On March 8 (International Women’s Day), President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order to establish the White House Gender Policy Council. Through domestic and foreign policy, the council will advance gender equity and equality, which have both come under strain during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an April 2020 report, The New York Times found that women made up roughly 52% of essential workers and 77% of healthcare workers. Because they make up such a large majority of nurses, grocery store clerks, and other essential occupations, women have been the most exposed to COVID-19 out of any group, with women of color being harmed the absolute worst. The New York Times added that the number of women in both high-end and low-end healthcare jobs has increased — of the 5.8 million healthcare workers with jobs that pay less than $30,000 per year, 50% are nonwhite and 83% are women; although strides have been made in the positive direction, women still grapple with the incessant pay gap, and those in small but growing health occupations, such as personal care aides, often receive minimum wage and few labor protections.
Along with the unrelenting work conditions and continuous wage gaps, women have experienced the most layoffs and job losses throughout the course of the pandemic. A recent analysis by the National Women’s Law Center found that in Dec. 2020, women lost 156,000 net jobs in accordance to men gaining 16,000 net jobs, meaning that all of the jobs lost in Dec. were women’s jobs. The National Women’s Law Center adds that since the start of the pandemic, women have accounted for 55% of net job losses, with Black and Hispanic women being impacted the most.
In his executive order on the Gender Policy Council’s establishment, Biden said that the group will aim to “advance equal rights and opportunities, regardless of gender or gender identity.” With every secretary of the Cabinet being required to participate, the council will work across numerous departments to ensure that gender issues are addressed in areas including healthcare, COVID-19, the military, and the environment. The council will report directly to Biden to recommend effective policies, which makes it one of the most powerful and inclusive government bodies that addresses gender inequality to date — past councils, such as former President Barack Obama’s White House Council on Women and Girls, either served as liaisons with women organizations or did not have the same amount of authority. One of the main starting tasks of Biden’s Gender Policy Council is to create and submit a government-wide strategy within 200 days of the executive order.
Biden selected Jennifer Klein and Julissa Reynoso, two prominent and extensively experienced advocates for gender equality, to lead the council as co-chairs. In their official statement, Klein and Reynoso said that their main task is to lead a “whole-of-government approach to gender policy” alongside a “diverse and representative staff.” They hope to create strategies that will dissolve systemic barriers for women, specifically for women of color who have been hit disproportionately by the pandemic. Alongside policy-making, Klein and Reynoso are working with the UN and intergovernmental organization G-7 to advance gender equality and equity worldwide.
For the future, Biden hopes to work collaboratively with the council and the heads of numerous agencies to empower women worldwide. Along with his COVID-19 recovery plan, the Gender Policy Council will allow him to accomplish many of his goals from his agenda for women. In a press release, Biden said that “the work of this council is going to be critical to ensuring we build our nation back better by getting closer to equality for women and to the full inclusion of women in...our society.”