Monday is International Women’s Day, and President Joe Biden is taking the opportunity to start rolling back some of the related damage done by Donald Trump and his administration.
Biden is planning to sign an executive order establishing a White House Gender Policy Council, effectively replacing an Obama-era White House Council on Women and Girls that was eliminated by Trump. The changed name signals a substantive change to include transgender people, The Washington Post reports, quoting an unnamed official who said, “There will be a focus on women and girls, but the choice of the name of the council is really intentional.”
The council will consider the intersections of gender and race in a “whole of government approach” to gender equity, sexual harassment, gender-based violence, family caregiving, and structural barriers to women’s workforce participation, both in the U.S. and globally.
Another key move coming from Biden on International Women’s Day targets a key Betsy DeVos policy on campus sexual assault. DeVos had dramatically expanded protections for accused sexual assailants, including giving them the right to personally cross-examine their alleged victims. The DeVos rules also tightened up the definition of actionable sexual misconduct to include “unwelcome conduct that a reasonable person would determine is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the school’s education program or activity,” “school employee conditioning education benefits on participation in unwelcome sexual conduct,” or “sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking.”
In short, DeVos instituted a policy under which a victim of sexual harassment or assault could hope for action from a college or university only if she was experiencing something so severe it was guaranteed to scar her for life, and she would then face a process in which the deck was stacked in favor of her assailant or harasser, who would be given the opportunity as part of the official process to revictimize her. Biden is taking the first step toward undoing that, though since DeVos got it written into an official regulation, it will take significant time and effort to fix.
Biden will sign an executive order, the Post reports, “directing the Education Department to evaluate whether the DeVos regulation is ‘consistent with the policies’ of the Biden administration, administration officials said Sunday,” and calling for a broad review of department policies to ensure they meet the administration policy to “guarantee education free from sexual violence.”
Biden will also address International Women’s Day in remarks from the White House. Vice President Kamala Harris will speak to the European Parliament.
“As we endure the pandemic, the economic instability, the racial injustice, the threats to democracy, and the effects of climate change, the question before us is simple: How do we build a world that works for women?” she will say, according to prepared remarks. “I believe we must ensure women’s safety at home and in every community,” going on to say that “ this is not just an act of goodwill. This is a show of strength. If we build a world that works for women, our nations will all be safer, stronger, and more prosperous.”