By Valerie Jarrett
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 13, 2014) — When President Obama founded the White House Council on Women and Girls (CWG) within the first two months of taking office, he charged us with working to address inequalities and barriers facing women and girls in our schools, workplaces, and throughout American life. And as women’s role in society and our economy continues to evolve and grow, so too has the importance of ensuring that all women and girls succeed, including women and girls of color who often face compounded disparities.
A CWG report released yesterday delves into the inequities and distinct challenges facing women of color, while examining some of the efforts underway to close unfair gaps in educational outcomes, pay, career opportunity, health disparities, and more.
Since its inception, the CWG has focused on issues which disproportionately affect women of color. As part of this ongoing effort, the CWG is convening a Working Group to bring together policy staff from the White House and across the federal agencies, with advocates and experts from around the country. Together, this group will focus on issues including education, economic security, health, criminal and juvenile justice, violence, and research and data collection. By detailing both the progress we have made and the challenges that still remain, this report should serve both as a reminder of what is possible and as a call to action to do so much more.
Today, girls of color still perform lower on standardized tests than their white peers. They are more likely to be suspended from school or drop out. Women and girls of color face higher rates of poverty, receive lower wages for their work than their white peers, and are more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Women of color also face some of the highest rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other serious conditions, while experiencing disproportionately high rates of domestic violence. And when women are the primary or sole breadwinners for nearly half of all households of color, these disparities do not just affect them, but their entire families and communities.
At the same time, this CWG report does highlight some significant bright spots. Between 1997 and 2013, we’ve seen a 258% increase for businesses owned by Black women, 180% for Hispanic women, 156% for Asian American women, and 108% for American Indian/Alaska Native women. Women of color have ascended to the upper ranks of our workplaces and board rooms across industries; teen pregnancy rates for girls of color have plummeted; and high school and college graduation rates have risen. These are important gains, not only for women of color, but for everyone. As these women flourish, their families are strengthened, jobs are created in their communities, local economies grow, and our entire country benefits.
Still, gains such as these should not obscure the challenge ahead. Since taking office, President Obama has made it clear that ensuring equity and opportunity for the nation’s daughters would remain a paramount focus for his Administration. As the President has put it: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
Leaders across all levels of government, the private sector, and academia are in agreement that empowering all women, while understanding and addressing the unique challenges facing women of color, is a social, moral, and economic imperative. In a country that increasingly depends on the strength, creativity, and wisdom of our women — it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure no one is left behind, and all women are in position to lead and succeed.