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This is what the Democratic candidates say about gender and policy

I heard from Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, and Harris speak to the $2 trillion economic opportunity that comes from having gender equity in public policy.

This is what the Democratic candidates say about gender and policy
[Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images]

A presidential primary debate stage with more than two candidates will feature a slate of presidential hopefuls that is 40% female. What’s more, 100% of the moderator panel for the debate will be female. Another historic first for our nation—and a win for gender equity.

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I wanted to know what the Democratic candidates who will be onstage tomorrow had to say about gender equity as it relates to government policy. So I asked them two questions about gender mainstreaming, a method used to analyze policies by disaggregating their effects by gender:

  1. In what ways have you seen or felt the lack of gender mainstreaming in current government policies?
  2. Do you have a plan to guarantee all U.S. policies going forward are gender mainstreamed?

I chose to focus my questions on gender mainstreaming because if we’re serious about tapping into the $2 trillion economic opportunity in the U.S. that comes from having gender equity, fundamental changes need to occur at the policy level—in every policy. Plus, women’s share of the voting public has been higher than men’s since 1964, and they want to know how the candidates’ proposals will affect them and their families uniquely.

How gender mainstreaming helps our economy

Gender equity is inherent in nearly every public policy. Social Security, immigration, import taxes—these and other policies often impact men and women differently. When we apply the gender lens to every campaign issue, we get a better understanding of how policies will affect women and how they will affect men. This ensures that all members of our society benefit equitably from public policy and no one is left behind.

Now, here’s what the four Democratic candidates who responded to my questions have to say about gender mainstreaming.

Senator Kamala Harris

Harris is often asked for her opinion on women’s issues while out on the campaign trail. Her response conveys a critical comprehension of gender mainstreaming. “I’m so glad you want to talk about the economy, and national security and criminal justice reform,” she’s said.

Harris believes we are not doing enough to examine how major policies uniquely affect women. “When we talk about economic inequality, we must remember that women are often the primary caregivers in their families and therefore are disproportionately burdened by our country’s lack of paid family leave.”

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She’s right. In fact, 71% of U.S. households with children depend on moms’ earnings for their well-being, yet working moms take home 71 cents for every dollar their working-father counterparts earn. That pay gap causes the average working mother and her family to miss out on $16,000 every year.

The consequences of moms’ pay inequity impact the future of our country because a child’s propensity to go to college, the probability of them becoming a teen parent, and their future earning potential are all influenced by a parent’s income.

Beyond the issue of pay equity, Harris believes we must bring gender into talks around major policy issues, including national security (“the scourge of sexual assault in the military”), criminal justice reform (“the abhorrent way that pregnant women are still treated in our country’s prisons”), and immigration (“women [are] brutally separated from their children without being told where their children would be held”).

Harris believes that while we have made progress toward gender equity, “gender mainstreaming is still lacking in the way leaders view our public policy.” And the lack of a true gender mainstreaming standard across all policies means people wrongly assume issues such as equal pay, paid family leave, and healthcare “are the only, or even the primary, issues important to women voters.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Buttigieg released a four-point plan to make America a better place for women. His proposal embodies gender mainstreaming in everything but name, the crux of which is to “work systematically to build women’s power in our economy, our political system and in every part of our society.” In other words, he’s signaling to the voting public that his administration would institutionalize gender equity at every level.

First, Buttigieg wants to close not only gender pay gaps (U.S. women earn, on average, 80 cents for every dollar their male counterparts earn) but also gender wealth gaps. Closing both gaps matters to our economy and democracy, especially considering that wealth and political power go hand in hand. Among the top 10% of current members of Congress ranked by overall wealth, the collective worth of men is 10 times greater than the collective worth of women.

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Second, Buttigieg plans to ensure all women have access to affordable health care. “My administration will tackle disparities in health, whether that means ensuring that LGBTQ+ people receive respectful care or eliminating racial disparities in maternal mortality.”

Third, he’s pledged to nominate at least 50% women to his Cabinet and to the judiciary, ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which would formally recognize women’s legal equality (note: on November 11 the House Judiciary Committee advanced legislation to revive the Equal Rights Amendment by scrapping a 1982 deadline for its ratification by the states), and promote gender-diverse and racially diverse leadership. For a democracy that represents a 51% female population with a Congress that is only 24% female, we must take systemic approaches such as the ones Buttigieg has proposed to reach gender parity in politics.

Finally, Buttigieg will make our country safer for women. He will reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, close the “boyfriend loophole” so partners convicted of domestic abuse cannot buy firearms, and tackle online harassment.

Vice President Joe Biden

Biden believes the U.S. needs gender equity for two fundamental reasons. One, because it’s “critical to the fight for the soul of our nation.” According to Biden, “The American creed, that we are all created equal, was written long ago. We’ve never fully lived up to that goal as a nation, but we’ve never walked away from it.”

Biden’s statements are supported by the fact that the U.S. is still another 208 years away from reaching gender equity. At the global level, we’ve fallen six spots in gender equity in the past two years. And domestically, 70% of the states have either stood still or moved backward on gender equity since 2015.

Second, Biden believes in achieving gender equity because he understands the importance of opportunity—that the world’s strongest nation must provide everyone with the opportunity to succeed. In the great American experiment of democracy, we must work diligently so that no one gets left behind.

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For Biden, who has fought for gender equality throughout his career, securing the passage of the Violence Against Women Act remains one of his proudest moments. Looking forward, Biden stated, “[My] campaign has ensured addressing issues of gender is a priority in every policy proposal considered, from foreign policy, to higher education to criminal justice reform.”

Senator Cory Booker

Booker has a vision to create an economy that works for the benefit of all. He realizes that even 99 years after the 19th Amendment’s ratification, women continue to face barriers to opportunity in the workplace, in the criminal justice system, and in healthcare. He also realizes that women of color and trans women face even greater challenges.

A campaign spokesperson for Booker pointed to his vision of gender equity starts with his Opportunity and Justice for Workers plan. The plan presents a multipronged strategy to close gender equity gaps in the workplace. This includes closing the gender pay gap, ensuring universal paid family leave (so workers can earn income while caring for family members), and making sure all workers have access to high-quality, affordable childcare. Further, Booker says he will fight to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to hold companies accountable for pay equity.

As a cosponsor of the Improving Corporate Governance Through Diversity Act, Booker believes that greater diversity is a national economic imperative—not a box to be checked. The act requires public companies to release the gender, racial, and ethnic makeup of senior management and corporate boards. As president, Booker would expand on his Diversity Act and incentivize gender diversity among federal contractors.

He has also put forth the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act to improve the treatment of incarcerated women and their families. And, considering that women hold a disproportionate burden of U.S. student loan debt, Booker’s fight for debt-free college, free community college, and expanded access to high-quality apprenticeships is a step in the right direction for gender equity.

November’s debate is a step in the right direction for gender equity. It’s also a win for our nation because closing the gender equity gap has the potential to expand GDP by $2 trillion. After the candidates leave the debate stage in Atlanta and the post-debate commentaries come out, we must never forget the significance of this unprecedented moment in our nation’s history.

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Katica Roy is the founder and CEO of Pipeline Equity.

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