Reflections for Women’s History Month: What policies should the Biden administration prioritize for women?

Pregnant nurse Samantha Salinas feeds her daughter, Macie, amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in San Antonio, Texas, U.S., May 6, 2020. Picture taken May 6, 2020.  REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare

While March is typically a time to celebrate women’s contributions in history, the past year of COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on women, especially women of color. In light of this, and in honor of Women’s History Month, we asked women at the Brookings Institution to share their top policy considerations for the Biden-Harris administration to help address the needs of women, both within the U.S. and around the world. Interestingly, we found many common themes emerge across a diverse set of voices and research areas. Below are highlights from their responses. You can listen to the full set of their policy proposals on the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast.

Annelies Goger
David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program

“If we can muster the resources to send Americans to the moon, we can spend just as much energy tackling the structural, institutional, and cultural forces that continue to perpetuate social control over women.”

“Most of our policies throughout history have been built on the prototype of a white, able-bodied man with a wife performing unpaid labor at home. This erases the everyday realities and experiences of women and non-binary Americans, among others. It undervalues our work, controls our bodies, our options, and our economic security. It literally puts our livelihoods and lives at risk.”

Camille Busette
Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Governance Studies, Metropolitan Policy Program; Director, Race, Prosperity, and Inclusion Initiative

“There are a lot of low-income women and women of color who work for less than $15 an hour and for whom raising that minimum wage would be really important—not only to for their own well-being, but also to that of their children.”

“[The U.S. should] think about how we can provide Social Security credit for women who stay at home to take care of kids and, also, other family members. Currently, our Social Security system does not recognize that work, and as a result, women who spend a good portion of their careers taking care of others in the home are really behind when it comes to Social Security credits. And that really affects them adversely, financially.”

Carol Graham
Leo Pasvolsky Senior Fellow and Research Director, Global Economy and Development

“We should really be thinking about how the COVID pandemic has absolutely reversed many of the gains that women made in labor force participation in the past decade, and again, the reversals are the worst on the low-wage end.”

“We really need a strong focus on helping low-wage women who have left the labor force and have not returned.”

Elaine Kamarck
Senior Fellow, Governance Studies; Founding Director, Center for Effective Public Management

“Women have proven that they can do almost anything men can do in the workplace, but the biggest hurdles they face are the result of what men cannot do: bear children.”

“We must make motherhood compatible with work, education, and professions. Until that happens, society will not have women’s full contributions.”

Helen Shwe Hadani
Fellow, Global Economy and Development, Center for Universal Education; Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking

“Childcare challenges continue to drive parents, mostly mothers, out of the workforce at alarming rates. A woman’s career path is often influenced by childcare considerations rather than her career goals.”

“Investments to improve childcare need to target these childcare deserts, which are often rural areas and communities where families of color live.”

Kristin Broady
Policy Director, The Hamilton Project; Fellow, Economic Studies

“In light of Women’s History Month, I think it’s important to keep in mind that women, particularly women of color, make up the majority of essential workers in the United States. … So, we need to think about how to support them.”

“We need to provide workforce training and education for women … particularly minority women, whose jobs may not come back.”

Madiha Afzal
David M. Rubenstein Fellow, Foreign Policy

“A critical policy decision the Biden administration currently faces [is] what to do about U.S. troops in Afghanistan. This is a U.S. decision that is sure to impact outcomes in Afghanistan, including what the future looks like for Afghan women and children, who have seen enormous gains since 2001 after the dark days under the Taliban in the 1990s.”

“Our troops are already in Afghanistan, and the decision the president faces [about whether to withdraw troops] has the potential to directly impact the rights of women and children there, rights we helped to secure.”

Vanda Felbab-Brown
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy

“Fundamentally, it is crucial to get away from simply prescriptions developed in Washington, D.C., or London, faraway places, and really to enable women on the ground to come up with their own solutions.”

“More than ever, we need to allow local solutions articulated by local women in rural spaces, in territories governed by non-state armed actors, as well as in capitals of the partner countries.”

“We need to really come up to a fundamental readjustment in how we think about women’s rights and women’s progress to allow women on the ground to come up with their solutions and, importantly, their priorities—even when those priorities might be quite different than those that we would want to embrace in faraway places like our own capital.”