We arrived at the White House in two cabs on an unseasonably cold and rainy spring afternoon earlier this week on Tuesday, May 18. Our goal? To share our findings on ways to improve the lives of low-income women.
“Is this the right entrance?” my colleague from the Women’s Economic Security Campaign (WESC)* asked the cab driver.
“Yes,” he said pointing to a sign, “See, it says visitors and appointments.”
But when the police car pulled up to the cab and told the driver to move along, we knew we were at the wrong entrance. When we finally arrived at the correct entrance — Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th street — we exited the cab giddy with excitement about meeting with the White House Council on Women and Girls.
Last week, WESC released the second in a series of policy reports, Aiming Higher: Removing Barriers to Education, Training and Jobs for Low-Income Women, which focuses on job creation, training and supports for low-income women. With the report, we wanted to point out that the approximately 3.5 million low-income mothers living in the US need more public and private support to advance their educations, improve their skills and obtain good family-supporting jobs.
We traveled to Washington, DC to share those findings with national advisers, feminist leaders and policymakers including officials at the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Council on Women and Girls. In each meeting, we discussed strategies for creating legislation and strengthening existing tools to support low-income mothers in securing better jobs and establishing careers. We know from our work in our local communities that such steps are vital to our economic recovery.
Once in the White House, a staffer led us to Tina Tchen’s office on the third floor. As the Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, Ms. Tchen oversees the council which works to ensure that each federal agency takes into account the needs of women and girls in the policies they draft, the programs they create, and the legislation they support. Council members include the head of every federal agency and White House office.
Our meeting with Tina Tchen and her Deputy Director, Jennifer Kaplan, was a highlight of our trip. The council is eager to coordinate with women’s funds across the country to increase opportunities for low-income women. And we are eager to continue working with them.
As we walked out of the West Wing, we passed by Valerie Jarrett’s office. Ms. Jarrett is Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Senior Adviser and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement. With Ms. Jarrett and Ms. Tchen leading the council, and its physical location in the West Wing, we could see the administration places great value on improving women’s lives.
As the President said when he signed the executive order to create the White House Council on Women and Girls, the issues facing women today “are not just women’s issues. When women make less than men for the same work, it hurts families who find themselves with less income, and have to work harder just to get by. When a job doesn’t offer family leave, that also hurts men who want to help care for a new baby or an ailing parent. When there’s no affordable child care, that hurts children who wind up in second-rate care, or spending afternoons alone in front of the television set.”
The Women’s Foundation of California is committed to working with our WESC colleagues as well as our grant partners, donor partners, and supporters, to ensure that we leverage the strength of women and girls to improve our economy. We are working in collaboration to develop policies that will set low-income women, and our nation as a whole, on a more promising path. And the White House is listening, and eager to work with us.
“With passion and courage, women have taught us that when we band together to advocate for our highest ideals, we can advance our common well-being and strengthen the fabric of our nation.”
~ President Barack Obama
*WESC was launched through the combined efforts and leadership of The Women’s Foundation of California, the Chicago Foundation for Women, the Washington Area Women’s Foundation and the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, and works in collaboration with the Women’s Funding Network
Read more about WESC at Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity.