Care

A member of the audience holds a "Thank You" sign during President Barack Obama's speech on medicare fraud and health care insurance reform at St. Charles High School in St. Charles, Mo., March 10, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Improving access to care

  • Signed the Affordable Care Act into law, which expanded access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans, and included a number of provisions designed to improve the health of women. Since 2010, 20 million people have acquired health coverage as a result of the law and about 9.5 million women have gained coverage since October 2013
  • Prohibited women from being charged more for health insurance than men or being denied or charged more for coverage because of a pre-existing condition, such as having a C-section or being a victim of domestic violence
  • Guaranteed coverage in individual and small group health plans, including plans offered in the marketplace, of a set of ten categories of health care services, called Essential Health Benefits, which include maternity and newborn care and mental health and substance use disorder services, with 8.7 million women gaining maternity coverage because of the ACA in the individual market alone
  • Improved Medicare coverage for older women by expanding its coverage of preventive services and improving Medicare coverage of prescription drugs
  • Gave young people the option to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn age 26
  • Extended funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, in 2009 and 2015, which is a critical source of coverage for girls
  • Prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, or disability in any health program or activity, any part of which receives Federal funding
  • Created a home visitation program to provide health education and other services to new mothers and funded the Strong Start for Mothers and Newborns Initiative to reduce pre-term births and improve outcome for newborns and pregnant women
  • Took action to implement the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a major step forward in putting mental health and substance use disorder benefits on equal footing with medical and surgical care benefits
  • Expanded health care and outreach to women veterans and service members through a new hotline improving responsiveness to women veterans’ needs and the launch of a new Women Veterans Program to better coordinate and enhance access to VA benefits and services
  • Guaranteed private health insurance that covers recommended preventive services without cost sharing, reducing out of pocket spending for 55 million women for services including well-woman visits; breastfeeding supplies, counseling, and support; recommended vaccinations; all FDA-approved methods of contraception; domestic violence screening and counseling; tobacco use screening and cessation interventions; and recommended screenings for diseases and conditions that adversely affect women like alcohol misuse, depression, diabetes screenings for those with high blood pressure, and screenings for certain cancers and sexually transmitted infections
  • Eliminated lifetime and annual limits on insurance coverage and establishes annual limits on out-of-pocket spending on essential health benefits, benefiting 105 million Americans, including nearly 40 million women and almost 28 million children

Advancements in public health and research

  • Took steps to advance women’s health research through National Institutes of Health
  • Launched the Precision Medicine Initiative in January 2015 to enable a new era of medicine through research, technology, and policies that empower patients, researchers, and providers to work together toward development of individualized care. For example, thanks to breakthroughs in medical research, we are now able to identify a specific gene that predisposes women to breast cancer
  • Took steps to reduce teen pregnancy and provide more support for adolescents across the country – leading to the national teen birth rate dropping to an all-time low in 2016 and falling nearly 50 percent among Hispanic and black teens
  • Ensured employers provide nursing mothers with a reasonable break time to express milk for one year after her child’s birth and a private space, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion of others

Ending Violence Against Women and Girls

Vice President Joe Biden greets survivors of domestic and sexual violence following the Academy Awards in Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles, California, Feb. 28, 2016. Also pictured are Zeppa Kreager, Anthony Bernal, John Flynn. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

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Combating campus sexual assault

  • Established a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault and It’s On Us, a campaign to help put an end sexual assault on college campuses
  • Established new guidance, through the Department of Education, to make clear that Title IX requires schools, colleges, and universities combat sexual assault on campus

Combating violence against women and girls in underserved communities

  • Signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, which provides resources for states and local communities to improve the criminal justice response to violence against women and to support victim services, protecting for Native American, immigrant, and LGBT survivors
  • Improved the federal response to violence against women and elder abuse
  • Released report and federal action plan to address the intersection between HIV/AIDS and violence against women
  • Directed federal agencies to address the effects of domestic violence and to provide assistant to employees who may be experiencing domestic violence

