Good afternoon and thank you for inviting me to participate on this panel today.
My name is Rosie Hidalgo, and I serve in the White House Gender Policy Council as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor on Gender-Based Violence.
I want to start by providing a brief overview of the Gender Policy Council and then sharing with you the work we have undertaken to develop the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, as well as our efforts currently underway to develop our first National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence.
In March of last year, on International Women’s Day, President Biden issued an Executive Order formally establishing, for the first time, a White House Gender Policy Council.
The Gender Policy Council is formally made up of virtually all Cabinet Secretaries, each of whom has appointed a senior representative to support our government-wide efforts to advance gender equity and equality. We work alongside other White House policy councils, such as the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and the National Security Council.
Importantly, we work on both foreign and domestic policy, uniting efforts to close gender gaps both at home and abroad.
The same Executive Order that created the Council also called for the development of the first-ever National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, joining only a handful of other nations in doing so. In the national gender strategy, released this past October, we identify ten interconnected priorities and highlight the importance of taking an intersectional approach to our work. In other words, we recognize the interconnected nature of race, class, and gender that create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. We also outline a plan for the strategy’s implementation, which will marshal the capacity of every federal agency and department.
As set out in the letter from the President and Vice President that introduces the strategy, it comes at an inflection point for the economic security, safety, health, and well-being of women and girls in our nation and around the globe. COVID-19 has exacerbated preexisting economic, health, and caregiving crises that disproportionately impacted women and girls – especially women and girls of color – long before the pandemic struck.
This moment demands a bold and united response – a commitment to do more than just rebuild to a status quo. The first-ever national gender strategy in the U.S. offers a roadmap to help our nation close persistent gender gaps and propel us toward a country and a world with equal opportunity for all people.
To drive progress towards the objectives outlined in the strategy, each federal agency is developing action plans outlining their targeted priorities and next steps.
And, to help track implementation and promote accountability, the Gender Policy Council will prepare an annual report for submission to the President on the progress we’ve made, which will be publicly released.
External partners have been and will continue to be essential to advancing our work. The Gender Policy Council and all agencies and offices involved in the implementation of this strategy will regularly seek and reflect input from the people whom the strategy is directly intended to benefit.
That includes hearing from grassroots leaders and organizations that are doing critical work on the ground.
Additionally, the strategy recognizes that advancing gender equity and equality is essential to economic growth and development, democracy, and the political stability and security of nations across the globe.
That’s why we identified the need to “Elevate Gender Equality in Security and Humanitarian Relief” as one of our ten strategic priorities.
Our strategic priorities apply as much to our work to advance gender equity and equality in our own country as they do to our global efforts. This includes an historic commitment by the Biden-Harris Administration to promote women’s meaningful participation in the U.S. military, starting with prioritizing their safety from sexual violence.
That’s why we are proud to have taken significant strides to advance military justice reform. The President signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which included sweeping reforms to strengthen the military justice system’s response to sexual assault and related crimes. This historic law also adopts core recommendations of the Independent Review Commission on Sexual Assault in the Military. In launching this Commission, President Biden recognized that we cannot credibly work with partner nations to advance women, peace, and security without making significant investments in safety and equity in our own armed forces.
These efforts overlap with our work to promote women’s full participation and leadership more broadly too. The Biden-Harris Administration has made a commitment to promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in federal appointments, including Cabinet positions, judicial appointments, Ambassadorships, military appointments, and other senior posts. I am sure you have all heard about Supreme Court Justice-designate Ketanji Brown Jackson, eminently qualified and the first Black woman on our Supreme Court.
But we still have work to do to reach gender parity in the United States, with women filling only a quarter of seats in Congress and just 30 percent of state executive and legislative positions. That’s true globally too, where women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions in peace processes, climate negotiations, global health and humanitarian development, and in the private sector.
Promoting women’s full participation and ensuring they are well-represented at the tables where decisions are made – at every level – are essential in order to advance strong and sustainable democracies, which rest on the promise that all people are able to participate, and be protected, fully and equitably in society – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, income, or other factors.
Promoting women’s leadership is a key part of driving progress across all of the issues we work on – from ending gender-based violence to advancing women’s economic security to combatting climate change.
A key component of advancing women’s full participation is ensuring they live free from the threat of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence undermines safety, health, well-being, economic potential, and human rights. In addition to the toll it takes on individuals, across their lifespan, it has direct and indirect costs for families, communities, and economies, as well as democratic governance and public health more broadly.
This work has been particularly important over the last two years. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen increased rates of gender-based violence reported all over the world, including in the U.S. – amounting to what has been called a shadow pandemic.
And even before the COVID-19 pandemic, gender-based violence was endemic in our communities. In the United States, about one in four women and nearly one in ten men reported being impacted by sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner.
