U.S. President Barack Obama said African-American women continue to face long odds to succeed more than five decades after the height of the civil rights movement.
Speaking Saturday at the annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation awards dinner in Washington, Obama praised the role black women played in the campaign for civil rights, from strategizing boycotts to organizing marches, even though they were not in leadership positions.
But he said that while black women and girls in the United States have made progress in terms of education and economics, they are still more likely to be mired in poverty due to working in low-wage jobs, and are incarcerated at twice the rate as white women.
He said the high rate of imprisonment is in large part due to a "sinister sexual abuse to prison pipeline" in which traumatized women went on to commit crimes.
The president noted the stereotypes and social pressures that affect young women and said the African-American community would “have to be louder than the voices that are telling girls they're not good enough.”
In his speech, Obama called for equal pay for women, who generally earn about 70 cents for every dollar a man earns, calling the wage gap "a mockery" of the U.S. economy.
He said the gap needs to close before a symbolic step like putting a woman's face on the American $10 bill would have any real meaning.
Obama also pledged to work with the Congressional Black Caucus and other lawmakers to advance criminal justice reform during his remaining 15 months in office.
He made a point of answering critics who say that he has encouraged hostility toward law enforcement, amid a series of high-profile deaths of African-Americans while in police custody.
Obama said he wanted to repeat what he has said often: "Law enforcement officers do outstanding work in an incredibly difficult and dangerous job."
Also at Saturday's event were Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, who is considering a possible run for the nomination.