According to the National Women’s Law Center, women accounted for 100% of job losses in December.
That sounds impossible or like an exaggeration. But it’s true. So the Biden-Harris administration—aware that it has its work cut out—has decided to take some concrete action: On Tuesday, with less than 24 hours to go until the Inauguration, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris announced the formation of the White House Gender Policy Council, aiming for what the team is calling “a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of girls and women in the United States and around the world, restoring America as a champion for women and girls.”
The council will be co-chaired by Jennifer Klein and Julissa Reynoso, two women with extensive experience fighting for gender equity. According to a press release that the incoming administration released, the council will “guide and coordinate government policy that impacts women and girls, across a wide range of issues such as economic security, health care, racial justice, gender-based violence, and foreign policy, working in cooperation with the other White House policy councils.”
The pandemic had been and continues to be crushing for women, particularly for women of color. Aside from the job loss, which National Women’s Law Center President Fatima Goss Graves tells Glamour sets us “back at 1980s levels of women’s share of the workforce,” a disproportionate number of women are essential workers, women take on more care and domestic work at home, and during lockdowns, domestic violence has spiked. And long before the pandemic began, the Trump administration was working diligently to strip away protections for women and gender minorities—limiting access to reproductive healthcare, making it harder for survivors of sexual violence on campus to seek justice, and rolling back equal pay rules.
Far from achieving the lofty aim of gender equality, the brand new administration will have to contend with the tremendous backsliding that women and gender minorities have endured. American women lost more than five million jobs in 2020. Mothers of small children were three times more likely to have lost jobs during this time than their male counterparts, Pew Research found. “In many ways, this is predictable,” Graves says. “Many months into a pandemic where we have not solved our care crisis, and where women of color in particular were disproportionately frontline workers, disproportionate working outside the home while our care structure was imploding—something’s gotta give.”
“The unfortunate thing for this Gender Policy Council is that it’s gonna have to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Graves says. “To bring this forward-looking agenda to fruition, but also to undo so many of the really harmful things.”
In a statement from the transition team, President-elect Biden noted that “[t]oo many women are struggling to make ends meet and support their families, and too many are lying awake at night worried about their children’s economic future. This was true before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the current global public health crisis has made these burdens infinitely heavier for women all over this country. 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 economy and our society.”
“All Americans deserve a fair shot to get ahead, including women whose voices have not always been heard,” Harris added in a statement. “Our administration will pursue a comprehensive plan to open up opportunity and uphold the rights of women in our nation and around the world. I look forward to working with these deeply knowledgeable and experienced public servants to address the challenges facing women and girls, and build a nation that is more equal and just.”