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The Next Presidential Debate Should Focus on Women’s Issues

Stanford's Allison Kluger Talks Female Empowerment Curriculum
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

A Presidential Debate on Women’s Issues?

In January, Showtime debuted a docuseries behind the 2016 presidential election called “The Circus.” Circus is the word that comes to mind while watching the twenty-one primary debates that aired nationally between August 2015 and April of this year.

As I wrote in a piece published this week at the official blog of the United State of Women Summit in DC, we reviewed every transcript of the primary debates and found that in over 700 questions asked, only 6 were about women’s issues that did not specifically mention “abortion” or federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

Six.

You can see those six questions here. (Don’t worry, they did make sure to ask burning questions about Secret Service codenames, fantasy sports, and who should be on the $10 bill, which is of course the most pressing economic issue of our age).

Women’s issues are not just about reproductive rights. They are not niche or special interest, and certainly not monolithic.

They are core social and political issues: the economy, health care, safety. There are aspects of these core issues that disproportionately affect—and negatively impact—women’s lives and their families. How can we substantively discuss policies about minimum wage, how the justice system addresses sexual assault and rape, access to quality health care, poverty and more without acknowledging how these issues acutely affect more than half the population (and the majority of registered voters)?

Consider:

• Women and children account for 70% of our nation’s poor, women are 35% more likely to be poor than men, and single mothers face the highest risk of poverty. Nearly 700,000 single mothers who worked full-time, year round in 2014 still lived on the poverty line. And it gets worse for women of color and for women as they age—they’re facing workplace discrimination, and living longer with smaller retirement accounts.

  • Disproportionate economic challenges are faced by women at every income level. Ten million women own businesses according to the US Census and contribute $1.4 trillion to the US economy, but only 1 out of 3 applications for loans are approved for women-owned firms and just $1 out of every $23 in conventional small business loans goes to women-owned businesses.
  • Only 3 out of every 100 rapists will ever see jail time. One in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.
  • Because women are more likely than men to be covered as dependents, a woman is at greater risk of losing her insurance if she becomes widowed or divorced, her spouse loses a job, or her spouse’s employer drops family coverage or increases premium and out-of-pocket costs to unaffordable levels.

Realities like this are why we need a #womensdebate. The Women’s Debate is a nonpartisan civic group founded to collect voters’ questions for a presidential debate on women’s issues. You can sign our petition here.

The nearly year-long circus that has brought us to the national party conventions this month may have turned off many from wanting to watch another debate, but there’s no denying their high ratings and even higher profits. By introducing these issues in a national debate or a town hall—hey, we’re not picky about the format, only the discussion—we can help raise awareness, evaluate our leader’s policies and demonstrate women’s voting power.

Maybe with a women’s debate American voters can benefit, too.

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