Ms. Tchen and Valerie Jarrett, who was named the council’s chair, initially considered creating a cabinet-level gender council position or a broader gender ambassador, but decided against it in the end. It sounds counterintuitive, but they felt that it would give the designated “gender person” less power every time issues like sexual harassment in the military or sexual assault on college campuses arose.
“If you created a separate office and kept all the issues around gender concentrated in one place, the temptation would be to look down the cabinet table, point to the gender person and say, ‘Not my problem, it’s their problem,’” Ms. Tchen said.
Instead, Ms. Tchen and Ms. Jarrett structured the council like a consultancy, pushing each agency to focus on gender issues within its own ranks and broader policy agenda. It worked with the Transportation Department, for example, to train bus drivers and flight attendants to recognize signs of sex trafficking.
The council, however, still didn’t have a full-time leader — Ms. Tchen was also director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, and Ms. Jarrett served as a senior adviser to Mr. Obama — nor did it report directly to the president. And it didn’t have much authority to design policies itself.
“It was situated in the Office of Public Engagement so it had more of a public relations or outreach function,” said Lyric Thompson, the senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women.
And, Ms. Thompson added, the council tended to neglect foreign policy issues. Much of the activity on global gender initiatives came instead from the State Department, under Mrs. Clinton, who as secretary of state appointed Ms. Verveer to be the country’s first ambassador for global women’s issues.
The council was dismantled again in 2017, under President Donald J. Trump, who also left the role of ambassador for global women’s issues vacant until December 2019.