Three Democratic House members are launching a new caucus specifically focused on issues affecting black women, saying that Congress “altogether ignores the systemic challenges they face.”
Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Robin Kelly of Illinois and Yvette D. Clarke of New York announced on Tuesday the launch of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, calling it a long awaited answer to the White House's My Brother’s Keeper initiative, which focuses on black men and boys.
“From barriers in education, to a gender-based pay gap that widens with race, to disparities in both diagnoses and outcomes for many diseases, our society forces black women to clear many hurdles faced by no other group, and asks them to do it with little assistance,” Watson Coleman said in a news release. The group will launch formally on April 28 with a reception.
The #SheWoke Committee, a grassroots effort among seven national women activists focused on minority women issues, spurred the caucus’ creation in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death in July 2015 after her arrest for a minor traffic infraction in Texas.
The caucus is the answer that black women advocacy groups have been hoping for since My Brother’s Keeper launched in 2014.
While the White House Council on Women and Girls aims to incorporate women and girls of color into their initiative, Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper program hit a nerve among minority women groups.
Advocacy groups argued that it was another way black women and girls were being excluded from policy issues. They pointed to the pay gap for black women, the increased number of black girls in juvenile confinement and the brutal treatment black women sometimes receive from police officers, which can include sexual assault.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director for the African American Policy Forum, was among the advocates in 2014 who criticized the Obama administration for excluding women and girls from My Brother’s Keeper. She said she remembers feeling shocked when the initiative was announced.
“It was a surprising moment of peeling off half of us when the other half is sitting in the same classroom, being raised in the same home, dodging bullets in the same neighborhoods,” Crenshaw said.
“The concern wasn’t as robust when it came to girls and we were deeply troubled by that. We didn’t think women or girls should wait to experience the embrace of the administration and advocates across the political base who we support and who claim to be representing everyone.”
Given the limited time remaining in the Obama administration, a hearing on black women and girls is unlikely, Crenshaw said. But said the caucus should work to gather as much data as possible from across agencies and groups studying them.
“The very fact that this has happened and has generated so much energy, the fact these are elected representatives doing this rather than advocacy groups ... this brings a level of gravitas to try and learn about issues for black women and girls and that can be nothing but positive,” Crenshaw said.