Explainer: The Biden administration’s National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality

October 28, 2021

The Biden administration released the “first-ever national gender strategy” in our nation’s history Oct. 22. According to the administration, it is intended to bring about greater gender equity and equality for all people, whether in the United States or abroad. This strategy is made up of 10 interconnected priorities and will be led by the newly formed White House Gender Policy Council (GPC). It is designed to develop a roadmap for the entire nation on gender issues.

The White House release explains that this strategy is desperately needed given the “overlapping” pandemics of COVID-19 as well as a “shadow pandemic” of gender-based violence in the U.S. and around the world. The strategy is described as a pathway toward overcoming the “longstanding gender discrimination and the systemic barriers to full participation that have held back women and girls.” This national plan is primarily based on an intersectional approach to identity and has far-reaching implications for much, if not all, of public and civic life. 

One important and revealing aspect of this federal strategy is that gender equity and equality is framed as the natural next step in America’s pursuit of recognizing the inherent dignity of all people — in line with the Emancipation Proclamation, the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, reproductive rights, and even marriage equality. Portrayed in this historical lineage, the Biden Administration is intentionally arguing that gender equity and equality—namely LGBTQI+ issues—are on the same level of importance with the abhorrent practice of slavery and inhumane Jim Crow laws alongwith the historic unjust subjugation of women as of lesser value and position in our society than men.

Who developed this strategy?

In celebration of International Women’s Day, which occurs annually on March 8, President Biden signed an executive order establishing the Gender Policy Council under the executive branch and mandating the release of this national strategy. The White House states that this council works in collaboration with other White House policy councils — including the Domestic Policy Council, National Security Council, and National Economic Council — and across all federal agencies. 

The council is co-chaired by Jennifer Klein, who also serves as the executive director, and Julissa Reynoso, who also serves as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s chief of staff. The council is also made up of various domestic and international gender policy experts, including a senior advisor on gender-based violence. This national strategy on gender equity and equality was among the first public aspects of the council’s work and was announced at a White House press conference last week.

What does the strategy contain?

The strategy is detailed in 42-page report that touches on a host of issues ranging from “abortion rights and immigration to the creation of a National Intelligence Officer for Gender Equality to analyze the relationship between gender and violent extremism.” Council Co-Chair Klein highlighted the historic nature of this first national gender strategy and whole-of-government approach both domestically and internationally in an interview with Foreign Affairs

The report states that its goal is to provide a federal vision based on intersectionality to ensure equity for all communities including “Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.”

According to the White House release, the strategy highlights 10 “interconnected” priorities of the Biden/Harris administration including: 1) economic security; 2) gender-based violence; 3) health; 4) education; 5) justice and immigration; 6) human rights and equality under the law; 7) security and humanitarian relief; 8) climate change; 9) science and technology; and 10) democracy, participation, and leadership. The specifics of these priorities are wide-ranging and include an emphasis on overcoming gender discrimination in the workplace, eliminating gender-based violence, addressing sexual violence at home and abroad, promoting the safe and fair treatment of “all people in the justice and immigration systems,” and advocating for the “leadership of women and girls in addressing the challenge of climate change.”

The plan is described by the co-chairs as “aspirational,” not tied directly to any piece of legislation. It also is designed to encourage the private sector to join with the administration in promoting gender equity and equality throughout our society as well.

What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is considered an analytic tool used to identify various power dynamics and relations through various overlapping identities among minority groups in society. As scholars Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge describe in their influential introduction to the subject, “Intersectionality investigates how intersecting power relations influence social relations across diverse societies as well as individual experiences in everyday life. As an analytic tool, intersectionality views categories of race, class, gender, sexuality, class, nation, ability, ethnicity, and age — among others — as interrelated and mutually shaping one another.” 

This concept is often used to highlight the unique perspectives that each person has given their intersecting and overlapping identities. Intersectionality is also closely related to various critical theories as well, given how each frames our true identities in light of the pronounced power dynamics that exist in society, often defined around various economic realities.

