Women and Gender in Public Policy
Women and gender minorities are protected under federal law, yet disparities exist in education, retirement, health, and other areas covered by federal programs.
While federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender disparities persist in areas like education, employment and wages, retirement, and criminal justice. Some issues—such as caregiving, maternal health, and sexual harassment and violence—may affect one gender more than others. Federal agencies administer a number of programs in these areas, but agencies could more effectively design, implement, and evaluate these programs by understanding the role that gender plays.
- The gender pay gap persists in the entire U.S. workforce, but the wage gap for federal workers is smaller (7 cents on the dollar in 2017). Most of this gap cannot be explained by measurable differences between men and women. The gap is greater for certain groups of women, including Hispanics/Latinas, Blacks, and American Indians or Alaska Natives.
- Women are underrepresented on publicly-traded company boards—which make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people and influence the policies and practices of the global marketplace.
- Women age 65 and over have less retirement income on average than men and are more likely to live in poverty. Women are also more likely than men to provide care for a parent or spouse, which can adversely affect their jobs, retirement assets, and income.
- Women are still largely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Additionally, female students in engineering and medical majors experience sexual harassment significantly more than female students in non-STEM fields.
- Women and racial or ethnic minorities are still underrepresented at the Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development—especially in the higher ranks—though their workforces have grown more diverse. EEOC requires some federal agencies, including State and USAID, to address workforce barriers to equal participation.
- Black students, boys, and students with disabilities face disproportionate discipline (e.g., suspensions and expulsions) in K-12 public schools.
- A lack of data on sexual orientation and gender identity makes it difficult to discern trends in school bullying—especially as they relate to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community.
- Every year in the United States, hundreds of women die of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth and women of color are disproportionately affected. For example, black women are more than 3 times as likely to die from childbirth as white women.
Pregnancy-Related Deaths per 100,000 Live Births by Ethnic/Racial Group, 2007-2016
- Federal data on sexual violence are critical to preventing, addressing, and understanding the consequences of these types of crimes. However, these data are confusing and fragmented, which may obscure the scope of the problem and hinder the understanding of sexual violence.
- Persons with domestic violence records are prohibited from possessing firearms. While most firearm sales were blocked after background checks detected domestic violence records from 2006-2015, about 6,700 firearms were erroneously sold to prohibited individuals due to delays in completing these checks.
- Female officers in the military had higher annual attrition rates relative to men—family planning, sexual assault, and dependent care are among top reasons why women leave the military. Additionally, servicemembers reporting sexual assault more than doubled in 2014, from in 2007, and some estimates are as high as 20,300 cases annually. Preventing sexual harassment and assault is a priority recommendation to the Department of Defense.
- Human trafficking victims are often held in slave-like conditions and forced to work in areas such as the commercial sex trade, factories, and agriculture. The Departments of State and Labor, and the U.S. Agency for International Development managed 120 counter-trafficking projects in 2017. Establishing additional controls to assist in monitoring counter-trafficking in persons projects is a priority recommendation to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
GAO-21-69: Published: Oct 19, 2020. Publicly Released: Oct 19, 2020.
Veterans Affairs researchers have found that LGBT veterans may experience higher rates of depression and more frequent thoughts of suicide. Yet the VA can't systematically analyze the health of these veterans because it doesn't consistently collect data on sexual orientation or self-identified gender identity. For example, according to the VA, 89% of veterans' records lack gender identity data. Wi...
GAO-20-387: Published: Jun 15, 2020. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2020.
A federal survey estimates that 22% of Veterans Affairs employees experienced workplace sexual harassment in 2014-2016. VA has policies to prevent and address harassment, but some are inconsistent and incomplete. For example, the person who oversees personnel functions (e.g., hiring, promotions) is the same person who oversees the complaint process. This can create a conflict of interest. In add...
GAO-20-61: Published: May 19, 2020. Publicly Released: May 19, 2020.
We reviewed active duty female servicemember retention and promotion in FY 2004-2018. The proportion of women in the military went up from 15.1% to 16.5% Attrition rates for female enlisted and commissioned officers were higher than for males, but this gap has narrowed Women were 28% more likely to leave the service than men Promotion rates for enlisted were slightly lower for women than men,...
GAO-20-330: Published: Mar 24, 2020. Publicly Released: Apr 21, 2020.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained pregnant women more than 4,600 times from 2016-2018. Most detentions lasted 1 week or less. ICE has policies and standards related to the care for pregnant women that vary by facility type, with some having more requirements than others. ICE is updating its policies and standards to address gaps. At facilities it inspected, ICE generally found at...
GAO-20-248: Published: Mar 12, 2020. Publicly Released: Apr 7, 2020.
Every year in the U.S., hundreds of women die of complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. Mortality varies by race/ethnic group. For example, non-Hispanic black women are more than 3 times as likely to die as non-Hispanic white women, according to the CDC. This report describes, among other things, Health and Human Services’ ongoing efforts to prevent these deaths. For example, it fun...
GAO-19-373: Published: Jun 13, 2019. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2019.
Students may attend alternative K-12 public schools due to issues like poor grades and disruptive behavior. Some students attend for a few days to a few years, while others cycle in and out. Among other things, we found: Enrollment at these schools dropped between school years 2013-14 and 2015-16. Declines in White and Hispanic enrollment accounted for most of the drop Some groups, such as Blac...
GAO-19-382: Published: May 1, 2019. Publicly Released: May 31, 2019.
About 10% of Americans per year cared for an elderly parent or spouse from 2011 through 2017. These family caregivers may risk their long-term financial security if they have to work less or pay for caregiving expenses such as travel or medicine. More than half of people who cared for parents or spouses said they went to work late, left early, or took time off for care Spousal caregivers at or n...
GAO-18-500: Published: Aug 9, 2018. Publicly Released: Aug 23, 2018.
Do women pay more than men for similar consumer products, giving rise to what some call a “Pink Tax”? After controlling for product size and other factors, prices for half of the personal care items we looked at are higher for women, including deodorants and fragrances. Some men's items cost more, such as razors. Whether the price differences are due to gender bias is unclear. Ad costs and co...
GAO-18-204R: Published: Mar 6, 2018. Publicly Released: Mar 8, 2018.
In the 3-year period we examined, federal agencies obligated about $27 billion in funding to organizations that provide preventive, reproductive, and diagnostic health care services in the United States or abroad. These include: federally qualified health centers, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Marie Stopes International, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Most of the...
GAO-18-33: Published: Dec 18, 2017. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 2017.
The Department of Defense's (DOD) policies on sexual harassment include some but not all of the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) principles for preventing sexual violence and include most relevant legislative elements. GAO identified six principles from CDC's framework for preventing sexual violence, which CDC defines as including sexual harassment. GAO found that Office of the Secretary of Def...
GAO-16-645: Published: Jun 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Aug 1, 2016.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 513,000 women and girls in the United States were at risk of or had been subjected to female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in 2012, a threefold increase from its 1990 estimate. CDC attributes this change primarily to increased immigration from countries where FGM/C is practiced, rather than an increase in the occurrence of FG...