In a State of the Union speech urging "action," President Obama said 2014 can be a "breakthrough year" for women.
"This year, let's all come together—Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street—to give every woman the opportunity she deserves," Obama urged. "Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds."
The president was particularly outspoken about women's economic status, criticizing unequal pay and unpaid sick days, and pushing for maternal- and paternal-leave policies that would only further help tackle gender inequity in the workplace and workforce.
"Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns," he said. "That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship - and you know what, a father does, too. It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode."
Obama also pointed out that the majority of low-income workers are women, particularly women of color and immigrant women.
"Women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs—but they're not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages," the president said. "Americans understand that some people will earn more than others, and we don't resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full time should ever have to raise a family in poverty."
He framed his defense of the Affordable Care Act as a family-friendly issue. "Already, because of the Affordable Care Act, more than three million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents' plans." More importantly, perhaps, is how the ACA disallows insurance companies from denying coverage on the basis of preexisting medical conditions. Obama was especially bold in his vocal support of women's right to reproductive healthcare. "No woman can ever be charged more just because she's a woman."
The challenge now: turning rhetoric into reality. While the president promised to use executive orders to achieve some agenda items, most require Congressional action. Without legislation, 2014 won't be a be a breakthrough for anybody.