Signals that the Trump administration may disband the White House Council on Women and Girls have set off a new round of attacks against President Trump. But there’s no malice in objectively assessing whether this office is needed to advance the concerns of girls and women, or to ask whether it’s just a tool to advance a narrow set of issues and solutions.
Assessing the need for a Council on Women and Girls is in part about good stewardship. President Trump made it a priority for all federal agencies to conduct a top-to-bottom review — looking for areas of duplication and waste.
That effort doesn’t just save taxpayers, but it ensures that public funding for programs and aid goes to those who need it and not those who manage to game the system. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development aids poor and vulnerable women by placing them in transitional, public, and rental housing; offering financial literacy classes and job training; and providing them counseling to meet their physical and emotional needs. What is the need for dedicated White House staff time and resources also working on this issue?
Some of the outcry is from women’s interest groups that benefitted from financial commitments and White House access under President Barack Obama. They are now suffering withdrawal from being left out. The head of the Women’s Funding Network said as much “… we learned a long time ago that we never assume that we would always be in somebody’s favor. It’s nice when it does and you take advantage of when it does.” The time for taxpayers to be taken advantage of just might be over.
The Council on Women and Girls has also been used to advance gender issues such as those espoused by the Women’s Funding Network, but the fact is, American women don’t care only about their gender. We want to be treated fairly and equally, but the concerns that keep us up at night are our family and relationships, home, and work.
Women’s issues too often get narrowly defined as paid leave and reproductive rights. All issues are women’s issues and we are impacted by all policies, from infrastructure to tax reform and energy to technology. Looking at the council’s track record under President Obama, we see an office that selectively promoted progressive policies to the neglect of the other roles that women face. Women are small business owners, employers, and students too.
In an update report on the Obama administration’s efforts to address obstacles faced by women and girls, including those from marginalized communities, the agenda for school success focused exclusively on disciplinary issues taken by schools. Ideas to improve educational attainment were left out entirely, leading us to believe that not getting sent home or given detention is enough to set girls in poor performing schools onto an upward life-trajectory.
As small business owners, women’s enterprises experienced tremendous growth from 2007 to 2012, likely as talented, self-starting women were forced out of the job market during the recession. But access to capital remains a challenge for women, who tend to self-fund their businesses or turn to family and friends for help. Increasing their income and being able to save as much as possible are important for female entrepreneurs. It’s not important enough for the Council on Women and Girls to include solutions like tax cuts for personal and corporate income or regulatory rollback, though. Taxes weren’t mentioned once in their entire 12-page status report on what the Obama administration has done to help female businesses owners.
The Trump administration has made aggressive efforts so far to start to scale back the reach of government over business. Tax reform which lowers personal and corporate rates will immediately free up potential capital for women to help them start or reinvest in their businesses. It didn’t take a White House office of women to push for those reforms.
There’s a fundamental misperception that only women can effectively advocate for the issues that women care about or are touched by. We don’t believe that only unemployed workers can advocate for policies that get the jobless back to work, nor that only short people can advocate for the issues affecting people who are vertically challenged.
Americans are tired of the politics of division which pit women against men and girls against boys. In a household, everyone is working for the family’s benefit, not just for the girls or the boys. Why shouldn’t we expect the same of our leaders?
Patrice Onwuka is a Senior Policy Analyst for Independent Women’s Forum.
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