What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Global Women’s Rights

Biden has pledged to return the U.S. to a government-wide focus of uplifting the rights of women and girls around the world. Here’s how.

What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Global Women’s Rights
Joe Biden accepts the nomination for the Democratic ticket for president in Wilmington, Del., on Aug 20, 2020. (Adam Schultz / Biden for President)

Editor’s note: President-Elect Biden’s platform for women promises to be the most ambitious presidential agenda yet addressing issues that affect women and girls in the U.S. and around the globe. This piece is the third of a multi-part series covering the agenda, in areas including: health careeconomic securitywork and familyviolence and security and the Equal Rights Amendment, among others.

New installations of the series will be released on Wednesdays. Get caught up here.

Women across the world experience health disparities, economic discrimination, political exclusion and violence. Globally, women earn just 58 percent of men’s wages for similar work and are more likely than men to live in poverty. The majority of women work in the informal economy, without employment contracts or benefits, and with few legal rights or social protections. On top of paid work, women do at least twice as much unpaid care work as men, including housework, child care and elder care.

Girls are denied education and married off at young ages. Approximately 130 million girls between the ages of 6 and 17 are not in school; one in five girls are likely to marry before she turns 18.

Women also experience astonishing rates of violence. One in three women worldwide will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime, with higher rates in some countries. Women experience sex and labor trafficking, “honor” killings, genital cutting and rape as a weapon of war. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only increased violence against women globally.

The Trump presidency has made matters worse by withdrawing U.S. support from critical international programs to protect the health and safety of women and girls around the world.

On his first day in office, Trump reinstated and expanded the global gag rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy), which prohibits foreign nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. global health assistance from providing information, referrals, or services for legal abortions, or from advocating for abortion law reform, even with their own non-US funds.

Trump then suspended U.S. funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which addresses violence against women globally. He co-sponsored and signed an anti-abortion global pact called the “Geneva Consensus Declaration” that denies the international human right to abortion, and withdrew the US from the World Health Organization (which supports reproductive rights) and the United Nations Human Rights Committee consensus that promotes safe, legal and affordable access to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion. His State Department ceased reporting on reproductive health in the annual human rights Country Reports.

What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Global Women’s Rights
A protest in London’s Trafalgar Square against Donald Trump’s visit to the U.K. on July 12, 2018. (Alisdare Hickson / Flickr)

President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to reverse course and pursue an “aggressive and comprehensive plan to further women’s economic and physical security and ensure that women can fully exercise their civil rights.” Biden has provided details for how he will accomplish this pledge in an ambitious platform for women’s rights focused in five areas: health care, economic security, work and family, violence against women, and protect and empower women across the globe.

After four years of the Trump administration aggressively rolling back women’s rights at home and abroad, Biden has his work cut out for him.

Biden has a strong record working for global women’s rights. As vice president, Biden worked closely with President Obama to address gender-based violence across the world. They created the first U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; the first U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence Globally; as well as the first U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls.

In 2007, Biden introduced the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which offered a comprehensive approach to gender-based violence globally. The Obama-Biden administration implemented many of the law’s provisions through executive actions. Biden has demonstrated his commitment to addressing women’s rights globally.

The global women’s rights prong of Biden’s agenda for women includes:

  • restoring U.S. support for women’s global health,
  • supporting women’s economic security,
  • boosting their political empowerment,
  • combatting violence against women globally, and
  • pursuing ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Biden has pledged to return the U.S. to a government-wide focus of uplifting the rights of women and girls around the world.

Health Care

Biden has pledged to rescind the global gag rule and supports the Global Health, Empowerment and Rights (Global HER) Act to permanently repeal the global gag rule and the Helms Amendment (which bans U.S. funding for safe abortion internationally).

Whereas the Trump administration withdrew U.S. support for international organizations supporting sexual and reproductive health rights globally, the Biden administration has pledged to re-join the World Health Organization and re-fund the UN Population Fund, which works to end female genital mutilation and cutting, early and forced marriage, and other practices detrimental to the health of women and girls. Biden has pledged that his State Department will resume monitoring human rights abuses that disproportionately impact women and girls, including maternal mortality and unmet contraceptive needs.

Advocates also hope that Biden will exit the anti-abortion “Geneva Consensus Declaration” and rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Committee consensus.

Economic Security

A core pillar of the Biden administration’s proposed solutions to increase economic opportunity centers around building upon the Obama-Biden Administration work to promote and increase accessibility to girls’ education as a pathway to exiting the cycle of poverty. COVID-19 has exacerbated economic inequality across the globe, with a disproportionate effect on women.

