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On International Women's Day, Biden signs orders on gender equity, nominates two women to be four-star commanders

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 3/9/2021 Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY
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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden marked International Women's Day Monday by nominating two women to be four-star generals and signing two executive orders creating a Gender Policy Council and reviewing Trump-era changes to Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education.

The president nominated General Jacqueline Van Ovost, current commander of Air Mobility Command for the U.S. Air Force, to be commander for the U.S. Transportation Command. He also nominated Lt. General Laura Richardson, current commanding general of U.S. Army North, to be commander for the U.S. Southern Command. If confirmed, the Ovost and Richardson will become the second and third women to lead a combatant command. 

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. © Samuel Corum, Getty Images President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.

“We all need to see and recognize the barrier-breaking accomplishments of these women," Biden said in remarks at the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. "We need the young women just beginning their careers in military service to see it and know that no door will be closed to them."

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General Lori Robinson, retired commander of U.S. Northern Command for the U.S. Air Force from 2016 to 2018, was the first woman to serve as a combatant commander since their establishment in 1986. 

Biden earlier signed an executive order establishing the White House Gender Policy Council to work with other policy councils to advance gender equality in domestic and foreign policy development, combat systemic bias and discrimination, including sexual harassment, and focus on increasing female participation in the labor force and decreasing wage and wealth gaps, the officials said.

The council will also focus on transgender rights and supporting care workers, predominantly women of color. 

Officials pointed out the COVID-19 pandemic has hit women the hardest: 2.5 million left the workforce in 2020 compared with 1.8 million men. The U.S. Department of Labor's February jobs report released Friday found Black and Hispanic women showed the greatest declines in labor force participation. 

An administration official told reporters on a briefing call Sunday that the pandemic caused three "overlapping crises": a public health crisis, an economic crisis and a caregiving crisis, which disproportionately affected women. The official pointed to the passage of the president's COVID-19 relief plan as an initial step to assist women affected by the pandemic, including direct payments of $1,400 and an increase in the child care tax credit. 

The Gender Policy Council, led by Julissa Reynoso, chief of staff to first lady Jill Biden, and Jennifer Klein, former chief strategy and policy officer for the anti-sexual-harassment group Time's Up, will work with all Cabinet secretaries and submit an annual report to the president to measure progress on prioritizing gender equality across the government. Biden is likely to name a special assistant to the president and senior adviser on gender-based violence. 

The president signed a second order directing the Department of Education to review all of its regulations, orders and guidance to ensure they are consistent with the administration's promise that all students are guaranteed education free from sexual violence. 

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The order explicitly directs the department to evaluate Title IX changes by President Donald Trump's Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who dismantled Obama-era rules on sexual discrimination and harassment in federally funded education programs. She implemented regulations that altered the handling of sexual assault allegations on college campuses, giving schools more latitude in deciding whether to report accusations to the Title IX office. 

As vice president, Biden led the Obama administration's "It's On Us" campaign to prevent sexual assault on campus, often visiting colleges to raise awareness. The president said the Violence Against Women Act of 1990, which aims to protect women from gender-based violence, was one of the pieces of legislation he was "most proud" of during his 36 years in the Senate. 

Biden pledged to reverse the changes DeVos made at the Education Department, including restoring policies put in place while he was vice president under President Barack Obama. DeVos lifted a policy that limited federal funding to for-profit institutions based on students' debt and salary levels and argued that allowing transgender athletes to compete as girls violates Title IX regulations.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will consider suspending, revising or rescinding his predecessor's actions if they are determined to be inconsistent with the Biden administration's policies, Klein told reporters at a White House press briefing. 

, according to an administration official.

Betsy DeVos vowed to change American education. For the most part, she didn’t.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: On International Women's Day, Biden signs orders on gender equity, nominates two women to be four-star commanders

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