By Julian Pecquet - 06/09/11 07:01 PM EDT
President Obama's administration has made women and families a top priority "since day one," first lady Michelle Obama said Thursday.
Obama was the keynote speaker at the 40th anniversary gala for the National Partnership for Women and Families. She told a packed Hilton ballroom that the president has been a champion of the group's issues since the very first bill he signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
"The important thing," she said, "is that all of these advances benefit not just women, but every American."
Obama went on to cite the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, the changes to earned income and child tax credits for 12 million families, and the healthcare reform law's mammograms and other preventive services as central advances.
And, she pointed out, Obama has nominated two women to the Supreme Court — Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — and made women nearly half of his nominees to the federal bench, "a greater percentage than any other president in history."
The first lady started her speech by reminding the attendance of the political reality for women when the organization was created in 1971. At the time Richard Nixon's Cabinet didn't have a single woman (President Obama's has four), there was only one woman senator, and the country was still 10 years away from confirming the first woman to the Supreme Court.
"All that," Obama said, "and we had to deal with polyester too. Some tough times."
Thanks to the partnership, she said, "the landscape of this nation has been fundamentally changed for the better" with more family-friendly workplaces, more opportunities for women and girls and laws that prevent discriminatory practices.
Still, much work remains to be done, Obama said, on issues such as paid leave, paid sick days and educational equality. For example, the Paycheck Fairness Act that would require employers to justify wage discrepancies is stalled in Congress.
"This bill, and this issue, will not move forward without your help," Obama told the 1,500 or so activists in the room.
She also called on them to prevent a rollback of the healthcare reform law by informing people about their newfound rights, such as the guarantee that healthcare plans will cover them regardless of pre-existing conditions.
"Even today, with all the advances that we've made, too many women face barriers and roadblocks for reaching their full potential," Obama said. "Too many girls are held back by narrow expectations and limited options. So it's our job to just keep working, not just for us but for them."