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People who face gender-based discrimination have seen lots of progress in the fight for gender equity over the years, but there’s still a long way to go. Women and girls continue to have less access to education, economic opportunity, and quality, comprehensive health care — and the COVID-19 pandemic made that gap even bigger. When it comes to reproductive health care, 1 in 3 women in the U.S. reported delaying or canceling a preventive health care appointment due to the pandemic. An estimated 12 million women across 115 low- and middle-income countries weren’t able to access birth control due to global disruptions in family planning services during the pandemic, potentially leading to nearly 1.4 million unintended pregnancies.

To tackle some of these problems, the Biden-Harris administration issued the first-ever strategy to advance gender equity and equality in the U.S. and around the world. 

Advancing gender equity and equality is therefore both a moral imperative and a strategic one; its pursuit drives the growth, development, and security of communities, nations, and the global economy. To build back better, everyone—regardless of their gender or gender identity—must have the opportunity to realize their full potential.

-National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality

The plan details strategies to promote gender equality,  and names 10 priority issues — one of which is  improving access to health care, including sexual and reproductive health care. To bring this vision to life, the strategy lays out some action steps the government must take, like: 

  • Protect everyone’s right to go to the health care provider they choose  — regardless of their source of coverage or care.
  • Push for passage of the Women’s Health Protection Act and end the racist and discriminatory Hyde Amendment and other similar restrictions.
  • Enforce the women’s health preventive services benefit under the Affordable Care Act, so everyone has affordable access to essential health care like annual exams and the birth control method of their choice.
  • End the harmful global gag rule that blocks access to critical health information and services around the world.
  • Restore and expand the Title X program to increase access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services.
  • Champion global sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR)  by remaining a donor to the global family planning assistance and supporting the United Nations Population Fund.

In our global health work, we will also address sociocultural factors that compromise access to care for women and girls, rendering them more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS, unattended births, and other poor health outcomes—including by engaging men and boys as partners in addressing gender inequities in health.

-National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality  

How will the national strategy on gender equity and equality be useful?

Right now, threats to safe and legal abortion are on the rise at both the state and national levels. The U.S. Supreme Court is willing to allow extreme abortion restrictions to stand, like the Texas law that bans abortion at six weeks of pregnancy. Along with continued attacks on sex education and growing barriers to health care equity, it’s more important than ever that we work to protect and expand access to health care and promote the human rights of people in the U.S. and across the globe. 

A strategy that officially prioritizes gender equity is helpful in two ways. Organizations and activists fighting to advance gender equity can use it to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable to their commitments and promises. This will involve various offices and work of the Biden-Harris administration in both domestic and foreign affairs. The strategy will also act as a roadmap and framework that  government agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of State (DOS) can use to deliver this agenda to advance health, human rights, and gender equity.

What happens next?

The White House Gender Policy Council (WHGPC) will direct the government-wide implementation of this strategy by working closely with each federal agency to ensure gender equality and equity is at the center of their policy and program development. But Planned Parenthood and our partners will also offer advice to federal agencies on how to promote gender equality and equity throughout their policies and programs, while making sure that the commitments outlined in the strategy are upheld. There will also be opportunities for the public to make their voices heard to shape how the strategy is implemented going forward.

The federal government must ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights are prioritized and protected in domestic and global government policies and programs, and this national strategy is the first step toward achieving that goal.

Tags: Hyde Amendment, Reproductive Rights, Affordable Care Act, Global Gag Rule, Planned Parenthood Global, Title X, Access to Health Care