GPC Co-Chair Klein explains that this strategy will employ an “intersectional approach that recognizes overlapping forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, ability, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity” as the core and guiding principle of the entire strategy. 

The concept of intersectionality is routinely applied to many of the issues highlighted in this national strategy, which is concerning for people of faith, particularly Christians, who do not see our true identities as grounded in mere power dynamics or economic activities, but rather as people created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-28) with infinite value, worth, and dignity. While Christians rightfully acknowledge our sin has both a personal and social component to it, some of these tools highlight the differences among people as paramount instead of what actually binds people together — that all human beings are created in the imago Dei

Referencing the need for evangelicals to support biblically defined social justice, famed theologian and ethicist Carl F. H. Henry wrote in God, Revelation, and Authority that “Social justice is not simply an appendage to the evangelistic message; it is an intrinsic part of the whole, without which the preaching of the gospel is truncated. Theology devoid of social justice is a deforming weakness of much present-day evangelical witness.”

Christians understand that as believers we are given a new identity in Christ and that this new life in Christ doesn’t seek to be colorblind or overlook our differences, but rather reframes them as unique gifts from God to the world and the church for his glory.

How should Christians think about this strategy?

This strategy is not only ambitious, but can be seen as a way for the federal government to expand its authority and influence over everyday life given the sheer breadth of issues included. While this plan may contain some elements that could gain bi-partisan support, these issues are completely overshadowed by the intersectional approach to issues and the unwavering support for a constitutional right to abortion nationwide. While the strategy does not have any immediate authority and Congress would have to authorize many of the priorities listed as part of the normal legislative process, the framing of these issues reveals the deep-seated tensions in our society over public expressions of faith and some of crucial issues in the public square today. 

Notably, the strategy rarely mentions the plight of religious minorities around the world, among them many women and girls, nor does it enumerate religious freedom among the many human rights it claims, especially in the midst of the ongoing religious genocide among the Uyghur people in the Xinjaing province in China. This is striking given the persistent practice of authoritarian regimes around the world that strip their people of all basic rights, including religious freedom and free expression. Religious freedom is of paramount importance domestically and around the world because it is a basic human right and good for a flourishing society.

Of particular interest, many of these interconnected priorities align with the administration’s goal to solidify a right to abortion under, ironically, the auspices of healthcare. The strategy states that this administration is fully committed to promoting “access to sexual and reproductive health and rights both at home and abroad.” This commitment is a part of the whole-of-government approach that President Biden declared in light of the recent Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as Texas SB 8, that “bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs anywhere between five and eight weeks into a pregnancy.” The strategy also calls for a concerted effort to uphold the practice of abortion in light of how the Supreme Court is preparing “to hear the greatest challenge to Roe in a generation, putting women’s fundamental rights on the line.” This particular reference is to Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which begins oral arguments at the Supreme Court Dec. 1. 

It also remains to be seen what this National Strategy and/or the GPC may seek to do to promote greater online regulations or digital content moderation for hate speech and violence online, especially given the emphasis of many social media platforms on expansive definitions of what constitutes hate speech. These hate speech definitions now include conflating the misgendering or deadnaming of individuals—meaning using the name prior to one’s gender transition—with actual threat of physical violence and hate crimes. In recent years, ideas — particularly those rooted in biological realities and historic Christian teaching — have been deemed as inherently bigoted and harmful. But, as Brookings scholar Jonathan Rauch eloquently states in his recent work, The Constitution of Knowledge, “words are not bullets . . . stopping words does not stop bullets, and . . . confusing words with bullets is a tragic error” (203). Hate crimes and violence cannot be equated with words online, especially words speaking to the realities of how God made both men and women in his image.

The ERLC will be closely watching the developments, including any potential recommendations or future legislation, surrounding the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality. We are committed to providing further resources from a biblical worldview on the concerning aspects of the federal government’s approach to gender and various social issues.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24