There Is Now a Congressional Caucus Dedicated to Black Women and Girls


There Is Now a Congressional Caucus Dedicated to Black Women and Girls

 

Three members of Congress announced the formation of a new caucus focused on the advancement of black women on Tuesday morning. The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, the first of more than 430 congressional caucuses and member organizations to focus on the demographic, will amplify black women’s voices in policy discussions and promote legislation that addresses the social and economic barriers they face.

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY), and Robin Kelly (D-IL) were moved to found the caucus by the #SheWoke Committee, a group of seven women who wrote a MoveOn.org petition in January asking congressional leaders for an organized plan to improve the lives of black women and girls. The committee includes Ifeoma Ike, the co-founder of Black and Brown People Vote; philanthropic strategist Nakisha Lewis; and Sharon Cooper, sister of Sandra Bland.

Black women have been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, making noise about the ways in which racism and sexism work together in their lives. People in power are paying attention—just a day after the caucus was announced, the NoVo Foundation, which is run by Warren Buffet’s son Peter and his wife Jennifer, pledged $90 million to “support and deepen the movement for girls and young women of color” in the U.S. The foundation says it’s the largest commitment ever made by a private foundation to address the systemic injustices girls of color face. In their announcement, the creators of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls cite race- and gender-based inequities in wages, education, and health care as evidence that black women need more targeted advocacy from their legislators. “This caucus will be purposed to ensure that the infrastructure of inclusion fully incorporates the varied and unique needs of black women,” said Clarke in a press release announcing the caucus. “Our experiences must and will inform the direction we take as a nation and we can no longer afford to be excluded from important conversations.”

The founders intend the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls to become something like what the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative has been for black men and boys. In November, the White House held a daylong forumon the advancement of women and girls of color—it addressed race disparities in school discipline, STEM education, and economic struggles—but no permanent initiative came about to continue the discussion. “No group on Capitol Hill has sought to make black women and girls a priority in the policy debates that occur here. The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls will fill that gap,” the caucus founders wrote in the release.

There are 21 black women currently serving in the House of Representatives and none in the Senate. So far, only Coleman, Clarke, and Kelly have joined the caucus, which, if it takes its membership cues from the Congressional Black Caucus, will have an all-black, all-woman roster. The caucus will need to attract more members if it’s going to take the lead on legislation, but for now its small size makes it nimbler than the average legislative apparatus. “In January, we launched a petition asking our national leaders to create a space that prioritizes Black women and girls, and here we are in March with a platform that will serve as a vehicle towards change,” Cooper, from the #SheWoke Committee, said in the announcement. “The chairs of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls … responded in the way all elected officials should: with urgency.”

 

Christina Cauterucci is a Slate staff writer.