According to a new report from Politico, the White House could eliminate its Women and Girls Council soon. While the final decision on the council's future hasn't yet been decided, its effectiveness is reportedly being called into question by President Trump's White House staff.
President Barack Obama first established the Council for Women and Girls in 2009, three months into his presidency. It brought together key members of the administration, like the secretaries of state, defense, and treasury, as well as organizational heads like the director of the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the Peace Corps, to create coordinated feminist policy across Washington, D.C.'s vast bureaucracy. Obama didn't exactly come up with the idea himself — the CWG was essentially a reinstatement of a similar initiative that was started in the Clinton presidency and ended in the Bush era. Over the years, Obama's council helped with various administrative goals, such as addressing campus sexual assault, advocating for equal pay, and reducing gender and intersectional disparities in education.
According to Politico, signs indicated earlier this year that the office would stay in place, potentially with counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway overseeing its work. But the office has been completely inactive while the Trump administration is figuring out what it wants to do with it.
The outside groups that the office coordinates with to achieve policy goals have said that the level of communication and integration from the White House they enjoyed during the Obama administration hasn't been evident over the last several months. “I see no evidence, zero, that Donald Trump has anyone in his orbit to advocate for women and girls,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.
“I actually don’t know anyone who has been in touch with the White House,” O’Neill said. “We need a real office that would really advocate."
The White House is now declining to confirm the future of the office, implying that its existence is repetitive. “We want the input of the various agencies to understand the assets they have so that we make this office additive, not redundant,” White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks told Politico.
However, the former executive director of the CWG says this just means that the Trump administration doesn't want to put its money where its mouth has been. “It shows the priority you place on the issues surrounding women and girls,” Tina Tchen, who served as the CWG's second-in-command and Michelle Obama's chief of staff, told Politico.
Trump has sporadically advocated for women's issues such as paid family leave and sexual assault awareness, but has yet to make women's issues a central tenet of his administration. The majority of Trump's administrative agenda so far has centered on immigration policy, which has been roundly criticized as anti-feminist, health care reform, another massive point of contention for feminist activists, and infrastructure.
The Obama administration put women's education and gender equality at the forefront of their agenda, often led by then-First Lady Michelle Obama herself, who spearheaded White House's wildly successful Let Girls Learn initiative. The program works to identify areas across the world where girls don't have access to education. In May, there were reports that the Trump administration was going to disband Let Girls Learn, though the White House ultimately denied the rumors.
Obama has not responded to the report that the Trump administration is looking to disband the Council for Women and Girls.
But women's rights organizers aren't letting the Trump administration's stonewalling stop their work. Deborah Holmes, head of communications and engagement for the Women’s Funding Network, told Politico, “It was nice having an administration that was sympathetic, but we learned a long time ago that we never assume that we would always be in somebody’s favor."