Written by : Julie Lavaire
Translated by : Chloé Lusven
On January 6th, 2021, Kamala Harris became vice-president of the United States of America, with president Joe Biden by her side. The first American woman to rise to this level of power, Kamala Harris is also the first African-American woman to reach it. Despite being the target of criticism, Kamala Harris is a strong symbol for causes such as women’s rights, racial minorities’ rights and members of the LGBT+ community’s rights. Her ascension to vice-president seems to reflect without a doubt president Joe Biden’s political direction; a policy where gender issues are taken into account and where women and minorities are recognized as full-on citizens of the United States.
Beyond the symbolism that Kamala Harris represents, it is important to examine what her election to the position of Vice President for women and minorities in the United States actually means..
A pioneer’s ascent
Kamala Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California, to a Jamaican father, an economist and a professor at Stanford University and to a mother of Indian origin, a biologist and an oncologist. She was seven when her parents got divorced. She followed her mother to Canada, where she pursued her studies until her SATs. She then returned to the United States to study law at Hastings. She was admitted to the California bar and in 2003 became the state’s attorney general before being elected to the office of attorney general from 2011 to 2017. She was then appointed Senator for California in the US Congress. Being more on the left of the political spectrum than Joe Biden, she connects his electorate to the more radical Bernie Sanders’ electorate, which has led to her being described as a “monsterAuthor not mentioned, “Trump calls Kamala Harris a ‘monster’ and ‘communist’ in Fox tirade after debate with vice president,” FR24 News, October 8th 2020. … Continue reading”, a “communistAuthor not mentioned, “Trump calls Kamala Harris a ‘monster’ and ‘communist’ in Fox tirade after debate with vice president,” FR24 News, October 8th 2020. … Continue reading” and a “crazy womanAuthor not mentioned, “Trump calls Kamala Harris a ‘monster’ and ‘communist’ in Fox tirade after debate with vice president,” FR24 News, October 8th 2020. … Continue reading” by Donald Trump.
She spent the 1960s with her parents in Berkeley, which provided her with a political education. Her parents, two activists who pioneered her political activism, helped her participate in civil rights marches in Berkeley at a young age. The city is home to one of the world’s top universities, UC Berkeley, a symbol for democrats and human rights activists. It is the place where the Black Panthers movement was launched, as well as the protests against the Vietnam war. This time was of the utmost importance in the vice-president’s life, as she often refers to it in her speeches. Besides, she chose to announce her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in her hometown, Oakland. She withdrew her candidacy before the beginning of the primaries, on August 11, 2020, when she was designated as Joe Biden’s running mate.
Without being in a place of blind adoration, the presence of Kamala Harris, a racialized woman, in the position of Vice Presidency of the U.S. represents a symbol taken up by the media to raise awareness of the causes of women and minorities. She follows the footsteps of women who have paved the way for women’s political activism; that is why she chose to wear white clothes for her first speech after the results for the presidential election were announced. White symbolizes the suffragette movement lead by feminist activists in the beginning of the 20th century. It is also the chosen color of the National Organization for Women (NOW) which has fought for women’s right to vote and gender equality.
Kamala Harris, a progressive and feminist figure?
Some people criticize the new vice president because of her previous professions and consider her a progressive delusion. Her detractors have analyzed her career and claim that Kamala Harris is not an ally for workers, poor people, women, racial minorities and the LGBT+ community. She is often called the “best copAdrien Balestrini, « Une flic à la Maison Blanche : Kamala Harris, l’illusion progressiste », Révolution permanente, November 10th 2020. Available on: … Continue reading” in California by her critics because she refused to investigate the deaths of two African-Americans killed by police and did not supported a bill to appoint a police violence prosecutor.
