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After Criticism, White House Announces Efforts for Girls of Color

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It appears the White House has heard the cries of some civil rights advocates who've argued that its My Brother's Keeper efforts focus too narrowly on boys of color, ignoring the often equally pressing challenges faced by black, Latina, and other minority girls.

The White House released a report today called "Women and Girls of Color: Addressing Challenges and Expanding Opportunity," which "highlights work the Administration has done over the last six years to reduce barriers to success for everyone including women and girls of color," the administration said in an announcement. The report mentions efforts related to equal pay, STEM education, teen pregnancy, and sexual assault. 

The White House Council on Women and Girls are following the report's release with a meeting this afternoon to discuss the challenges that women and girls of color face. The council, led by presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, will also launch a working group to address these issues. That group will include staff from various federal agencies, experts, and advocates from various sectors, the announcement said.

The U.S. Department of Education, the White House Domestic Policy Council, the White House Council on Women and Girls, and Georgetown University also plan a January meeting to discuss women and girls' access to STEM and career and technical education opportunities. From the announcement:

"We will address barriers to access, including cultural competency, race and gender stereotypes, discrimination, and lack of sufficient resources to support programs in schools and communities. This convening will produce and inform policy and programmatic proposals to help disrupt patterns of gender-based occupational segregation by increasing young women's and girls' participation in programs that prepare them for high-skill, high-wage jobs, including non-traditional occupations. The aim is to develop a strategy to prepare students for in-demand careers in high-growth industry sectors."

What spurred this?

The White House didn't address what sparked today's announcements, but it's reasonable to assume calls to broaden its focus to women and girls were a factor.

The My Brother's Keeper initiative—supported by Obama, corporate heavyweights, and high-profile celebrities—has attracted philanthropic investments, commitments from school districts around the country, and a renewed focus on equity issues for young black and Latino males. Boys in those groups face some of the lowest graduation rates and the highest incarceration rates of any population. They are also disciplined at higher rates than their peers.

In June, a letter from more than 1,000 black and Latina women and girls questioned why the effort only targets boys. From the letter:

"The need to acknowledge the crisis facing boys should not come at the expense of addressing the stunted opportunities for girls who live in the same households, suffer in the same schools, and struggle to overcome a common history of limited opportunities caused by various forms of discrimination.

We simply cannot agree that the effects of these conditions on women and girls should pale to the point of invisibility, and are of such little significance that they warrant zero attention in the messaging, research, and resourcing of this unprecedented Initiative. When we acknowledge that both our boys and girls struggle against the odds to succeed, and we dream about how, working together, we can develop transformative measures to help them realize their highest aspirations, we cannot rest easy on the notion that the girls must wait until another train comes for them. Not only is there no exceedingly persuasive reason not to include them, the price of such exclusion is too high and will hurt our communities and country for many generations to come."

That was followed by a September report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Women's Law Center, which called attention to the unique issues black girls face, including pregnancy discrimination in schools, overlapping stereotypes related to their race and gender, and sexual assualt. Those issues, combined with the factors that also affect black boys, can affect families for many years to come if they aren't addressed when girls are young, the report said.

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