Improving the criminal justice system response to domestic and sexual violence

  • Vice President Biden appointed the first ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women to direct the efforts of the White House to address domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking
  • Reauthorized of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which included the reauthorized Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, continuing support for state, tribal, and local community programs that provide shelter and supportive services for victims of domestic violence and their children
  • Maintained strong support and funding for Violence Against Women Act, Family Violence Services and Prevention Act, and Victims of Crime Act programs to provide resources for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in each of the Administration’s Budget Requests
  • Launched the Sexual Assault Rape Kit Initiative and made investments to assist communities in testing backlogged rape kits

Addressing sexual assault in the military

  • Directed the Department of Defense to improve efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military
  • Streamlined the Department of Defense’s efforts to combat retaliation related to reports of sexual assault and complaints of sexual harassment, including for service member witnesses, bystanders, and first responders
  • Addressed sexual assault in the military through the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Strategic Plan, which focused on sexual assault prevention, response, and the administration of military justice in response to sexual assault

Making violence against women and girls a foreign policy priority

  • Redoubled the Administration’s efforts to eliminate human trafficking, which afflicts people around the world and here at home, including millions of women and girls, and announced a series of new commitments to combat human trafficking at home and abroad
  • Increased support for survivors of human trafficking by signing the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act into law, which requires states to develop policies and procedures to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for sex trafficking victims and those at risk for becoming sex trafficking victims
  • Addressed gender-based violence as a foreign policy priority through the implementation of the United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally, which strengthens a government-wide approach that identifies, coordinates, integrates and leverages all effort and resources more effectively to address gender-based violence

Increasing Civic Engagement, Leadership, and Visibility for Women and Girls

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden talk with Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the Blue Room following the announcement that she is the President's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice David Souter, May 26, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Increasing opportunities for entrepreneurship and civic engagement

  • Designated a new national monument to honor the movement for women’s equality: the new Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument
  • Announced that our currency will celebrate the history of the women’s suffrage movement
  • Supported women in the military and women veterans by opening ground combat positions to women
  • Launched the Equal Futures Partnership in September 2012, which brings together partner countries from around the world to break down barriers to women’s political and economic empowerment in their countries through legal, regulatory and policy reforms
  • Took significant steps to increase participation by women, girls and underrepresented ethnic and racial groups in STEM fields, including by working with the media and entertainment industry to raise awareness that the image of STEM jobs in media can impact public perception of STEM fields and to break down gender stereotypes in children’s media and toys
  • Increased the diversity of the federal workforce and more women in leadership positions throughout government – with more women included in the President’s cabinet than any other in history – appointed two women to the Supreme Court and appointed minority women judges at a rate more than twice that of any other President
  • As part of continued efforts to increase pathways for women to succeed in management and leadership positions in the private sector, worked with the business community and business schools to identify best practices to help women succeed throughout business school and their careers

Breaking down barriers for women worldwide

  • Established the office of Global Women’s Issues in the state Department led by the first ever Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues
  • Led the United States in new efforts in a range of multilateral forums to advance women’s economic empowerment and help spur economic growth worldwide, from brokering new commitments to increase female labor force participation in the G20 to increasing women’s entrepreneurship in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum
  • Directed departments and agencies to implement the first ever United States Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-based Violence Globally
  • Established the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security to support women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity
  • Continued the United States’ strong support for refugees and displaced persons around the world as the world’s largest single donor in humanitarian aid—including investments in responding to violence against women and girls in emergency and fragile settings
  • Maintained the largest investment by any nation to put an AIDS-free generation within our reach, with unprecedented support for public/private partnerships to address violence against adolescent girls that drives the epidemic in Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Committed the United States to the Sustainable Development Goals, including halving the number of people living in poverty by 2030
  • Launched initiatives to build ties with young leaders of tomorrow in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America

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