Thanks to the courage and advocacy of survivors and the efforts led by grassroots organizations we’ve made important progress over the last several decades to raise awareness of and address gender-based violence. But we know there is more work needed to address the scale of this challenge and its effects on the health, safety, and economic wellbeing of all people.
We are committed to working towards a country and a world where women are guaranteed safety, security, and freedom from violence.
That’s why we took major steps to prevent and respond to gender-based violence, including through the American Rescue Plan, emergency legislation that was passed last year to respond to the COVID pandemic, which directed $1 billion in supplemental funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and services. This included targeted funding for culturally-specific community-based organizations that help survivors from marginalized communities access the services and support they need.
And this past March President Biden signed into law the reauthorization and strengthening of the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), a long-time legislative priority for him. In fact, President Biden was the original author of VAWA when it first passed in 1994 and has championed efforts to reauthorize and expand it. VAWA has strengthened legal protections for survivors and has continued to expand protections and programs, particularly for those in underserved communities who face additional barriers to safety and justice.
Additionally, VAWA provides core funding for all the states and territories to support what is known as a Coordinated Community Approach to address domestic violence, sexual violence, and stalking. This approach promotes victim advocates, law enforcement, prosecutors, and others to work across systems to achieve justice and safety for survivors and accountability for offenders. Other VAWA-funded interventions include funding for domestic violence courts, specialized law enforcement and prosecution units, as well as more comprehensive services for survivors, and specialized training focused on trauma-informed and survivor-centered approaches.
To ensure that we are taking a whole-of-government approach to preventing and responding to gender-based violence, the Gender Policy Council is currently developing the U.S.’s first-ever National Action Plan to End Gender-Based Violence. The scope of this plan is intentionally broad, aimed at preventing and responding to gender-based violence wherever it occurs — whether at home, at school, online, in workplaces or in communities. And it will bring together much of the work we are already doing to address gender-based violence across the federal government – from military justice reform to protections for students in school and college campuses to efforts to prevent and respond to online harassment and abuse.
The National Action Plan will establish a comprehensive roadmap to address the root causes of gender-based violence. It will also lay out a plan to increase options and opportunities for survivors to seek safety, support, healing, and justice. And it will adopt an intersectional approach, focusing in particular on the compounded systemic barriers of those most at risk, including: women and girls, people of color, Indigenous people, immigrants, individuals with disabilities, older adults, individuals experiencing poverty, LGBTQI+ individuals, and members of other underserved communities.
To inform the development of the National Action Plan, the Gender Policy Council continues to convene numerous listening sessions with survivors, advocates, and other civil society stakeholders. And as part of its implementation, the Plan will emphasize the need to encourage collaboration between civil society, survivors, service providers, and all levels of government. In doing so, it will put survivors’ knowledge, experiences, and needs at the center of solutions and services.
In addition to our work to develop and implement the National Action Plan, we are also committed to reviewing and updating the 2016 U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally. Together, the plans will create a blueprint for this Administration’s work to end gender-based violence going forward, both domestically and globally. I understand at the February 2022 U.S.-Brazil Human Rights Working Group, the United States and Brazil expressed shared interest to expand bilateral cooperation to address gender-based violence. We continue to welcome it.
The President also issued an Executive Order to improve public safety and criminal justice for Native Americans and address the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous people, directing federal agencies to develop a coordinated strategy to prevent and respond to violence against Native Americans, which disproportionately affects Indigenous women, girls, LGBTQ+ Native Americans.
The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act included important provisions to restore and expand the jurisdiction of Tribal Courts to prosecute non-Indian perpetrators of domestic violence, sexual assault, sex trafficking and child abuse when those crimes occur on their lands. The United States also re-launched its leadership and participation in the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls with the Governments of Mexico and Canada.
As you know, none of the issues we work on exist in a silo, but instead are very interconnected. Girls’ education affects their future economic security, for example, while restrictions on access to health care undermine women’s ability to take care of their families and advance in the workplace. Our work to end gender-based violence is no exception – an environment free from violence is essential for women’s full participation in society. Enabling women’s full participation also requires that we strengthen their economic security.
We recognize that economic security depends on addressing longstanding discrimination and barriers that have hampered women – particularly women of color – from fully participating in the labor force, including by supporting caregiving needs and taking steps to close gender wage and wealth gaps.
This is why the Strategy on Gender Equity focuses on how the ten key strategic priorities are interconnected and must be addressed at the intersections of different forms of discrimination that create obstacles to full participation and the full development of each person’s potential.
We view this commitment to advancing gender equity and equality as essential to protecting fundamental rights.
As we continue our efforts to promote women’s leadership and participation – of every kind and at every level – we look forward to working with our partners around the world to realize our shared goals in the months and years ahead.