What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Global Women’s Rights
A Congolese girl carrying several pounds of water on her head. In 2012, just 62 percent of girls 15 years and older were literate, compared to 88 percent rate for young males. (Woody Collins / Flickr)

According to the International Center for Research on Women, there is a 43 percent gap in labor force participation between men and women globally and post-COVID-19 data is likely to show that these numbers will grow as adolescent girls experience an increase in domestic responsibilities and a lower rate of return to school, limiting their future economic opportunities. In fact, kids who fall behind school are more likely to drop out later on, a phenomenon top of mind for the Biden Administration.

Women’s economic empowerment can generate economic diversity and bolster the economy, yet lack of access to capital and banking has barred low-income women globally from economic opportunity. Globally, only 58 percent of women report having a formal banking account which provides a gateway to further financial services that can help uplift women. The Biden administration has committed to increasing access to financially inclusive banking and women’s access to capital so they can have the resources they need to start businesses and build wealth—a step to ending the gendered wealth gap.

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Biden has committed to amending partnerships with countries and multilateral organizations to provide women with the economic opportunity they deserve with special attention to underrepresented communities including indigenous and ethnic minority women, the LGBTQ+ community, and Afro-Latina women.

To increase economic development efforts, Biden’s plan focuses on remittances from family members sending money home since they represent a larger share of the GDP in many Central American countries than foreign direct investment. Through special mechanisms designed to help remittance recipients, the Biden Administration will create pathways for female recipients to begin to invest in and start small businesses.

Political Empowerment

Women have always been disenfranchised politically, leaving little opportunity to gain access to power, yet research has shown that not only do women politicians create more equitable societies, their representation can improve education, welfare and health outcomes. Through his plan for increased access to education in addition to a strong women’s political empowerment agenda, Biden aims to create political opportunities and empowerment for women through his support for women’s leadership globally.

In the midst of a global pandemic, his response to help women politically is more important than ever. Through leveraging women leaders in the global COVID-19 response, Biden aims to rely on women as collaborators, giving women the platform they deserve.

Continuous efforts to improve women’s access to conversations and decision-making roles will be most notable through the Biden administration’s plan for full implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Act, a bipartisan act that aims to decrease conflict by increasing women’s participation in decision-making roles and mediation. Through a diverse foreign policy and national security team, Biden will provide opportunities for women’s voices to be heard and increase women’s political participation.

Moreover, these roles may be seen as inspiration to younger women and girls to increase their political participation.

Ending Violence Against Women Globally

To combat gender-based violence globally, Biden pledges to work with nations and non-governmental organizations across the world to coordinate a global response to the crisis of gender-based violence, including training law enforcement to root out the corruption and effectively investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual violence.

Biden promises to focus particular efforts in Iraq to address ISIS-perpetrated sexual violence and in Central America to address femicide and gender-based violence. Biden has also pledged to create a comprehensive initiative to support and strengthen the influence of women-led civil society organizations that focus on addressing gender-based violence and supporting survivors.

What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Global Women’s Rights
Ni una menos is a Latin American feminist movement, which started in Argentina and has spread across several Latin American countries, that campaigns against gender-based violence. Ni una menos defines itself as a “collective scream against machista violence.” (Fotografías Emergentes / Flickr)  

While President Trump has watered down and threatened to veto UN Security Council resolutions that address sexual violence in conflict, Biden promises to champion such issues in the Security Council, and offer increased support to the work of the Special Representative to the UN Secretary General for Sexual Violence in Conflict. He will work with the UN to strengthen the ability of peacekeepers to prevent sexual violence and to hold peacekeepers themselves accountable when they perpetrate gender-based violence. He will urge countries to create national laws on sexual violence that align with international norms to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to account.

For migrant women and girls, Biden has pledged to revive America’s commitment to refugees and displaced persons and ensure that women and girls fleeing gender-based violence are given the opportunity they deserve to seek asylum in the United States.  He promises to restore full access to asylum for domestic violence victims, which Trump revoked. 

Supporting the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women

The US is one of a small number of nations that has not ratified UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), a comprehensive international agreement on the basic human rights of women, often referred to as a “Bill of Rights” for women. Biden pledges to push the U.S. Senate to finally ratify CEDAW.

Biden’s ambitious platform for women’s rights will go a long way toward empowering women globally by increasing access to healthcare, economic opportunites, and political leadership, while also combatting the global scourge of violence against women. Biden should also work for peace, fair trade and economic justice, which would significantly improve women’s status around the world.

While some of these policies require Congressional action—so winning the two Georgia Senate seats is critical—many of the policies Biden can implement within the executive branch without congressional approval.

And women will be better off as a result.

Get caught up on the other prongs of Biden’s women’s agenda.

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About and

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor of American Studies and the chair of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.
Isabel Fields is an undergraduate student at Smith College studying both Women and Gender Studies and Economics.