However, Kamala Harris distinguished herself in the fight against women sexual trafficking by co-sponsoring the FOSTA-SESTAStop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) & Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), two bills that recognize third party advertising websites as accomplices of sexual trafficking. These laws include the permanent closure of platforms that would help stem sex trafficking. Founded in 2004, the U.S. classified ad website Backpage.com offered until recently – like many others– some tools to help sex workers to screen potential clients – including blacklists of dangerous clients. The new vice president has contributed to its ban and to the arrest of its CEO. Recent studies of sex workers and lawyers have however shown that banning such digital platforms has actually increased the risks associated with their professionMelissa Gira Grant, « Proposed federal trafficking legislation has surprising opponents: advocates who work with trafficking victims », The Appeal, January 26th 2018. Disponible sur : … Continue reading. Moreover, Kamala Harris may have contributed the weakening of the position of sex workers by opposing Prop K, a San Francisco election measure to decriminalize sex work. This opposition resulted in a loss of income for sex workers, forcing some of them to turn to survival sex practices, such as street prostitution. This practice lead to an upsurge of violence against an already fragile population, and make their situation even more precarious.
On the other hand, Kamala Harris is committed to defending women’s right to control their own bodies, especially in the area of abortion. During her televised debate witth Mike Pence, she said that she was a believer, as was Joe Biden, but that every woman should be free to choose what is right or wrong for her body. In fact, she authored the California Assembly Bill 1671 that was enacted in September 2016 and sponsored by Planned Parenthood. The California Assembly Bill 1671 prohibits eavesdropping on a “confidential communication” using a wiretapping device or recording it without the consent of all parties involved in the confidential communication. This can apply to an editor that receives a communication from a source and distributes it, but also to abortion information platforms. Kamala Harris has also kept a rating of 100% in the Senate by the abortion rights group and 0% rating by the pro-life group. During her Senate campaign in 2015, she was endorsed by Emily’s List, an American political committee that aims to elect female democrat candidates that are pro-choice.
Kamala Harris also supports anyone who has been harassed. In March 2019, with Lisa Murkowski, she reintroduced the Ending the Monopoly of Power Over Workplace Harassment through Education and Reporting Act (EMPOWER), an act that reduces barriers so that victims of harassment – including sexual harassment – can express themselves, demand justice and warn companies that they cannot protect harassers any longer. In addition to this, a month later, she signed the Be HEARD Act. An act that aims, among other things, to give more time to employees to report moral and sexual harassment at work.
It is in this same view of justice that she defends the LGBT+ community. As a member of the Senate, she co-sponsored the Equality Act. This bill by the United States Congress will, if it is adopted, modify the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public education, federal funding, credit and jury system. The June 2020 Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, GeorgiaIt is a historical civil rights case at the United States Supreme Court (2020) during which the Court stated that title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination … Continue reading, protects gay and transgender people in terms of employment but not in other fields. She confirmed her opinion in October 2019, during a meeting with CNN and the Human Rights Campaign where she pledged her support to anyone fighting for equality. At the same time, she expressed her concern about violence against black transgender women – 20 of them were killed in 2019 – and underlined the fact that LGBT+ people of color are doubly discriminated against.
Kamala Harris, what commitment to hope for women and minorities during her mandate?
The election of the Biden-Harris duo sent the political world and civil society in a frenzy and they have high hopes for this mandate. Beyond containing the economic crisis, fighting against COVID-19 and reintroducing health coverage for all, Joe Biden’s government wishes to place gender issues at the heart of its decision-making. Thus, they are most likely to be the prism through which his domestic public policies will be defined, prioritized and executed. As evidence of that, the current United States president cabinet is described as the most diverse of all times. Between women and racial and gender minorities people, this team best reflects the United States of the 21st century.
Even if Joe Biden has not always been the most LGBT+ friendly person, he decided to appoint Rachel Levine, a transgender woman, as his Deputy Minister for Health. The person that defended the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which aimed to limit the recognition of the union between two people to heterosexual couples only, has since then changed his position and present himself as a progressive and supporter of LGBT+ rights. For example, the new president and his vice president want to repeal the trans ban in the army, to pass a bill against conversion therapy and to put an end to the ban on blood donation that affects gay people.
Furthermore, both of them attach great importance to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). First introduced in 1923 by the National Woman’s political party, it is an amendment proposal to the United States Constitution which aims to guarantee that equal rights between genders can never be challenged by federal, state or local legislation. This proposal was never ratified even though it is presented at every new Congress legislature since 1982. Kamala Harris has actually declared that the ERA will be one of her first priorities during the campaign. If the ERA were to be ratified, it will become easier to get equal pay between women and men, to protect women from harassment, sexual assault or rape, while also protecting reproductive rights and freedom to control their own bodies.
