In many ways, Biden has women — and especially women of color — to thank for his victory in the 2020 election. And by selecting the first woman and person of color to serve as Vice President and nominating a record number of women, including nine women of color, to his cabinet, the Biden Administration has signaled a willingness to prioritize women and the issues that impact us. However, has the first 100 days of this administration actually walked the walk? Here are five big actions the Biden Administration has taken in its first 100 days that have had direct, real impacts on women and have started to deliver on the priorities of the people who put them in office.
1. Passing the COVID-19 Stimulus Bill, the American Rescue Plan Act
Of people not working as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, women ages 25-44 were three times more likely than men to not be working – mostly because of increased childcare demands. 2.3 million women have left the workforce since February of 2020, taking the women’s labor force participation rate to 57 percent, the lowest it has been since 1988. Importantly, Black and Hispanic women have experienced more drastic differences in lost employment levels since February 2020, as compared to white women. Further, women of color represent more than half of workers in essential service work (such as housekeeping and nursing assistance), increasing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and heightening their need for quality health care. Thus, as women have borne the brunt of this public health crisis, any legislation intended to address the harms of the pandemic must explicitly address its harsh impact on women.
On March 11, 2021, President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, into law, which meaningfully addresses the pandemic’s impact on women in a few key ways.
First, the American Rescue Plan responds to the economic and health consequences of the pandemic on women by lowering premiums for individuals with Marketplace health care plans and making individuals that buy their own health insurance eligible for tax credits that will reduce their premiums. Furthermore, the law creates important new incentives for states that have not already done so to expand Medicaid, a move that has the potential to reduce the number of uninsured people, improve access to and affordability of care, and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in coverage. The American Rescue Plan also includes an important step toward enhanced Medicaid Postpartum Coverage by providing states the option to extend their coverage from 60 days postpartum to a full year. States that take advantage of this will be better equipped to meaningfully address the maternal health crisis that disproportionately harms Black women. Finally, the American Rescue Plan invests in childcare and provides increased child tax credits that will cut child poverty in half, which will go a long way toward giving women the support they need to re-enter the workforce following this pandemic.
2. Executive Actions on Racial Equity
On his first day in office, President Biden signed an Executive Order that established a government-wide initiative to address racial equity and redress systemic racism in the federal government. In furtherance of this initiative, President Biden signed four executive actions on January 26, 2021 to address racial equity in the United States. These four actions include: 1) directing the Department of Housing and Urban Development “to take steps necessary to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies“, 2) directing the Department of Justice to end its use of privatized prisons, 3) reaffirming the United States’ commitment to Native American tribal sovereignty, and 4) combating xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
These are important first steps in acknowledging how America has systematically excluded communities of color from opportunities and subjected them to intolerable violence. Women are often particularly harmed by structural racism, and each of these executive actions will have a real impact on women if implemented successfully. As one example, Department of Justice studies show that one in four homeless women is homeless due to violence committed against her, and women of color face unique cultural and institutional barriers that heightens their vulnerability to homelessness and housing insecurity from domestic abuse. Second, ending privatized prisons will help to counter mass incarceration, where Black women are imprisoned nearly twice as often and Latina women 1.3 times as often as white women. Third, reaffirming tribal sovereignty can allow tribes to more effectively address the fact that Native American women are more than 2.5 times more likely to experience sexual violence than any other group of women. Finally, the Biden administration’s commitment to combating AAPI xenophobia is crucial in light of the recent murder of six Asian American women in Georgia and the fact that women were the victims of 68% of Asian American hate incidents in the past year.
3. Expansion of Reproductive Health and Rights Access
On January 28, 2021, President Biden rescinded the Mexico City Policy, also known as the “Global Gag Rule” which requires foreign non-governmental organizations that accept U.S. funds to certify that they will not “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning.” The Trump administration had previously reinstated and expanded the global gag rule to apply its restrictions to nearly all federal global health assistance, implicating approximately $9 billion USD. The global gag rule can force foreign NGOs to make the unnecessary choice between critical funding and complying with these anti-abortion restrictions. The rule has harmed many across the globe. For instance, in Uganda, a large NGO that lost funding as a result of the gag rule was forced to close its health facility and prematurely end several community health programs. In South Africa, where abortion is permitted, the gag rule created confusion as providers had to naviagte conflicts between local laws and the global gag rule.
Second, the Biden Administration is moving to reverse the Trump Administration’s Title X domestic gag rule. Title X is a federal grant program that provides family-planning services to low-income people. In March 2019, the Trump Administration promulgated a rule that forbid any provider that provided or referred patients for abortions from recieiving federal funding for contraception and STD screenings for low-income people. The Trump rule was devastating for reproductive health care access, causing almost a quarter of the program’s providers to leave and 22 percent fewer patients being served nationwide. The recent move by the Biden Administration to reverse this role offers an important opportunity to restore access to needed health care to millions of low-income women.
Finally, the Biden Administration’s FDA recently lifted in-person dispensing requirements for mifepristone, one of the pills used in medication abortion, until the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. This will allow abortion providers in some states to prescribe medication abortion through telemedicine or through the mail. This is a huge win for abortion access, especially for people who would otherwise have to travel long distances to get care.
4. Rejoining the Paris Climate Accord
Promptly after his inauguration, President Biden issued an Executive Order rejoining the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement, effective February 19, 2021. The Executive Order reunites the U.S. with 194 other nations in combating climate change and rising temperatures.
The Paris Climate Agreement includes specific provisions to provide women with additional aid and support because climate change disproportionately affects women. Compared to men, women are more likely to be impoverished and lack autonomy to make decisions, weakening their ability to adapt as climate change becomes more intense across the globe. Moreover, in the face of climate change, women physically exert themselves to gather food and water and, in some cases, are forced into relationships in order to escape food scarcity. As a result, women are more likely to become victims of injury, rape, domestic violence, and forced marriages.
In addition, rising temperatures increase the likelihood of heat waves. These prolonged periods of extreme heat have negative impacts on people’s health, especially for pregnant people and their infants. Pregnant people have naturally elevated body temperatures, and are more vulnerable to harmful heat exposure that may lead to serious adverse pregnancy outcomes, including a higher risk of preterm birth, having a baby with a low birth weight, and even infant mortality. Climate change exacerbates the already large racial gap in maternal and infant health outcomes, and communities of color, outdoor workers, and people with low incomes are most affected by extreme heat. As a result, Black and Hispanic women are more than twice as likely to have a preterm birth or a stillbirth after being exposed to heat compared to white women.
5. Enacting Executive Orders to Address Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
On January 20, 2021, President Biden released an Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation. This executive order is essential in undoing some of the most egregious harms to the LGBTQ community that were a consequence of policies enacted by the Trump Administration.
LGBTQ people face broad economic disadvantages, unique challenges, and persistent discrimination. Just some examples of the consequences of this include the fact that 40 percent of youth who identify as LGBTQ experience homelessness, and that the unemployment rate is three times more among transgender individuals compared to the general population. For LGBTQ women, the compunded effects of gender-based discrimination — on top of sexual orientation and gender identity — can cause even more harm. For example, LGBTQ women earn less than LGBTQ men of the same sexual orientation.
From health care to schools to the workplace, LGBTQ people deserve to be treated with dignity and equality — and this order will help ensure that federal policies and programs protect against discrimination.
These five First 100 Days actions are some of the biggest and most important steps that the Biden administration has taken towards achieving equity and justice for women. But they are just first steps — and more work needs to be done. From advancing health equity to protecting access to abortion care to improving economic stability, there’s much more that this administration can and should do to ensure that women are able to live healthy, safe, full lives.