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Biden Establishes A Gender Policy Council Within The White House

Julissa Reynoso, co-chair of the Gender Policy Council and chief of staff to first lady Jill Biden, speaks during a press briefing at the White House Monday.
Patrick Semansky
Julissa Reynoso, co-chair of the Gender Policy Council and chief of staff to first lady Jill Biden, speaks during a press briefing at the White House Monday.

Updated at 1:15 p.m. ET

President Biden marked International Women's Day on Monday by signing two executive orders geared toward promoting gender equity, both in the United States and around the world.

In a statement, Biden said: "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. Too often, they have done so while being denied the freedom, full participation, and equal opportunity all women are due."

The first executive order establishes a Gender Policy Council within the White House, reformulating an office from the Obama administration that was later disbanded by the Trump administration, and giving it more clout.

Under former President Barack Obama, the office was called the White House Council on Women and Girls. The name change to the Gender Policy Council is intentional, according to Council co-chair Jennifer Klein, who has worked on women's issues going back to the Clinton administration.

"We are very inclusive in our definition of gender," Klein said in a White House briefing Monday. "We intend to address all sorts of discrimination and fight for equal rights for people, whether that's LGBTQ+ people, women, girls, men."

The Council's staff will include a special assistant to the president to focus specifically on "policies to advance equity for Black, indigenous and Latina women and girls of color," Klein said, in recognition of the historical and disproportionate barriers those groups face.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted those inequities, with women bearing the brunt of most job losses and caregiving responsibilities. "No country can recover from this pandemic," President Biden said in his statement, "if it leaves half of its population behind."

By establishing the council, Biden said, his administration shows its commitment "to ensure that every domestic and foreign policy we pursue rests on a foundation of dignity and equity for women."

Co-chairing the Gender Policy Council with Klein is Julissa Reynoso, who is first lady Jill Biden's chief of staff and who served under Hillary Clinton at the State Department.

Speaking at the White House in both English and Spanish, Reynoso — who is Dominican-American and served as U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay under then-President Obama — said the full participation of women and girls in society is "essential to the economic well-being, health and security of our nation and the world. This is a matter of human rights, justice and fairness."

Areas of long-term focus for the Council, Reynoso said, will include "increasing economic security and opportunity by addressing the structural barriers to women's participation in the labor force; decreasing wage and wealth gaps; and addressing the caregiving needs of American families and supporting care workers."

The second executive order the president signed Monday is directed at the Department of Education, and seems expressly aimed at reversing a controversial rule on campus sexual assault and harassment that was issued last year by then-President Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Citing Title IX, the federal civil rights law barring sex discrimination in education, DeVos announced a new regulation that granted more rights and protections to those accused of sexual assault or harassment.

Biden's executive order directs the Department of Education to review all existing regulations to "[guarantee] an educational environment free from discrimination on the basis of sex, including discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, which encompasses sexual violence, and including discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity."

The order directs newly confirmed Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to consider "suspending, revising, or rescinding" any agency actions that violate that policy.

Asked whether the Biden administration would continue to enforce the Devos/Trump-era rules, co-chair Klein noted that the new executive order "asks the secretary of education to consider whether to rescind or revoke anything immediately." It remains unclear, though, how quickly those regulations could be undone.

Biden, who tapped Kamala Harris to be the first female vice president, has issued a record number of executive orders in his administration's first weeks.

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As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.
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