President Donald Trump delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump's speech barely mentioned women.
Trump's neglect of women and women's issues during his speech is unsurprising given both the attitude he has displayed toward women throughout his career and presidential campaign and his administration's policies that diminish women's rights. Indeed, Democratic congresswomen from the House of Representatives were so concerned that women's voices would not be represented during Trump's speech that they all wore white outfits to the event, both in honor of women's suffrage as well as a way "to protest Trump without waving signs," according to The Independent.
Trump only mentioned women's issues twice during his speech. First, he discussed his plans to increase opportunities for women entrepreneurs, saying, "With the help of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we have formed a Council with our neighbors in Canada to help ensure that women entrepreneurs have access to the networks, markets and capital they need to start a business and live out their financial dreams."
Trump is referencing the recent creation of the the United States Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Business Leaders-Female Entrepreneurs, which Trump developed along with his daughter Ivanka and Trudeau during the Canadian prime minister's state visit to Washington earlier this month. The council seeks to promote advancement of women in the workplace.
While the launch of the Council is certainly a positive development, it is a far cry from a robust plan to ensure that women, who still are paid less for men working the same jobs, receive equal pay for their work and have access to other workplace protections, like paid maternity leave. Furthermore, the lack of detail about how the Council will assist women entrepreneurs is disquieting and likely does little to assure professional women of Trump's commitment to them.
Trump's second — and final — mention of women's issues during his speech came when the President indicated he wished to "... make childcare accessible and affordable, to help ensure new parents have paid family leave, to invest in women's health."
While promoting women's health and access to childcare and family leave is certainly a positive notion, unfortunately Trump did not provide any detail in his speech regarding how he intends to accomplish these tasks. Even worse, policies for which the Trump administration is advocating (or have already passed) directly counter some of these claims.
For example, repealing the Affordable Care Act, which Trump has repeatedly indicated he intends to do, would be utterly detrimental to women's health, as it mandates free gynecological preventative care for women and access to free or low-cost contraception, as well as requires insurers to cover maternity care. Furthermore, Trump's Republican party has already taken initial steps in Congress to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides crucial reproductive health services to low income and uninsured women.
Additionally, Trump's proposed child care and family leave programs are not necessarily as women-friendly as one would hope. For example, while the maternity leave component of the plan would require employers to provide paid leave to new birth mothers for six weeks, the amount women would be paid is quite low, with an average weekly benefit of around $300. This is less generous than many private company maternity leave policies and could actually result in companies offering diminished maternity benefits in the future, since they would only have to comply with the legal minimum.
Furthermore, the present plan does not require paternity leave for fathers or non-birth mothers, essentially forcing birth mothers into the role of caregiver without allowing parents to choose what works best for them. While the Washington Post reports that the Trump administration is now considering including broader parental leave in its policy as well, no changes have officially been announced.
Overall, Trump's address to Congress absolutely fell short when it came to addressing women's issues. Not only did the president fail to address the wide array of issues that uniquely affect women, but even when he did minimally reference two women's issues he did so with little detail and in a way that contradicted some of his existing policy proposals. It would serve Trump well to learn from the congresswomen clad in white in the audience during his speech and honor women by comprehensively addressing their needs and protecting their rights.