By Kalisha Dessources Figures and Catherine E. Lhamon
The converging crises our nation faces today have exposed and exacerbated inequities that have long been with us. As we work to overcome those crises and build back better, we have an opportunity before us to pursue bold and necessary change to advance equity and opportunity for all. That change must be driven by policies that weave together racial justice, gender equity, and other dimensions of equity to ensure that they lift up every single community and leave no one behind.
Together, the White House Gender Policy Council and the Domestic Policy Council work every day to implement the comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all that President Biden and Vice President Harris have prioritized since day one. From health, to economic security, to education and safety—equity is essential to building a stronger country for us all.
Equity is essential to health outcomes and health care. As one example, our country is facing a maternal health crisis—and Black and Indigenous women and their families are bearing the brunt. Recent data show that Black women are 2.5 times more likely, and Indigenous women are 2.3 times more likely, to die from pregnancy complications than non-Hispanic white women. The Centers for Disease Control reports that two out of three of these deaths are preventable. At the same time, women of color continue to face disproportionate barriers to accessing health care; they are more likely to lose coverage during a pregnancy, and less likely to have access to mental health screenings, treatment, and support before, during, and after pregnancy.
Equity is essential to economic security for women and families. We know, for example, that reliable access to child care is critical to helping parents secure and maintain good jobs and build economic stability. But even before the pandemic, more than three in five Hispanic families lived in child care deserts, with limited to no access to licensed child care. Part of the reason for this is that our nation has failed to adequately invest in and value our care infrastructure—the under-compensated caregivers and early childhood educators who bring greater security and peace of mind to so many families—who themselves are disproportionately Latina women and other women of color. Latina women on average earn 55 cents for every dollar that non-Hispanic white men earn. This totals tens of thousands of dollars in diminished earnings in a year, and more than a million dollars over the course of a lifetime.
Equity is essential to the safety of women and girls. Across communities, Black, Indigenous and other women and girls of color face high rates of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, harassment and stalking, whether at home, at work, or in the community. Asian American women suffer twice as many incidents of harassment and violence as Asian American men, exemplifying how racism, sexism, and gender-based violence converge to inflict harm. Native American women are subjected to sexual violence and domestic violence at rates higher than any other population in the United States, and the vast majority report being victimized by a non-native individual. Equity also requires supporting the work of culturally specific community-based organizations to ensure different pathways to safety and more holistic approaches to prevention and healing for survivors from historically marginalized communities.
In addition to approaching policy with both racial and gender equity in mind, considering other factors that create barriers for safety and well-being is important, too. While Black girls are suspended from school at higher rates than girls of any other race or ethnicity, LGBTQ+ students, especially those who are transgender or who have disabilities, are also more likely than their non-LGBTQ+ peers to receive detention, suspensions, and expulsions from school, often as a result of discrimination and harassment. And harmful school discipline policies are further compounded for LGBTQ+ students of color and with disabilities.
For all of these reasons, we need to infuse our laws, norms, and policies with a strong focus on equity— and that’s exactly what the Biden-Harris Administration is doing. We’re more than ready for the urgency of this work; here are some of the steps this Administration has already taken:
- The President’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan will not only be instrumental to vaccinating America, safely reopening our schools, and delivering economic relief checks into the pockets of 85 percent of the American people—it is also projected to dramatically reduce poverty and racial and gender wealth gaps. It contains the largest investment in child care since World War II, which will especially benefit the women of color disproportionately employed in our caregiving workforce. It makes the largest single federal investment in history for Native programs. It provides crucial support to small businesses in industries that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19, many of which are concentrated among entrepreneurs of color. Its creation of a new public health job corps will mobilize 100,000 community health workers to provide culturally competent care, maximizing better health outcomes across America, and specifically benefitting communities of color and women and girls. All told, it is projected to cut poverty in the Black community by 38 percent, in the Hispanic community by 43 percent, and in AAPI communities by 23 percent—and it will cut child poverty in half.
- President Biden’s Executive Order directing federal agencies to fully implement all federal laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, to include sexual orientation and gender identity, is one of the most consequential policy actions for LGBTQ+ Americans ever signed by a U.S. President. This is a critical step in protecting so many Black, Indigenous, and women and girls of color, including Black transgender women and girls, for example, who face unconscionably high levels of workplace discrimination, homelessness, and often deadly episodes of violence.
- In addition to these early and transformative actions, our teams have set up the infrastructure to ensure that whole-of-government approaches to equity are deeply integrated throughout the federal government—keeping in mind the specific barriers that Black, Indigenous, and other women and girls of color face every step of the way. We and our colleagues across the federal government have rolled up our sleeves—and will keep them rolled up—to eradicate hate, ensure equitable federal procurement, provide data to the public, promulgate regulations that promote fairness, and generally ensure that equity guides all of our work and results in equitable outcomes for the American people.
This Administration is committed to ensuring that we all—regardless of race, gender, or any other factor —have access to equal opportunity and equitable outcomes. Our joint work, laser-focused on equity, will move us closer to that goal.
Kalisha Dessources Figures is Special Assistant to the President for Gender Policy.
Catherine E. Lhamon is Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council for Racial Justice and Equity.