Obama Creates Women's Panel

President Obama has announced the creation of a White House council to advise him on issues facing women and girls. The announcement was part of the administration's push to mark Women's History Month. The president named senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to head the group. She talks with Linda Wertheimer about what the group will focus on.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

President Obama announced the creation of the White House Counsel on Women and Girls yesterday. It's an office he says will address problems like balancing work and home, childcare and the prevention of violence against women. The president named his long-time friend and White House senior advisor Valerie Jarrett to run the counsel. Ms. Jarrett joins us now.

Welcome. Good morning.

Ms. VALERIE JARRETT (White House Counsel on Women and Girls; White House Senior Advisor): Well, good morning, Linda. Please call me Valerie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: Thank you. President Obama defined this job as one which will prioritize the needs of women and girls in policy. Where do you plan to start?

Ms. JARRETT: Well, the first thing we're going to do is take a look at all the federal agencies and inventory what we're currently doing that really touched the lives of women and girls. There hasn't been a coordinated effort at the federal level to just see what we already do.

And our surmise is that what you're going to find is agencies often have similar programs, that they're not coordinated. We're not being efficient. We're not leveraging the federal government as well as we could, and we really could do far more to enhance the lives of women and girls. And as everyone knows, women and girls affect more than just themselves. It's the entire family.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, the economic efforts the president is making, which are aimed at putting people back to work, that obviously benefits women and girls as well. I wonder why the president wanted to have a counsel now.

Ms. JARRETT: Well, if you think about it, even though we're doing - we've made great strides, and this is International Women's History Month, and so we celebrate the progress of women. But the fact of the matter is women are still not paid equal to men. And although we passed the Lilly Ledbetter legislation, which was terrific earlier in the administration a few weeks ago, we still need to make sure that we enforce it.

And so I think it's important for us to always to be able to celebrate where we are, but also push and move forward. Domestic violence, still a major issue -not just for women, but also for girls. And so as we're looking across the agencies that we have at the federal level, this seemed like the opportune time to take a step back, get ourselves organized and see how we could coordinate our strategy more effectively.

WERTHEIMER: The president pointed out yesterday that women still earn a fraction of what men do for doing the same work, that women have far fewer businesses than men do. I wonder if you could choose one or two policy decisions that might change that, what would they be?

Ms. JARRETT: Well, we're looking, for example, right now at the recovery bill -$780 billion that's going to be pumped into the economy. Let's figure out if we can - and our economic team is analyzing this right now - let's see if we can focus on small businesses and see if we can jumpstart some of the small businesses across the country.

Oftentimes, women work or own these small businesses. So, hopefully, everyone knows that small businesses are really the ones that are the economic engine. That's where we're seeing the growth. And so if we can figure out a strategy for targeting women and helping them own, run and work in these small businesses, that would be a huge step.

I'm glad you brought up the economy, because as everyone knows, all the American people are aware it's the number one front issue on everyone's mind and the first priority of the president. And so all of our programs are focused on the economy. And so as we think about women, we need to think about them in the workplace. Many times, women want to be in the workplace. They either don't have the job training skills that they need or they don't have the daycare that they need.

Often in our current climate, we're finding that as people's incomes are declining, childcare becomes more of a stretch. So let's figure out new ways of making childcare more affordable so that women can make that work-life balance that - where the burden really falls on them.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think the chances are that in a climate like this, when so much legislation has to go through to promote the economic recovery, what do you think the chances are that a bill or package of bills that specifically points to women and girls could make it through Congress or even be taken up?

Ms. JARRETT: Well, I'll tell you, it was encouraging, of course, that we had Speaker Nancy Pelosi with us yesterday as we announced this counsel. Barbara Boxer was there. Many of the women from the Congressional Women's Caucus were there. So I think you're going to find that there's a lot of support on the Hill.

And what we want to do is to reach out and work in partnership with Congress and craft legislation that's sensible and that also reflects the priorities of the broader community. And so the reason why we are housing this new initiative in the Office of Public Liaison - under the able leadership of Tina Chin, I might add - there's - because her office is responsible for reaching out to constituencies across the country to make sure that the voices of the American people are heard so that it's not just the federal government planning in a vacuum what we want to do to address these needs, but that we're listening to the American people as well.

WERTHEIMER: Valerie Jarrett, thank you very much.

Ms. JARRETT: My pleasure. Thank you. Have a good morning, Linda.

WERTHEIMER: Valerie Jarrett is the new head of the White House Counsel on Women and Girls and a senior advisor to the president.

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