In the U.S. Constitution, women are only mentioned once in a total of 27 amendments: in the 19th that grants them the right to vote. This amendment, promulgated in 1920, a little over a century ago, represents the last change brought to the U.S. Constitution in terms of women’s emancipation and rights. It is therefore legitimate to consider that the Constitution has trouble reflecting current issues and challenges facing the United States today. According to Kamala Harris, adopting the ERA would be a question of economic justice. She declared: “When you raise women’s economic status, you raise children and families’ economic status, neighborhoods and communities’, and it benefits the whole societyChloé Angyal, « Kamala Harris dit qu’il est temps de faire enfin des femmes des citoyennes à part entière », Marie Claire, February 27th 2019. Available on: … Continue reading”. It is essential today to include women’s rights but also racial and gender minorities more in the Constitution, in order for them to be considered (like) full-fledged citizens of the United States.
In the Biden agenda for women, in addition to the ERA, one can find other essential points like a campaign to fight violence against women, equal pay and health care for all. President Joe Biden, with Kamala Harris, wants to undo as quickly as possible ex-president Donald Trump’s decision to forbid funding American Planned Parenthood centers. This decision has put women’s right to abortion in jeopardy, making it almost impossible in some states. This new mandate aims to equally fight domestic violence since Joe Biden’s agenda put forward his will to enforce gun control on aggressors and violent men already known to law enforcement.
Thus, Kamala Harris assets are numerous. The former California Attorney General represents a new generation of political women, defending minorities and proud of her multicultural origins. Joe Biden’s victory, and therefore Kamala Harris’, marks a turning point in U.S. politics. It is not only a sign of renewal, but also and above all, a sign of hope for generations to come.
Nevertheless, several racist and misogynistic attacks have emerged during Joe Biden’s campaign, aiming to discredit Kamala Harris. She has been criticized as much as the two presidential candidates while Donald Trump has been accusedof rape, sexual assault and sexist behavior on numerous occasions.
Despite the attacks, Kamala Harris has established herself and was firm when needed. Her supporters and colleagues see that firmness as revealing her tenacity. She speaks up any time she gets the chance to defend her ideals, particularly when she pleads for a fairer justice system for people of color. Kamala Harris follows in, according to some people, the footsteps of Barack Obama’s and gathers the political world and civil society around her ideas. Joe Biden chose a talented and respected woman. Determined to put the U.S. back in the center of the international stage, Kamala Harris has overcome all obstacles to make her convictions a reality. She is a woman to follow in the years to come. Harris has saluted Joe Biden’s “boldnessChloé Angyal, « Kamala Harris dit qu’il est temps de faire enfin des femmes des citoyennes à part entière », Marie Claire, February 27th 2019. Available on: … Continue reading ” for “breaking one of the greatest barriersChloé Angyal, « Kamala Harris dit qu’il est temps de faire enfin des femmes des citoyennes à part entière », Marie Claire, February 27th 2019. Available on: … Continue reading” in American society by choosing her as his vice-president. She has promised: “I won’t be the last one because every little girl watching tonight sees that it’s a country where everything is possibleChloé Angyal, « Kamala Harris dit qu’il est temps de faire enfin des femmes des citoyennes à part entière », Marie Claire, February 27th 2019. Available on: … Continue reading”.
After four years of Trump’s presidency, four years where gender and minorities issue shave been pushed back, Kamala Harris’ ascent to the vice president position comes as an immense relief. She testifies a necessary rupture to make women’s, racial minorities’ and LGBT+ community’s rights go forward in a country where they have been sidelined for too long.
