- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

President Obama invoked his grandmother, single mother and two young daughters Wednesday in creating a White House panel to advise him on issues facing women and girls.

Mr. Obama, standing with prominent members of his administration and with his wife sitting nearby, signed an executive order creating an across-the-government council designed to help Cabinet agencies and departments collaborate on ways to make sure women are provided opportunities equal to those offered to men.

“I sign this order not just as a president, but as a son, a grandson, a husband and a father because, growing up, I saw my mother put herself through school and follow her passion for helping others,” Mr. Obama said. “But I also saw how she struggled to raise me and my sister on her own, worrying about how she’d pay the bills and educate herself and provide for us.”

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He said he signed the order to honor all the women who came before him, such as his grandmother who was a bank vice president but was denied promotions because of her sex. He said the fight for equality is far from over.

“So now it’s up to us to carry that work forward, to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements - and that they have opportunities their mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers never dreamed of,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s the purpose of this council; those are the priorities of my presidency.”

He also said his own experiences with the women in his life reflect the challenges of all women.

“I’ve seen Michelle, the rock of the Obama family, juggling work and parenting with more skill and grace than anybody that I know,” Mr. Obama said. “But I also saw how it tore at her at times, how sometimes when she was with the girls she was worrying about work, and when she was at work she was worrying about the girls. It’s a feeling that I share every day.”

Mr. Obama cited statistics to back up his case: 1 in 4 women still experience domestic violence, and women make up 49 percent of the work force, but only 3 percent of Fortune 500 chiefs.

“When these inequalities stubbornly persist in this country, in this century, then I think we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. I think we need to take a hard look at where we’re falling short, and who we’re leaving out, and what that means for the prosperity and the vitality of our nation,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama named senior adviser Valerie Jarrett - a single mother - to head the group, which would include Cabinet secretaries and other administration officials. White House aide Tina Tchen will run its day-to-day operations.

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