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Women: Making History & Enriching Our Lives


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National Women's History Month, which we commemorate each March, is rooted in origins as far back as 1857, when women working in factories in the northeast staged protests over the working conditions they endured. Observed for a full month since 1987, Women's History Month has served as an invitation to recognize and celebrate women for their achievements and honor the collective contributions they continue to make for the betterment of society.

This year's theme, "Our History is our Strength," highlights the stories of women who stood strong in the face of adversity and persevered to change the course of history. For example, we remember Betsy Ross, who stitched the symbol of independence and self-governance that still flies true today. We also think of Ann Dunwoody, the first and only female to serve our nation as a four-star general, who today oversees one of the largest commands in the U.S. Army. We also remember Clara Barton, who risked her life bringing medical supplies to soldiers on the Civil War battlefields and later founded the American Red Cross. Mavericks such as Amelia Earhart, who flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and Sally Ride, the first American female who flew in space, represent the courageous spirit of millions of women here and around the world. There is also Wilma Rudolph, an African-American woman, who, despite being born premature and suffering polio as a child, overcame great odds to become a world-class sprinter and the first American woman to win three gold medals at the Olympics.

Today, we witness the extraordinary legacy of these and so many other remarkable women. Whether it is in corporate board rooms, the ivory towers of our universities and colleges, our science laboratories, the halls of Congress, or in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court -- women are making exceptional strides which are paving the way for future generations. We should, as a nation, reaffirm our commitment to ending gender discrimination and violence again women, promoting equal pay for equal work, and supporting women in their endeavors here and around the globe.

Data from the most recent U.S. Census indicates that more than 58 percent of today's workforce is comprised of women, and more women hold bachelor's degrees than do men. While many milestones have been reached, women still face many challenges, and achieving parity in the workplace is essential. One of the most notable achievements in this effort was the enactment of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, landmark legislation that was signed into law to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law was rooted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a case where Lilly Ledbetter, a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company employee, sued when she discovered near the end of her 19-year career that she was paid significantly less than her male counterpart.

Women are also widely-recognized for their prominent roles in caring for families, whether they work exclusively in the home or as economic bread-winners outside the home. Even in the daily routine of child-rearing or caring for an aging parent, women exemplify strength, courage, discipline and love.

Women have overcome enormous obstacles in the pursuit of their dreams. As we honor these women -- mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who have touched our lives -- let us appreciate the diversity of their contributions and achievements. To women active in our homes, communities, churches and civic life and to all of the women who are working to make a positive difference -- I say "thank you!" You enrich the lives of those around you -- in our families, our community, our nation, and indeed around the world.

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