President Barack Obama today signed an executive order establishing a new interagency panel devoted to the concerns of women and girls.

The White House Council on Women and Girls will be chaired by senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, with director of public liaison Tina Tchen serving as executive director. the council will include cabinet secretaries and other top White House staff.

Before signing the order, Obama spoke of the many travails women in his family have faced.

“I sign this order not just as a president, but as a son, as a grandson, a husband and a father,” he told a mostly female audience of activists and lawmakers in the East Room of the White House. “I saw my grandmother work her way up to become one of the first women bank vice presidents in the state of Hawaii, but I also saw how she hit a glass ceiling — how men no more qualified than she was kept moving up the corporate ladder ahead of her.”

He then spoke of his wife:

“I’ve seen Michelle, the rock of the Obama family — (laughter) — juggling work and parenting with more skill and grace than anybody that I know. 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.”

The council will begin work immediately, asking each agency to ensure it is focused internally and externally on women.

During the first year, the council also will focus on:

  • Improving women’s economic security by ensuring that each agency is working to directly improve the economic status of women.
  • Working with each agency to ensure that the administration evaluates and develops policies that establish a balance between work and family.
  • Working hand-in-hand with the vice president, the Justice Department’s office of violence against women and other government officials to find new ways to prevent violence against women, at home and abroad.
  • Building healthy families and improve women’s health care.

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