After The Hill published our piece about the need to increase the number of women experts testifying on foreign policy, we received questions about what other concrete steps Members of Congress and their staffs can take to promote gender inequality.
As we noted, gender equality is not just about women. It’s about changing the gender norms and roles that affect us all at work home, and in public life. We need both men and women, on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, to actively address these norms, gender biases and systemic structural causes to make sustainable change.
On Capitol Hill, concrete steps include 1) co-sponsoring, supporting and advancing legislation that supports gender equality and women’s empowerment in the U.S. and abroad, 2) requesting a gender analysis of every piece of legislation introduced and considered, and 3) ensuring a gender balance of experts called to testify before committees.
There are Members of Congress and staff who lead on women’s rights. But, there are times when having another Member introduce or lead on a bill or amendment is more effective. Members should consider where they can lead and where they can support others’ efforts. Key questions are: What is needed to move a legislative agenda item or policy? Is it more strategic to lead or support another Member’s effort? How can I amplify, rather than replace or usurp, existing gender equality and women’s empowerment efforts?
In addition to being a legislative champion for women and girls, Members of Congress can actively address gender inequities every day at work and in society, speak up for their colleagues, treat everyone fairly, and understand the social privilege they hold.
Here are four other specific actions to take:
- Listen and learn from colleagues, staff, constituents, and experts about gender issues or the gendered aspects of other issues you work on, such as veterans affairs, education reform, transportation, agriculture or international development assistance. There is a gender dimension shaping virtually every issue, and understanding it will ensure that policy is more effective. Issues around gender, equality, and rights, as well as gender aspects of other issues can be complicated. Gender is not just about women and it affects all aspects of life.
- Use a gender lens when planning every visit to your state or district and/or Congressional delegation abroad. Plan to meet with women leaders of all kinds of organizations (public, private, for- and not-for-profit). Visit organizations that provide services to women constituents or can speak to the gender aspects of other issues. Make sure that there are women invited to every meeting you hold, no matter what the topic. Ask to see lists of meeting attendees.
- Question speaking on a panel that is composed of all men or all women. When receiving an invitation to speak, ask who else is speaking. If you are asked to speak on a panel, and the only person of another sex is a moderator, ask if it possible to change the mix of speakers. As we noted in our earlier piece, there are women and men capable of speaking to every issue.
- Run a diverse and gender equal office with equitable numbers of female and male staff, pay equity, zero tolerance of sexual harassment, and family leave. Members need to understand the gender aspects of everyday life for the people, men and women, who work in their offices, and address them.
Taken together, these steps will make a difference in addressing gender equality. The process for creating policy and legislation on the Hill – whether in Members’ offices, in committee hearings or in public – impacts the lives of women and girls in the U.S. and around the world. Everyone has a role to play.