“I got a little tired of seeing otherwise thoughtful people smile and nod their heads when I brought up the concerns of women and girls.”
– Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State
It seemed like a fairly innocuous request.
In 1997, when Hillary Clinton was first lady, she hosted a conference on child care to discuss her challenges and to call for increased federal funding for programs like Head Start or tax incentives for businesses. . She asked then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to launch the panel.
He was taken aback by the invitation. “I think he was somewhat taken aback to have been interviewed,” recalls Clinton in a telephone interview with The New York Times. “It was a bit outside his comfort zone.”
In the end, Mr. Rubin agreed to speak to the panel. But the larger issue of convincing men to put them first and to care about so-called women’s issues has never gone away – not even for Mrs. Clinton.
She continued to push the agenda anyway: In an attempt to make women’s rights a priority, the Clinton administration created the country’s first ever presidential body focused on gender issues – the Interagency Council on women – and the first lady at the time was honorary president. .
This council not only shed light on women’s issues that did not receive much attention at the time, it also set a precedent for future administrations.
The Obama administration has taken that advice one step further, expanding its power and plans, under the leadership of Tina Tchen and Valerie Jarrett, both of whom have faced their fair share of stares and glassy stares.
“We had a bit of a backlash outside, with things like, ‘Gee, where’s the men and boys’ advice? Said Ms. Tchen, who is now president and CEO of the anti-sexual harassment movement Time’s Up. “I was like, ‘I think that’s all the other advice.'”
And now President Biden has announced the creation of a new White House Gender Policy Council, with two full-time women: Jennifer Klein and Julissa Reynoso. Its aim is to ensure that every government agency considers how all of its policies, whether it’s tackling climate change or building new infrastructure, can interact with the lives of women and LGBTQ + people.
It remains to be seen whether the council will find it easier to bring in high-level agency heads and lawmakers. But the structure of the council, against the backdrop of the twin crisis of the pandemic and an economic downturn that has disproportionately disrupted women’s lives, suggests it may have more power than anything that existed before.
In Her Words sat down with Ms Clinton to discuss how effective she thinks this new board can be, compared to the one that was created when she was first lady, and what had – or did not hadn’t – changed over the past quarter century.
The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
What do you think of the structure of the Gender Policy Council? Does he have the power and the tools to really help women in this time of crisis?
Counseling is an absolutely critical first step. It sends a very clear message to the rest of the government that constant attention will be given to the importance of mainstreaming the concerns women face, especially after the pandemic, in all walks of life, and that the administration is hoping to highlight the government-wide focus on strengthening the rights of girls and women, not only in our country but around the world.
But it is clear that the work is making it a reality by coordinating all of the federal government agencies that have a seat at the table and proposing legislative and regulatory changes that will fulfill the council’s mission.
Is White House Advice The Best Way To Help Women Right Now? Or is there a better way to approach it?
I will answer your question by saying that it is necessary, but not sufficient. If you don’t have advice in the White House, you are failing to signal the importance of these issues to the new president and vice president. If you don’t equip it with really smart and experienced people, you are setting it up for failure.
Part of the challenge for the board is to be very specific and then put in place both a structure and a timeline to involve the rest of government.
I know how effective Jen and Julissa are, having worked with both. They know you have to run a bureaucracy. You can’t just say, “OK, we care about everyone, come out and do good.” You have to implement it. You must have accountability measures. You absolutely have to be on it every day.
We’ve seen how easy it is to dissolve these gender-focused councils, as has been done under several Republican presidents. So how can the US government institutionalize something like this?
What you really want is to institutionalize legislative and regulatory changes. The establishment of a council will not, by itself, lead us to paid family leave. It will not improve the quality of child care. These things require the kind of difficult legislative and regulatory work that can lead to lasting changes that cannot be eliminated so easily.
Should the United States have a dedicated gender department, like the Women’s office in Australia or similar configurations that other countries have adopted?
There are different approaches that are definitely worth considering. But in this country right now, where we have so many incredible challenges, I think what we want to do is focus on getting results for people and not letting a bureaucracy become the goal. Because I don’t think most women would care. I think they would rightly say, “Well, how does that help me have better access to quality child care?”
Twenty-five years after your speech in Beijing with your now iconic declaration – “women’s rights are human rights” – the world still talks about women’s rights in a condescending way, as if it is something that is granted to women – not something that they inherently deserve – and that can be easily removed. Should the discussion on women’s rights be reframed?
I wrote an article in The Atlantic to commemorate the Beijing speech in September, and argued that we needed to shift our focus and certainly our rhetoric from a rights-based framework to a power-based one. You cannot keep asking yourself whether or not women deserve certain rights. Why do we still have to claim our rights? Isn’t there an equity agenda that treats mothers and fathers equally? The imbalance of power that still exists is what I think must be the basis for the debate to come.
If you just call for equal pay, for example, and you don’t look at the disparities in where women work, which we have now seen painfully exposed because of the pandemic with all essential health care workers. health and others. frontline businesses, then you are missing the big picture.
Robert Rubin was puzzled when you invited him to attend a conference on child care. Is this kind of interaction – men’s confusion, their shining eyes – common for you when advocating for the rights of women and girls?
All the time. In fact, I wrote in my book “Hard Choices” about my four years as Secretary of State, that I got a little tired of seeing otherwise thoughtful people smiling and nodding their heads when I did. mentioned the concerns of women and girls. Even some of the men who worked with me at the State Department at high levels – I would say, “OK, we’re going to India and obviously we’re going to do all the official meetings, but then we’re going to a place called the Association of independent women because it is the largest collective of women in the world. And you could just see, it was like, “Oh, she’s leaving.”
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