US President Joe Biden created the White House Gender Policy Council on Monday via executive action to ensure that gender equity and equality are pursued in domestic and international policy.
The president said that the federal government will make sure women are also equally represented throughout government agencies. The announcements carried symbolic importance as they were made on International Women’s Day (IWD), a day dedicated to the global advancement of women's rights.
“In our nation, as in all nations, women have fought for justice, shattered barriers, built and sustained economies, carried communities through times of crisis, and served with dignity and resolve,” Biden said in a statement. “Too often, they have done so while being denied the freedom, full participation, and equal opportunity all women are due. Their contributions have been downplayed.”
“Their stories have been neglected,” he added. “That is why IWD is also a time for us to recommit ourselves to the cause of equity and equality for women the world over, and to shine a light on the systemic obstacles that fuel gender disparities and undermine women’s potential.”
The new White House Gender Policy Council has a sweeping mandate. It’s tasked with finding ways to combat gender-based violence, end the gender pay gap, and improve access to health care for women, among many other priorities. It’s also global in scope as it calls on the US to direct foreign aid in a way that empowers women.
The council will be led by Jennifer Klein and Julissa Reynoso, members of former Democratic administrations, who will oversee a team of three advisers. Together, they will work with every federal agency to develop gender equity plans.
Reynoso told the New York Times that the council will incorporate women’s issues into policy areas that in the past may have lacked a gender equity lens, such as climate change.
In this way, the new team is an exercise in intersectionality — the idea that every person, and all topics for that matter, have layers of identity that intersect and interact, situating them in a unique way in society.
President Biden acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequities.
“Around the world, we are seeing decades of women’s economic gains erased by this pandemic,” he said. “It’s forcing millions more girls out of school, which could impact economic growth for decades to come. Incidents of violence against women in their homes and communities have spiked. And, as is so often the case, COVID-19 is hitting the poorest and most marginalized women the hardest.”
The executive order states that the council will prioritize underserved communities in its pursuit of equity. While past administrations have sought to improve women’s rights, increase their participation in the economy, and protect them from harm, Biden’s team will be building on historic momentum.
After all, this administration marks the first time in US history that a woman — Kamala Harris — is vice president.
“Elevating the status of women and girls globally is the right thing to do — it is a matter of justice, fairness, and decency, and it will lead to a better, more secure, and more prosperous world for us all,” Biden said in the statement. “On IWD, let us recommit to the principle that our nation, and the world, is at its best when the possibilities for all of our women and girls are limitless.”