This weekend, August 26 will mark Women’s Equality Day, an occasion celebrating the passage of women’s suffrage through the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. The celebration originated in 1973, when Congress approved a resolution stating that the 26th of August would henceforth be designated as Women’s Equality Day, recognizing the very day that women in America were first granted the right to vote. Additionally, this resolution featured a provision not only authorizing, but requesting that the serving president issue a proclamation honoring Women’s Equality Day. Since the Nixon Administration, every U.S. president has faithfully executed these obligations each August, each annually issuing a proclamation that acknowledges women’s contributions to American society, recognizes the continuing structural inequalities that women face in their daily lives, and outlines specific initiatives the president’s administration is pursuing to rectify such inequalities. This particular August 26 will mark the 98th anniversary of women’s suffrage, the 45th annual Women’s Equality Day, and the second proclamation for Women’s Equality Day issued by the Trump Administration.
One might argue that to analyze a presidential routine as trivial as a Women’s Equality Day Proclamation is far too minuscule of an action to examine within the massive apparatus of authority that the Executive Branch yields. Yet, I would counter that presidential proclamations, despite their oftentimes ceremonial nature, still carry an undeniable power. They bear the signature of our president, the seal of their office, and their thoughts on a particular subject of national importance. And furthermore, as we—as a nation— have learned, under the Trump Administration, even the most routine of tasks rarely occur in a routine manner.
“Presidential proclamations, despite their oftentimes ceremonial nature, still carry an undeniable power.”
It’s no secret that President Trump has always had a tenuous relationship with women voters. With continuing allegations of his sexual misconduct towards women, frequent usage of misogynistic language, and dismal polling numbers amongst women (at time of publication, a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll revealed that only 30 percent of women approve of President Trump’s job performance), any action that the Trump Administration takes towards women is worth closely examining. And let me tell you, I’ve examined President Trump’s proclamation from last year in anticipation of the upcoming Women’s Equality Day, and I’m proclaiming B.S. on his proclamation.
Before it was even signed, the proclamation was conceived under questionable circumstances. Prior to its release, the Trump Administration had already encountered scandal surrounding its failure to issue a proclamation recognizing June’s Pride Month. In fact, public confidence of President Trump issuing a Women’s Equality Day Proclamation was so tenuous that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo felt compelled to launch a social media campaign pressuring the administration to issue the proclamation. And when it was eventually released on August 25, it poorly coincided with President Trump’s same-day announcement that he’d be banning transgender individuals from serving in the military—emphasizing the president’s explicit support of discriminatory policies before he hypocritically endorsed a day meant to celebrate strides toward equality. For, women’s equality can’t be separated from transgender equality.
Yet, even if one were to ignore the questionable context surrounding the proclamation’s publication, the content of the proclamation itself is problematic. In the 2018 Women’s Equality Day Proclamation, President Trump lists three policy initiatives he plans to pursue in order to advance women’s progress: (1) increasing funding for programs aimed at advancing women entrepreneurs, (2) promoting paid family leave, and (3) increasing funding for programs aimed at advancing women in STEM. At first glance, these proposals appear fairly logical and feasible. However, upon closer examination, such is far from the truth. Overall, these policies fail to examine the nuances surrounding women’s inequality, and are frequently undermined by other Trump policies, ultimately rendering them ineffective.
“These policies fail to examine the nuances surrounding women’s inequality, and are frequently undermined by other Trump policies, ultimately rendering them ineffective.”
For instance, at face value, one might believe that President Trump’s establishment of the “United States Canada Council for the Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs Initiative” and pledge of “$50 million to the new World Bank Group Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative” will help mitigate many of the barriers that women face when attempting to start a business and attain economic security. However, while these programs do provide capital to assist many women seeking to achieve their dreams, they only financially benefit a very specific group of women—women pursuing business—, and fail to sustainably address the many structural inequalities that can stifle women’s economic prosperity. In particular, this policy, and all of the other policies listed in President Trump’s proclamation fail to recognize the gender wage gap that consistently prevents women from accumulating the resources they need to be competitive in a male-dominated market.
In fact, in August 2017, the exact same month President Trump released trumpeted his women’s entrepreneurial programs as a step towards women’s financial equality, his administration chose to suspend previous initiatives spearheaded by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that required all employers to report information about employees’ pay, gender, race, and ethnicity. Such initiatives were created in order to hold employers accountable for ensuring that their employees were paid fair wages based entirely upon their experience and skillset. However, without these policies in place, employers now have no accountability system to ensure that both men and women receive equal pay, a decision that the National Women’s Law Center declared “…an all-out attack on equal pay.” Simply put, equality of pay is equality of opportunity, including the opportunity for one to start their own business. Yet, by undermining the authority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, President Trump had already undermined the same business opportunities that he claimed to be providing to women through his new entrepreneurship programs—robbing businesswomen of their financial protections while simultaneously posturing to help them.
