Hillary Clinton Thinks a White House Gender Council Is a Crucial ‘First Step’
Source: The New York Times
It seemed like a fairly innocuous request.
In 1997, when Hillary Clinton was the first lady, she organized a conference on child care to discuss its challenges, and to request increased federal funding for programs like Head Start or tax incentives for businesses. She asked the treasury secretary at the time, Robert Rubin, to start the panel.
He was puzzled by the invitation. “I think he was taken somewhat aback in being asked,” Mrs. Clinton recalled in a phone interview with The New York Times. “It was a little bit outside his comfort zone.”
In the end, Mr. Rubin agreed to speak on the panel. But the broader issue of convincing men that they should prioritize and care about so-called women’s issues never went away — not even for Mrs. Clinton.
She kept pushing 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 then-first lady served as its honorary chair.
That council didn’t just shine a powerful spotlight on women’s issues that had not had much attention at the time, it also set up something of a precedent for future administrations.
The Obama administration took that council a step further, expanding its power and plans, under the leadership of Tina Tchen and Valerie Jarrett, who both also faced their fair share of eye-rolls and glazed looks.
“We got a little bit of pushback externally, with things like ‘Gee, where’s the council on men and boys?’” said Ms. Tchen, who now serves as the president and chief executive of the anti-sexual harassment movement Time’s Up. “I was like, ‘I think that’s every other council.’”
And now, President Biden has announced the creation of a new White House Gender Policy Council, with two full-time chairwomen: Jennifer Klein and Julissa Reynoso. Its goal is to ensure that every government agency considers how all of its policies, whether it’s curbing climate change or building new infrastructure, may intersect with the lives of women and L.G.B.T.Q.+ people.
Whether the council will have an easier time bringing high-level agency heads and lawmakers aboard remains to be seen. But the structure of the council, against a backdrop of the twin crises of the pandemic and an economic downturn that have disproportionately upended women’s lives, suggests it might have more power than anything that had existed before.
In Her Words caught up with Mrs. Clinton to discuss how effective she thinks this new council can be, compared with the one that was created when she was first lady, and what had — or had not — changed in the past quarter century.
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