Biden signs executive orders establishing Gender Policy Council, addressing sexual violence in education

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden signed two executive orders on Monday to establish the White House Gender Policy Council and address sexual violence in the education field.

The orders, signed on International Woman's Day, are aimed at ensuring gender equality and equity throughout the federal government at a time when women, particularly Black and Latina women, are being disproportionately afflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We know that the full participation of all people, including women and girls, across all aspects of our society is essential to the economic well-being, health and security of our nation, of the world," Julissa Reynoso, co-chair of the Gender Policy Council and chief of staff to the first lady, said at a White House briefing.

"This is a matter of human rights, justice and fairness," she added.

The White House Gender Policy Council will be specifically tasked with combating systemic bias and discrimination, including sexual harassment. The council's broad scope includes tackling a slate of challenges like the structural barriers to women's participation in the labor force, wage and wealth gaps and the caregiving needs of American families.

Health care concerns, equal opportunity in leadership and promoting gender equality worldwide through diplomacy will also fall under the council's purview.

The executive order will require the co-chairs of the council to submit to the President a government-wide strategy to address gender in policies, programs and budgets, and an annual report to measure progress on implementing the strategy, according to a fact sheet released by the White House.

To prevent and respond to gender-based violence, there will be special assistants to the President and senior advisers on gender-based violence on the council staff.

The executive order will also require engagement with non-profit and community-based organizations, state and local government officials, tribal nations, foreign government officials and multilateral organizations, the fact sheet says.

"The White House Gender Policy Council will be an essential part of the Biden-Harris administration's plan to ensure we build a more equal and just democracy by aggressively protecting the rights and unique needs of those who experience multiple forms of discrimination, including people of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people," Reynoso said.

Biden's other executive order, meanwhile, is aimed at advancing policies to guarantee education free from sexual violence.

The order will direct the US Education Department to review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance and policies to ensure consistency with the Biden administration's policy that students be guaranteed education free from sexual violence. The order also directs the Education Department to specifically evaluate the Title IX regulation issued under the previous administration which expanded protections for those accused of campus sexual harassment and assault.

Taken together, Biden's executive orders underscore the urgency his administration has sought to bring to gender equality since taking office in January.

"The pandemic has exacerbated barriers that have historically impacted women and girls," Reynoso said.

"As the country continues to grapple with the pandemic and reckons with the scourge of systemic racism and discrimination, President Biden knows that we need a government-wide focus on uplifting the rights of all women and girls," she said.

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