Q&A

Jennifer Klein on the U.S.’s ‘First Ever’ National Gender Strategy

“We want it to be aspirational,” said co-chair of U.S. President Joe Biden’s policy council.

By , a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy, and , an intern at Foreign Policy.
Jennifer Klein speaks at the White House.
Jennifer Klein, co-chair of the Gender Policy Council, speaks during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington on March 8. Alex Wong/Getty Images

In March, the Biden administration created the Gender Policy Council, bringing issues of gender equity back into the White House after the Trump administration shuttered the Council on Women and Girls in 2017.

On Friday, the council launched the country’s first National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, a detailed 42-page strategy that touches on everything from abortion rights and immigration to the creation of a National Intelligence Officer for Gender Equality to analyze the relationship between gender and violent extremism. 

Foreign Policy spoke with Jennifer Klein, co-chair of the Gender Policy Council, about this new strategy, its implementation, and the impacts it could have domestically and worldwide. 

In March, the Biden administration created the Gender Policy Council, bringing issues of gender equity back into the White House after the Trump administration shuttered the Council on Women and Girls in 2017.

On Friday, the council launched the country’s first National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, a detailed 42-page strategy that touches on everything from abortion rights and immigration to the creation of a National Intelligence Officer for Gender Equality to analyze the relationship between gender and violent extremism. 

Foreign Policy spoke with Jennifer Klein, co-chair of the Gender Policy Council, about this new strategy, its implementation, and the impacts it could have domestically and worldwide. 

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Foreign Policy: This is obviously hugely ambitious in scope, covering everything from global health to investments in high schools in high poverty areas, with wide ranging ramifications for both domestic and foreign policy. Could you talk us through your next steps to make this strategy a reality? 

Jennifer Klein: I just also want to take a minute to note why I think this strategy is significant. I really think there’s several reasons. The first is that it’s the first. This marks the release of our country’s first ever national gender strategy. It builds on and really, I think, confirms the Biden-Harris administration’s leadership on gender equality. The second is that it is a whole-of-government effort, and we’ll talk more about that when we talk about implementation. But in both the creation and development of the strategy—and also really importantly in the implementation that will follow—we marshaled the capacity of really every department and agency across the federal government. … The third thing I would say is really significant about this strategy, which relates to that second piece, is that it addresses both domestic and foreign affairs. We know there are gender gaps both at home and abroad, and this strategy really aims, as you just pointed out, to take on both domestic and foreign policy and the interconnection between the two. 

FP: One thing that struck me in reading this strategy is there’s not a lot of mention of the needs of and problems faced by transgender people and nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people. Could you elaborate on what the plans are to address the specific needs of these groups? 

JK: I actually think it does. One of the core principles, the guiding principle that underlies the strategy, is that we will take an intersectional approach that recognizes overlapping forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ability, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity. All of those things are really embedded in that guiding principle. And I will also say in the creation of the strategy, as I mentioned, we spoke to 270 young people. … We divided them into groups so that people would have a chance to really participate and really speak, … and many of those actually included gender-nonconforming people as well as transgender people.

There was a previous iteration [of the Gender Policy Council], which was clearly related to the kind of council we are but different in some fundamental ways, during the Obama administration: The White House Council on Women and Girls. We renamed the council the Gender Policy Council to show and to live that commitment to gender issues and gender equity more broadly. 

FP: What do you see as being the role of men and boys and bringing them on board and their involvement in advancing a strategy of gender equity? 

JK: This strategy aims to help all people who face gender inequality, inequity, discrimination, harassment or violence based on their gender and gender identity, or harmful gender norms. And as I also said, this Gender Policy Council and the strategy focuses attention on women and girls, particularly women and girls of color given the historical and disproportionate barriers that they face. But gender inequality and inequity affects people of all genders, including men and boys. … And we know that the involvement of men and boys is also critical to advancing gender equity and equality. 

FP: How much of this plan is going to be reliant on new legislation, and how optimistic are you about getting it through Congress? We already know that moderate Democrats have baulked at the cost of provisions in the reconciliation package for paid family leave and child care.

JK: The reason that we didn’t peg the strategy itself to particular pieces of legislation was because we want it to be aspirational and we want it to live beyond negotiation over particular pieces of legislation. But all of that said, there are really key pieces of legislation that, as you referenced, we are working on, that are instrumental to gender equity and gender equality and that I think really comes through in the strategy. … We need to invest in the care that people need so that they can actually support their families and get to work. Women’s labor force participation in this country is back to the late 1980s level, and we need people to be able to get to work so they can support their families, they can be economically secure over the course of their careers and their lifetime. So that is just one major legislative priority that is really embedded in this strategy, and it’s core to this strategy.

And then there’s a lot, by the way, that we can do through executive action, and we intend to do that as well so that we can continue to advance these policies without legislation where that is possible. A great example of something we’re working hard on is closing the gender pay gap and racial pay gap. And there are actions that the private sector can take today. There are actions that the administration can take through executive action, and we’re working on this as well. 

FP: What do you see as the role of the private sector in supporting the strategy? And what are your plans to bring them on board? 

JK: I think there’s a real role for the private sector. There are things that are in this strategy that the private sector could do today, and we are working with them in various ways, pulling people together to encourage them to take action. And learning from them, by the way, there are many companies that really understand that gender equity and gender equality is a core economic issue for their bottom line, for their workers, but also more broadly for the economy. And so there’s a lot of private sector actors who are really doing amazing work, and we want to learn from them as well. And then there’s some very specific things that we’ve envisioned: to create public-private partnerships on care. One of the things we’re thinking about is that the care economy is an issue here in this country. It’s also an issue around the world. We’re thinking about how to enlist the private sector to join us in more of a public-private partnership kind of arrangement to advance the care agenda, as I said, globally.

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

Anna Weber is an intern at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @annasweber

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