United States President Joe Biden has signed two executive orders related to gender equity on International Women’s Day, according to the White House, in an apparent rebuke of former President Donald Trump.
One order will establish a White House Gender Policy Council “to ensure that the Biden-Harris Administration advances gender equity and equal rights and opportunity for women and girls”, the White House said in a statement. Trump had previously disbanded a White House office specifically focused on women’s issues created during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
The second order is for a review of the Department of Education’s “regulations, orders, guidance, and policies” related to gender discrimination, including changes made by the Trump administration to Title IX regulations, which prohibit gender discrimination in federally funded institutions.
“As the country continues to grapple with the pandemic and reckons with the scourge of systemic racism, President Biden knows that we need a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of women and girls in the United States and around the world, restoring America as a champion for gender equity and equality,” the White House said.
White House Gender Policy Council
The so-called White House Gender Policy Council will operate within the Executive Office of the President and will have a role in both domestic and foreign policy and will be required to submit to the president “to address gender in policies, programmes and budgets, and an annual report to measure progress on implementing the strategy”.
The council will also include a special assistant to the president and senior adviser on gender-based violence “to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, wherever it occurs”.
Among a laundry list of objectives, the council will seek to combat systemic bias and discrimination; increase economic security and opportunities for women in the labour force; and advance gender equality internationally through “diplomacy, development, trade, and defence”.
A council created during the Obama era with similar aims – called the White House Council on Women and Girls – was quietly disbanded by Trump shortly after he took office in 2017.
Department of Education and Title IX
The Department of Education and Title IX review, meanwhile, could pave the way to a major shift in how colleges handle allegations of sexual misconduct moving forward.
“What is clear is that the policy of this administration is that every individual, every student is entitled to a … fair education, free of sexual violence and that people – all involved – have access to a fair process,” said Jennifer Klein, the co-chair and executive director of the Gender Policy Council.
Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, in 2018, rescinded Obama-era administration guidelines for colleges and universities to punish individuals in reported sexual assault cases.
DeVos increased the burden of proof administrators must use to adjudicate an allegation from a “preponderance of evidence”, which means more than 50 percent of the evidence indicates guilt, to “clear and convincing evidence”, which means guilt must be more substantially likely to be true than not true. The standards relate only to punishment by school administrations and not criminal charges.
The changes also reduced the liability of colleges and universities for investigating sexual misconduct claims and bolstered the due process rights of the accused, including the right to cross-examine their accusers through a third-party advocate at campus hearings.