Just over one month ago, President Biden and Vice President Harris announced the creation of the Gender Policy Council. The council will govern policies that directly impact women and girls such as economic policy, health care, gender-based violence, and more. The economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hit women particularly hard, especially at a time where the health and safety of many women were at risk. The Biden Agenda for Women claims to uplift women while addressing these concerns. Keep reading to find out more about the history of gender equality councils in the White House and the Biden Administration’s plans for supporting women during his term.
History of Women’s Councils in the White House
The first White House council that focused entirely on gender equality was formed only three decades ago by then First Lady, Hilary Clinton. Clinton realized the need for a women’s council in the White House after receiving pushback for trying to create a conference on childcare. In 1997, the Clinton administration formed the first presidential body focused on gender equality: the Interagency Council on Women. This council not only highlighted the significance of women’s issues, but it also set up an important precedent for administrations to come.
Though President George Bush dismantled the Women’s Council, the Obama administration brought it back stronger than ever. Led by Tina Tchen and Valerie Jarrett, the administration created the Council on Women and Girls, which ended up having a greater influence than Clinton’s Interagency Council on Women. This was dismantled by the Trump administration, who failed to replace it with a similar program or council.
Biden is now creating the Gender Policy Council to not only oversee policy that affects women and girls but LGBTQ+ individuals as well. Some key items on his agenda for gender equality are economic and family support, protection of healthcare, a fight against gendered violence, and the addition of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
The Women’s Recession
Though the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic hurt everyone, economists are calling it “the Women’s Recession” due to the disproportionate effect it had on women economically, especially women of color.
Out of the 140,000 net jobs lost in December 2020, women accounted for 100% of them. While women lost a total of 156,000 jobs, men gained 16,000. This is largely because women-dominated industries like child-care and hospitality were hit the hardest by the pandemic. Black and Latina women made up the majority of these losses, with unemployment rates in the double digits for the first time since 1948.
A huge goal of the Biden Agenda for Women is to increase economic security for women by supporting female-dominated industries, such as the ones devastated by the pandemic. He plans to “strengthen pay and benefits in careers disproportionately filled by women” to close the gender wealth gap that persists in America. He hopes to end the wage gap by making compensation disparities more transparent, ban the use of salary history in wage negotiations, and support workers’ unions.
Child Care Crisis
Many women also found themselves sacrificing work to take care of their families. Because of the pandemic, mothers in 2020 had to reduce work hours by 5 times as much as fathers to stay home with their children. Single mothers were especially victimized by the breakdown of the childcare system. The dual responsibilities of childcarer and breadwinner are already difficult to juggle without a pandemic in the way.
Biden plans to help women navigate work and family by expanding access to affordable child and senior care and ensuring that employers provide paid family leave. He plans to provide three and four-year-olds with access to free, high-quality pre-school. For children up to age 13, he will expand access to after-school, weekend, and summer care by offering tax credits. Low and middle-class families will be able to claim 50% of child care costs with up to $8,000 for one child or $16,000 for two or more.
Protecting Women’s Health
In a time marked by an international health crisis, it is more important than ever to preserve the right to healthcare. Biden vows to protect and build Obamacare to make healthcare accessible for all women. Many marginalized women have their right to healthcare threatened by discriminatory practices or lack of resources. Biden has plans to improve and protect access to healthcare for the specific needs of LGBTQ+ women, disabled women, incarcerated women, women veterans, and Native Women.
Biden also plans to prioritize the protection of women’s reproductive health. His administration supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, restoring federal funding to Planned Parenthood, and preventing states from violating Roe v. Wade. Another important issue Biden wants to improve is the maternal mortality rate. Even before the pandemic, the United States had one of the highest rates of maternal death of all developed nations. This especially affects black women, who are 2.5 times more likely to die of pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women.
Fighting Gender-Based Violence
Biden has been a long-time proponent of fighting gender-based violence. In 1990 he wrote the groundbreaking Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) which created national hotlines, funded crisis centers, and trained law enforcement on investigating domestic violence and sexual assault. Most importantly, the act helped change how Americans viewed violence against women.
During his presidency, Biden vows to reauthorize the VAWA, expand resources for survivors, and invest in the safety of women of color. Biden also plans to end the disproportionate violence faced by LBTQ+ and disabled women. With the increasing power of the internet, there has also been a rise in online harassment, stalking, and abuse that Biden plans to address and allocate funding allowing law enforcement to bring online abusers to justice. Biden also plans to grant visas for victims of trafficking and immigrant women escaping abuse.
The Bottom Line
Biden’s agenda for women is lengthy and ambitious. It addresses many of the most relevant and pressing concerns of women across many intersecting identities. The inclusion of protections for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, disabled women, incarcerated women, immigrant women, and more shows an intersectional approach that understands that women are not a monolith.
Over the next four years, it will be important that Biden’s supporters and opponents hold him accountable for sticking to his promises. Though his entire agenda may not come to fruition, it is a great place to start for protecting the rights of American women.