"There's been a lot of talk about women and women's issues lately, as there should be. But I do think that the conversation has been oversimplified," Obama said to open the White House Forum on Women and the Economy. "Women are not an interest group. You shouldn't be treated that way. Women are over half this country and its workforce."
Restoring economic security for families in the wake of the recession is vital, and must address the challenges that are "unique to women's economic security," Obama said.
He said the White House Council on Women and Girls, which he created soon after taking office, released a report Friday on women in the economy that examines economic security through all stages of life from a young woman furthering her education to a senior either in or preparing for retirement.
"And when we talk about these issues that primarily impact women, we've got to realize they are not just women's issues," he said. "They are family issues, they are economic issues, they are growth issues; they are issues about American competitiveness. They're issues that impact all of us."
He noted his administration's effort to improve women's economic standing, including the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act that makes it easier for women to demand equal pay for equal work, and he is pushing for legislation that would give women more tools to fight pay discrimination and would encourage to make workplaces more flexible "so women don't have to choose between being a good employee or a good mom."
The report said nearly 30 percent of small-business owners are women, whose businesses generated $1.2 trillion last year, Obama said. The Small Business Administration and other parts of our administration extended more than 16,000 new loans worth $4.5 billion to women-owned businesses, and cut taxes for small businesses in general, meaning "more women have the power to create more jobs and more opportunity," he said.
The report also noted that of the additional 3.4 million students who received Pell grants since Obama took office, about 2.3 million are women.
In healthcare, Obama cited the report's data that said 1.1 million women between the ages of 19 and 25 who would have been uninsured now receive health coverage under a parent's health insurance plan or through an individually purchased health insurance plan. More than 20 million women received expanded access to preventive services such as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings at no additional cost, he said, while nearly 2 million women enrolled in Medicare got a 50 percent discount on the medicine they need.
"So when it comes to our efforts on behalf of women and girls, I'm proud of the accomplishments that we can point to. Yes, we've got a lot more to do. But there's no doubt we've made progress," Obama said. "And what we can't do now is go back to the policies that got us into so many of the problems that we've been dealing with in the first place. That's what's at stake."