President Biden is reportedly planning to revive the concept of an office within the White House that focuses specifically on women’s issues and other issues gender equity with his recently announced Gender Policy Council. The Gender Policy Council, which is a successor of the Obama-era Council on Women and Girls, will be co-chaired by the former ambassador to Uruguay Julissa Reynoso, as well as Jennifer Klein, a former senior advisor to Hillary Clinton during her time as a first lady. Their idea is to use the Gender Policy Council to integrate the issues typically considered primarily women’s issues into the Biden administration’s broader policy priorities. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but that approach to gender policy sounds like it could actually work? Shocking if true!
The first iteration of the Gender Policy Council was called the Interagency Council on Women and was created in 1995 during the Clinton administration. It was initially chaired by Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at the time, but it was common knowledge that the efforts were driven by then-First Lady Clinton. Although the council was disbanded by George W. Bush, the concept was reintroduced during the Obama administration with the Council on Women and Girls. At that time, it was structured like a consulting group, working with agencies within the Obama administration to focus on the issues within their policy sphere that affect women. However, the Council on Women and Girls didn’t have any full-time leadership, as both of its leaders had other jobs within the White House, nor did it have the power to design policy. (In news that will shock no one, the concept of a council focusing on women’s issues was once again shelved during the Trump White House.)
Biden’s Gender Policy Council will have significantly more resources and access than its predecessors—not only will it report directly to the President, the council will also have four full-time staff members in addition to its co-chairs. The New York Times reports that the executive order Biden will use to create the council will require cabinet members to participate, as well as instructing them to designate representatives within their individual agencies to take point on issues surrounding gender equity.
Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has brought a number of issues that were once treated solely as women’s issues—such as child care and raising the minimum wage—to the front and center of the national conversation. Recent data shows that women lost more than 5 million jobs over the course of 2020, and Black and Latina women were disproportionately affected by those massive losses. There’s no better time for the Biden administration to make clear its commitment to crafting policy and taking other tangible steps towards addressing issues of gender equity.