Women’s Issues in the Presidential Campaigns?

Is it possible that having a woman as a serious contender for the Presidency replaces discussion of the issues particular to women, such as reproductive health care and the increasing feminization of HIV?

The big news lately from the Presidential campaigns regarding women's issues is cleavage, wives and first daughters. Despite a pleasant and hopeful exchange between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton on the CNN/YouTube debate regarding who is the better champion of women, The Washington Post actually did a piece on Senator Clinton's cleavage "on display" during a floor speech and the New York Times this week ran a front page piece on Chelsea Clinton and the possibility that she would be the First Child twice over.

Seriously? We're 15 months away from an election and the debate — in media terms — has already devolved into the interminable profiles of the candidates' wives and, for the one without a wife, her cleavage and daughter.

I don't think the mainstream press can be tired of talking about "women's issues" because there hasn't been a substantive discussion yet. Is it possible we believe that having a woman as a serious contender for the Presidency stands in for a discussion of the issues particular to women, including their pesky reproductive health care needs and the increasing feminization of HIV? That would really be an unpleasant irony.

Wouldn't it be better if we were talking about, say, global women's health and U.S. policy as part of the discussion about party platforms? Although we're about a year away from the conventions, now would be a great time for both parties to think about the following facts:

  • No economically developed nation in the world excludes women from economic and political participation
  • Women are disproportionately impacted by poor environmental conditions, yet changes in their behaviors can have a hugely positive impact on the environment
  • The HIV/AIDS pandemic is increasingly feminized

Let's set aside for a moment that women's health is a human right and that nobody wants to see half a million women die from preventable complications of childbirth each year. It seems to be sadly established that it's too early in the election cycle to discuss an issue that comes too close to the controversial topic of family planning.

And never mind that an increasing number of Americans are bothered by the fact that environmental change, while inconvenient for those of us in the West, means women who live in low-income countries have to walk even further for water and have fewer resources to recover from droughts or floods.

It is in the strategic interest of the United States to develop a solid policy on global women's health that is not a political football, offered when one Party is in control and withheld under another.

Educated, healthy women tend to have more economically stable families and more educated children. Educating women is one of the most effective means by which to bring the economic growth, equality and liberty necessary to reduce the huge divide between the world's rich and poor. The preamble to our Constitution reminds us why unity is important:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity . . .

Justice, general welfare, liberty — principles for the "Big Tent" of a party platform (ironically, either party). And reasons to support the health and rights of women both here and around the world.