“Every Issue is a Gender Issue”: United State of Women Highlights Gender Disparities in All U.S. Policy

“Everything is a gender issue—from the minimum wage to student loan debt to inequitable school discipline to racial justice to transportation safety.”

—United State of Women executive director Jordan Brooks

“From student loan debt to CPR training; from COVID-19 impacts to homelessness, every issue is a gender issue,” says the United State of Women (USOW) about their new initiative to highlight gender disparities across all policy issues. Under the hashtag #EveryIssueIsAGenderIssue, USOW is bringing together cutting-edge feminist activists to share strategies and tangible actions people can take to drive change in their communities.  

“People talk about ‘women’s issues’ or ‘gender issues’ as things like women’s health and paid leave and child care. All of those things are extraordinarily important and really, really, something that we want to make sure we’re talking about. But everything is a gender issue,” USOW executive director Jordan Brooks told Ms. “From the minimum wage to student loan debt to inequitable school discipline to racial justice to transportation safety. We are talking about the ways that all public policy issues are affected by gender and race, and the intersections of race and gender. We will be building culture change and action organizing campaigns around several of those issues a year.”

United State of Women grew out of a summit organized in 2016 by the Obama administration’s White House Council on Women and Girls, co-chaired by Valerie Jarrett, former senior advisor to President Obama; and Tina Tchen, CEO of Time’s Up. The summit brought together 5,000 women from across the country to talk about progress made over the prior decade and highlight the solutions to gender inequality on a whole host of issues.

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The first campaign of the new initiative, called Principal Demands, addresses inequitable school discipline for girls in schools, particularly Black girls. Spearheaded by the Brooklyn-based youth group Girls for Gender Equity, along with Dr. Monique Morris and the National Collaborative of Young Women’s Initiatives, Principal Demands is calling on school officials to eliminate zero tolerance policies, remove law enforcement from schools, and reinvest in counselors, school psychologists, nurses, social workers, community health workers and trauma-informed personnel.

Every Issue is a Gender Issue: United State of Women Launches New Initiative
Principal Demands is calling on school officials to eliminate zero tolerance policies, remove law enforcement from schools, and reinvest in health and social workers. (USOW)

They are also demanding schools work with students to review and construct codes of conduct, dress codes and school mandates, and develop extensive alternatives to exclusionary discipline. The campaign mobilizes students and parents to take action by providing talking points and easy concrete actions in downloadable zine and plans to work with Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) to pass her PUSHOUT Act—which stands for ending Punitive, Unfair, School-Based Harm that is Overt and Unresponsive to Trauma.

Other recent campaigns include “COVID-19 Relief Is A Gender Issue” and “Confirm Vanita and Kristen” to support the Senate confirmation of feminists Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke to top positions in the Department of Justice. And just last week, the Senate confirmed Gupta to be associate attorney general—the first woman of color to serve in the role. 

Brooks said many issues are not seen as gender issues, but she argued they are, giving as examples student debt and transportation safety.

“We know women—particularly Black women—are the largest holders of student loan debt in this country. How do we reframe the student loan debt crisis as a women’s issue?” asked Brooks.

“Transportation safety is one that people don’t think about, but we know that women are 17 percent more likely to be killed in a car crash because most of the time anatomically cis-male crash test dummies are used in seatbelt safety tests. Cars are not built for people with breasts and frequently that creates inequitable safety measures.”

Even with issues we think of as gendered, USOW is bringing to light surprising statistics about their impacts.

“One in five girls in the U.S. leaves school early or misses a day of school because they can’t obtain a period product in this country,” said Brooks. “That’s a huge issue we’re not thinking about that is a gender issue, obviously. One in five is a lot of girls that are missing school!”

On food insecurity, Brooks said “40 percent of mothers with children under 12 have reported food insecurity since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. 40 percent is an incredibly unacceptable number! Food security is a gender issue,” said Brooks.

USOW has ambassadors in 44 states and territories and hopes to have them in all 50 states by the end of the year. The ambassadors are “organizers on the ground helping to build knowledge of all of the great work that’s happening at a national level, but also getting organizations on the ground to collaborate locally to take action on issues and make measurable change,” said Brooks.

USOW hosts #StateOfWomenTV on Instagram and has a bi-weekly newsletter with “news on everything intersectional feminism from organizing to pop culture” and where their 250 partners from across the country share calls to action, events, resources, and best practices. Through their Galvanize Program, they have hosted local summits bringing together their partners to share what’s going on in their communities and do organizational trainings.

Their goal, said Brooks, is to “get into the bloodstream of this country that we should be talking about every issue as a gender issue.”

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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.