Author unknown, « Covid, climat… : Kamala Harris et Emmanuel Macron prônent une ‘‘coopération étroite’’», Les Echos, February 16th 2021. Available on:
Author unknown, « Kamala Harris s’inscrit dans l’héritage des suffragettes et des femmes “qui ont ouvert la voie” », France Inter, November 8th 2020. Available on:
Author unknown, « Trump qualifie de Kamala Harris de ‘‘monstre’’ et de ‘‘communiste’’ dans la tirade de Fox après le débat avec le vice-président », FR24 News, October 8th 2020. Available on:
Author unknown, « Election américaine 2020 : Kamala Harris décrit les défis des femmes en politique », BBC News, October 29th 2020. Available on:
Chloé Angyal, « Kamala Harris dit qu’il est temps de faire enfin des femmes des citoyennes à part entière », Marie Claire, February 27th 2019. Available on: https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a26551159/kamala-harris-equal-rights-amendment/
Adrien Balestrini, « Une flic à la Maison Blanche : Kamala Harris, l’illusion progressiste », Révolution permanente, November 10th 2020. Available on:
Marianne Chenou, « Election américaine : à quoi va ressembler le mandat de Kamala Harris à la vice-présidence ? », France Info, November 8th 2020. Available on:
Carole Ernesty, « Comment Kamala Harris révolutionne les représentations du couple et de la famille », ChEEk Magazine, November 25th 2020. Available on:
Ségolène Forgar, « Kamala Harris, l’ambitieuse procureure qui est devenue la numéro 2 des États-Unis », Madame Figaro, January 19th 2021. Available on:
Isabelle Germain, « ‘‘Je parle’’, Kamala Harris débusque les pièges sexistes », Les Nouvelles News, October 9th 2020. Available on:
Melissa Gira Grant, « Proposed federal trafficking lesgislation has surprising opponents: advocates who work with trafficking victims », The Appeal, January 26th 2018. Available on: https://theappeal.org/proposed-federal-trafficking-legislation-has-surprising-opponents-advocates-who-work-with-bf418c73d5b4/
Virginie Martin & Katia Richomme Huet, « Kamala Harris et le paradigme de l’intersectionnalité », Revue politique et parlementaire, November 9th 2020. Available on:
Elodie Palasse-Leroux, « Pour les féministes américaines, Kamala Harris représente ‘‘une avancée, pas une victoire’’», Slate, November 12th 2020. Available on:
Cécile Prieur, « 2021, l’année des femmes », L’Obs, December 24th 2020. Available on:
Liz Tung, « FOSTA-SESTA was supposed to thwart sex trafficking. Instead, it’s sparked a movement », WHYY News, July 10th 2020. Available on:
To cite this article : Julie Lavaire, “ Kamala Harris, between history and hope ”, 24.01.2022, Gender Institute in Geopolitics.
The views expressed in this paper are solely those of the author.
|↑1, ↑2, ↑3||Author not mentioned, “Trump calls Kamala Harris a ‘monster’ and ‘communist’ in Fox tirade after debate with vice president,” FR24 News, October 8th 2020. Available on: https://www.fr24news.com/fr/a/2020/10/trump-qualifie-kamala-harris-de-monstre-et-de-communiste-dans-la-tirade-de-fox-apres-le-debat-avec-le-vice-president.html|
|↑4||Kamala Harris wore a very symbolic white suit on the night of her victory in Wilmington on November 7th 2020. Photo credit: Abaca, Le Figaro. Available on: https://madame.lefigaro.fr/style/le-costume-blanc-de-kamala-harris-tout-un-symbole-politique-091120-183349|
|↑5||Adrien Balestrini, « Une flic à la Maison Blanche : Kamala Harris, l’illusion progressiste », Révolution permanente, November 10th 2020. Available on: https://www.revolutionpermanente.fr/Une-flic-a-la-Maison-Blanche-Kamala-Harris-l-illlusion-progressiste|
|↑6||Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) & Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA|
|↑7||Melissa Gira Grant, « Proposed federal trafficking legislation has surprising opponents: advocates who work with trafficking victims », The Appeal, January 26th 2018. Disponible sur : https://theappeal.org/proposed-federal-trafficking-legislation-has-surprising-opponents-advocates-who-work-with-bf418c73d5b4/|
|↑8||It is a historical civil rights case at the United States Supreme Court (2020) during which the Court stated that title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination on the basis of their trans identity.|
|↑9||Chloé Angyal, « Kamala Harris dit qu’il est temps de faire enfin des femmes des citoyennes à part entière », Marie Claire, February 27th 2019. Available on: https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a26551159/kamala-harris-equal-rights-amendment/|
|↑10, ↑11, ↑12||Chloé Angyal, « Kamala Harris dit qu’il est temps de faire enfin des femmes des citoyennes à part entière », Marie Claire, February 27th 2019. Available on: https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a26551159/kamala-harris-equal-rights-amendment/|