From NBC's Athena Jones
WASHINGTON -- President Obama marked International Women's Month by signing an executive order to create the first-ever White House Council on Women and Girls, a group that will be headed by one of his closest friends.
The council, which will meet regularly, will include members of the Cabinet and of several other agencies and will be led by senior aide Valerie Jarrett. Tina Tchen, deputy assistant to the president and director of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House, will serve as the executive director.
Obama made special mention of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stood near him on stage at the East Room event, as an example of women breaking barriers, and he noted that he had had the privilege of participating in a "historic campaign with a historic candidate who we now have the privilege of calling Madame secretary."
"But at the same time, when women still earn just 78 cents for every dollar men make, when one in four women still experiences domestic violence in their lifetimes, when women are more than half of our population but just 17% of our Congress," he said before signing the order. "When women are 49% of the workforce but only 3% of our fortune 500 CEOs, when these inequalities stubbornly persist in this country in this century then I think we need to ask ourselves some hard question and we need to take a hard look at where were falling short and who were leaving out and what that means for the prosperity and the vitality of our nation."
First Lady Michelle Obama, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, WNBA star Lisa Leslie, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, Attorney General Eric Holder and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were among those present for the signing.
"The council is going to examine all the programs at the federal level that touch on women and girls and we're going to work to coordinate and make sure that each of those programs is doing everything that it could do to help support women and girls," Jarrett told NBC after the event.
Obama spoke frequently during the campaign about issues like family leave, childcare and equal pay, arguing that they were not just women's issues but family issues. The first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act.