Additionally, anyone who has ever observed or experienced the challenges that millions of working mothers encounter on a daily basis may initially find President Trump’s promise of paid family leave to be appealing. In his 2017 Women’s Equality Day Proclamation he states that, “We must prioritize the needs of working mothers and families…for the first time in the history of this country, my budget proposes a national paid family leave program. Our working families must be able to provide and care for their children without fear of financial insolvency, to strengthen our communities and drive a booming economy.” And true, President Trump’s national paid family leave program could be beneficial to some women, but it would come at a significant cost to many others.
Why? Because the president’s entire family leave system is based on the premise that all its funding will derive from Social Security. Traditionally, paid family leave plans that have been put forth by Democrats have suggested funding their program by raising taxes, a proposal that’s completely antithetical to the Republican Party’s fiscal conservatism. However, President Trump’s plan, originally conceived by First Daughter Ivanka Trump, seeks to avoid this problem by instead suggesting that employees can draw money from their Social Security funds. Yet, this supposed solution creates a myriad of other problems.
“Rather than mitigating inequalities women experience in the workplace, this policy actually further disadvantages not only women, but lower income individuals and people of color.”
First, under the existing gender wage gap (which, as previously stated, the Trump Administration has wholly neglected to improve), the average woman will have fewer funds to draw from than the average man, thus penalizing women more severely for taking leave. Furthermore, such a policy will also diminish the Social Security benefits available to low-income workers and workers of color who hope to take leave. Statistically, individuals of lower income or of color are more likely to work low-income jobs that don’t offer retirement benefits. Consequently, workers who don’t have retirement benefits tend to depend on their Social Security funds as their sole source of retirement funding. As a result, according to analysis conducted by The Urban Institute, if one such individual wanted to take leave under President Trump’s proposed plan, by taking “one 12-week leave, they would have to push back retirement by as much as 25 weeks.” Unfortunately, rather than mitigating inequalities women experience in the workplace, this policy actually further disadvantages not only women, but lower income individuals and people of color.
The third and final initiative that President Trump outlines in his proclamation is support of programs aimed at “ensur[ing] that all women have access to the training they need to succeed in our modern economy, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.” Of all of his outlined plans, President Trump’s campaign for increasing women in STEM appears to have the most promise. With the guidance of Ivanka Trump, prior to the 2017 proclamation’s publication, the president passed two laws: the Inspire Act and the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act. The Inspire Act directs NASA to connect young girls with mentors in STEM fields such as astronauts and engineers, while the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act authorizes the National Science Foundation to recruit as well as assist female entrepreneurs in STEM fields.
Yet, there is a sad irony even in the passage of these seemingly promising laws. First, the Trump Administration’s first federal budget proposal sought to defund NASA’s education office, which “oversees efforts to support women and underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, operates camps and enrichment programs, and provides internships and scholarships for young scientists.” So, while the Trump Administration may be seeking NASA as a source of inspiration for girls aspiring to work in STEM, it’s simultaneously denying them more direct opportunities to actively engage in their passions through NASA programs that could enhance their STEM education. Second, in that same federal budget, President Trump proposed 13.5 percent cuts to the Department of Education, including the reduction or elimination of grants to train teachers, as well as funding for after-school programs and aid for low-income and first-generation students. Such cuts will ultimately disable the pipeline of girls interested in STEM from entering the workforce, greatly reducing the number of female entrepreneurs in STEM fields who could be helped by the Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act. For, how are girls ever going to be interested in STEM if they don’t have teachers properly trained in STEM fields, or the ability to further hone in their talents after school or in college?
“A proclamation may be an important presidential document, but it becomes nothing more than a scrap of paper when filled with empty promises.”
Last year, President Trump signed his first Women’s Equality Day Proclamation with a declaration that his administration would “continue to support the advancement of women, in every corner of the Nation.” Yet, how can an administration support the advancement of women when it is coupled with the detriment of other marginalized groups—the transgender community, low-income individuals, and people of color? How can an administration support the advancement of women when its own policies aimed at advancing women can’t even be supported by its other underhanded policies? And how can an administration support the advancement of women when it actively seeks to harm them by separating mothers from their children at the border, by enacting campus sexual assault policies that stifles the voices of survivors, by actively eliminating the White House Council on Women and Girls? The answer? It cannot, and it has become increasingly clear that it does not. To the Trump Administration, equality may be nothing but a buzzword, but to us it is a reality we one day hope to attain regardless of what this president does or does not do. A proclamation may be an important presidential document, but it becomes nothing more than a scrap of paper when filled with empty promises.