On Friday, the White House released the country’s first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which aims “to advance the full participation of all people — including women and girls — in the United States and around the world,” according to a fact sheet the White House released summarizing the 42-page report. The strategy seeks “to combat discrimination and harmful gender norms that affect people of all genders: women and girls — including transgender women and girls — gender nonbinary and gender nonconforming people, as well as men and boys,” the report notes.
It outlines 10 priorities for reaching gender equity and equality, in the realms of economic security; gender-based violence; health; education; justice and immigration; human rights and equality under the law; security and humanitarian relief; climate change; science and technology; and democracy, participation and leadership.
It also suggests an intersectional approach to achieving those priorities, aiming to address the “impact of intersectional discrimination” on the basis of gender, race and other factors, such as sexual orientation, disability and socioeconomic status. And the report promises a whole-of-government implementation plan, requiring federal agencies to submit within nine months at least three internal goals supported by the strategy, including at least one that each agency can immediately implement.
The strategy was shaped by the input of more than 250 nonprofit, community-, faith- and union- based organizations and academics, plus more than 270 girls, young women and gender nonconforming youth leaders from more than a dozen countries, the report said.
The effort comes as the first major initiative of the Gender Policy Council — established by the Biden administration earlier this year, and formerly known as the White House Council on Women and Girls in the Obama administration — which will partner with the Office of Management and Budget to facilitate implementation of the strategy across federal agencies. The GPC will also prepare an annual, publicly available report for submission to the president on implementation progress, the report notes.
Many gender equity advocates will be eagerly awaiting those implementation reports, including four experts who spoke to The Lily about the strategy, characterizing it as a crucial — and hopeful — step toward closing gender gaps and rectifying historic inequities. But, experts say, the strategy lacks clear implementation plans and measurable goals.
“There’s no doubt that all these things that they put in the report are important and integral to women’s economic health and emotional, social well-being,” said C. Nicole Mason, president and chief executive of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization. “But the big question here that is unanswered is, how are we going to do it? And how do we measure our success and progress?”
The Office of Management and Budget did not immediately return a request for comment.
The Lily spoke to Mason and three other experts about the promises of this plan and how they would like to see three of the priorities realized.
The strategy commits to advancing women’s employment in well-paying jobs, addressing gender discrimination and systemic barriers to full workforce participation, investing in care infrastructure, and closing the gender wealth gap.
These big-picture goals are particularly crucial in light of the pandemic’s economic impacts on women, according to Mason, who participated in some of the GPC’s listening sessions ahead of the report’s release. Women have 2.9 million fewer jobs than they did at the start of the pandemic, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Black and Latina women continue to suffer the highest unemployment rates, according to the IWPR.
But “there are no measurable goals or objectives [in the report], and that’s what I would like to see in a document like this,” Mason added. “What is the road map? How are we going to get there?”
Two of the goals she wished were included in the report? Establishing clear timelines for both closing the pay gap and raising the minimum wage. (Earlier this year, a World Economic Forum report found that the pandemic added another 36 years to closing the pay gap, bringing the estimated time frame for doing so to about 136 years. President Biden supported adding the $15 minimum wage to the coronavirus relief bill, but it didn’t make it into the final bill passed in March, leaving the federal minimum wage at $7.25 per hour.)
Establishing benchmarks to tackle these disparities, Mason said, “would require us to do the work of thinking about solutions that are different than the things we’ve already tried.”
On the health-care front, the strategy aims to ensure access to high-quality, affordable health care; promote access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; close disparities in maternal health care and reduce maternal mortality; and provide comprehensive health services, including by expanding health-insurance coverage and access to mental health services, the report reads.
In the United States, about 700 women die each year as a result of pregnancy and delivery complications, making people in the United States more likely to die from childbirth or pregnancy-related causes than anywhere else in the developed world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC data also notes that Black women face a risk of pregnancy-related death that is three to four times higher than that of White women.
The government’s commitments to improving data collection around health outcomes and health disparities is significant, according to Catherine D’Ignazio, the director of the Data + Feminism Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Joia Crear-Perry, a physician and the founder and president of the National Birth Equity Collaborative, an advocacy organization focused on Black maternal health and infant mortality. (Crear-Perry also took part in listening sessions for the strategy, she said.)
For her, efforts to combat the problem should involve the administration’s support of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus, a package of a dozen bills aimed at addressing race-based and covid-related disparities in maternal health; the Kira Johnson Act, which would require the Department of Health and Human Services to award grants aimed at improving maternal health outcomes for racial and ethnic minority groups; and the creation of an Office of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Wellbeing “to really operationalize and build upon this strategy,” she said. Organizations that are already advocating for birth equity locally — like the Birth Center Equity Fund, which distributes funding to community birth centers serving people of color — should also receive federal funding, Crear-Perry said.
D’Ignazio agrees: “I’d like to see them double down on relationship-building and the support for folks in communities who are already doing a lot of this work to fill the gaps left by systemic inequitable policy,” she said.
Part of how the government could do that, D’Ignazio added, is through supplementing quantitative data collection (which quantifies attitudes, behaviors and opinions through experiments and closed-ended survey questions) with qualitative data (which focuses on explanations for root causes and the impacts of disparities, in part through open-ended interview questions).
“Quantitative data can only go so far … it’s not really great for understanding what your needs are, what are the most significant barriers and challenges that you’re facing,” particularly when it comes to the health concerns of marginalized people, she said.
In practice, D’Ignazio said, qualitative data might consist of a study that features interviews with 10 people, which could then provide insights that researchers could test through a larger quantitative survey.
The strategy seeks to eliminate gender-based violence by developing and strengthening policies to end gender-based violence, such as reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act; offering comprehensive services, including providing shelter, legal assistance and health care to survivors of gender-based violence; and increasing prevention efforts.
For Deborah Vagins, president and chief executive of the National Network to End Domestic Violence advocacy organization, the strategy signals “an important commitment” to tackling gender-based violence, particularly because of the whole-of-government and intersectional approaches, she said. (Vagins also said she took part in listening sessions for the strategy.)
But, she added, it’s crucial that the Violence Against Women Act — which Biden originally wrote in 1994 as a senator and which the House voted to reauthorize in March — is updated before lawmakers attempt to reauthorize. She would like to see lawmakers close the “boyfriend loophole,” which would add dating partners and stalkers to the provision banning spouses or guardians convicted of domestic abuse from owning firearms, and support the sovereignty of tribal nations to hold non-Native abusers accountable.
As for the administration’s goal of releasing the first National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence, slated to launch in 2022, it should address the root causes of gender-based violence, consider different forms of violence — including emotional, physical, sexual and economic — and take a “human-rights-based approach” to situate gender-based violence as both “a violation of human rights and … a form of gender discrimination,” she said.
In the meantime, “we have to make sure that they are committed to funding, that they are investing in prevention, that they are keeping this at the front burner of the administration’s and agencies’ work so it doesn’t feel like some kind of add-on,” Vagins said.