White House Releases Report on Women and Girls of Color

Responding to criticisms of an Obama administration initiative focused on men and boys of color, called ‘My Brother’s Keeper,’ the White House on November 12 released a new report entitled “Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunity.”

The report was released by the White House Council on Women and Girls, chaired by Valerie Jarrett, a close advisor to President Obama. It highlights administration accomplishments and remaining challenges for women and girls of color across a range of issues, including education, economic security, health, violence against women, and criminal justice.

The administration’s initiative for men and boys of color, My Brother’s Keeper, has substantially incorporated aspects of its broader evidence and innovation agenda. However, it has also received some criticism for ignoring women and girls. A letter signed by more than 1,000 prominent women of color, including the law professor Anita Hill, was circulated earlier this year asking the administration to expand its focus.

Jarrett countered at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor in June that it “is not an either/or, it’s a both/and.” Referencing a 90-day report produced by the White House on men and boys of color, she said “you will see that many of the recommendations in there benefit all Americans.”

Some critics have pushed back, arguing that My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) also includes $300 million in commitments from a variety of foundations and corporations, something not matched for women and girls, but proponents argue that widening the initiative could cause it to lose focus. According to a story in The Nation:

Organizations and individuals receiving grants from the foundations now central to My Brother’s Keeper argue that while the social and economic indicators for girls and young women of color may be bleak, boys and men in these communities can’t afford to wait either. In the pro-MBK camp’s opinion, attempting to hold up an initiative that’s already under way is a risky proposition—especially when the nation’s first black president is championing it.

Marc Philpart, associate director of PolicyLink and director of PolicyLink’s Boys and Men of Color Team, argues that the criticism of MBK could have real consequences. “It might become a political hot potato, and nobody picks it up after the president,” says Philpart, who also works with a statewide boys and men of color network convened by the California Endowment, another foundation providing financial backing to MBK. “Critics have been overly harsh and created an air of negativity that helps neither their cause or My Brother’s Keeper. It’s a nascent movement. In situations like that, the goal should be to bring people into the fold and not push them away.”

In its November 12 announcement, the White House said its Council on Women and Girls will be assembling a working group of federal agency representatives and outside experts, leaders and advocates to continue its work on issues affecting women and girls of color. The White House will also be hosting an event in January to address barriers to access for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs and career and technical education (CTE) programs.


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