With primary debates beginning as early as August 2015, Republican and Democratic presidential candidates alike had better be prepared to talk about one of the most divisive themes in American politics: women's rights. Liberal and conservative factions have been rigidly divided on women's rights issues since Roe v. Wade's landmark 1973 ruling on a woman's right to have an abortion. And while abortion rights continue to be a major point of contention, far more questions about women's rights still need to be answered. Whether the gender wage gap, reproductive health, or sexual violence and assault — frankly every politician needs to be ready to address these issues to succeed in the primaries.
Republicans and Democrats may be split on the ongoing abortion debate, but nearly everyone in Washington who acknowledges the gender wage gap's existence agrees that it must be addressed along with glass ceilings for women. Meanwhile, abortion clinics are at record low numbers, with 73 clinics shutting down in 2014 alone, leaving just 551 facilities scattered across the country. Clinics are currently being threatened by several state governments including Texas and Alabama. With sexual assault numbers rising to a projected one in three and cases of rape on college campuses exploding in the media this past year, Obama's administration has been campaigning for a solution to a pervasive issue that the next administration will almost certainly inherit.
From these three overarching issues emerge 11 specific questions that candidates must come up with equally specific answers to.
1) How Do We Address The Wage Gap?
The Equal Pay Act was first passed in 1963, and despite the fact that 40 percent of American households contain female breadwinners, the female hourly rate has remained stagnant, increasing by 1.5 cents since 2012 to a median of just over $12. The current ratio of female to male hourly rates is estimated to be 78 cents to $1 across a wide range of professions, from retail to executive management. Sexism is an abstract thing that's difficult to combat, and it's going to take concrete ideas to at least make some progress in mitigating the gap. A quick fix is unlikely given the aforementioned stagnation of the female hourly rate, and politicians from either party might suggest experimenting with different initiatives over time.
2) How Do We Address The Wage Gap For Female Minorities And Mothers?
Statistics reveal that African American women and Latinas earn 64 and 56 cents (respectively) for every dollar earned by a white male. According to Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women's Law Center, mothers experience both discriminatory hiring practices and the wage gap. In a testimony before the U.S. Senate, she said:
Women continue to experience sex discrimination at work because of employers’ gender stereotypes about the competence and commitment of women with caregiving responsibilities. ... Employers recommended mothers for hire less often, recommended lower starting salaries for them, and rated them as less competent than non-mothers with nearly identical resumes.
3) How Do We Address The Gender Gaps In STEM And Executive Careers?
National initiatives to engage females in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers now focus on addressing female youth, but overturning centuries of traditional gender roles has proven difficult, with women still working less than 25 percent of STEM careers across the country. Meanwhile, the gender gap exists in executive careers as well. Sixty percent of all undergraduate and master's degrees are earned by women, who compose less than 15 percent of all of America's executive officers.
4) Should Women Have Access To Non-Prescription Birth Control?
On Tuesday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) put forward a bill that would grant women access to non-prescription birth control pills without requiring additional insurance costs for over-the-counter purchases. Republicans appear supportive of improved health care for women, but continue to challenge Democrats over age restrictions and insurance regulations. These minor but divisive differences between Murray's bill and Sen. Corey Gardner's (R-Colo.) bill, which sets a minimum age of 18 and enables women to purchase birth control through health savings accounts, force politicians to be all the more specific on what their stance is.
5) What Access Should Women Have To Abortion Clinics?
In conservative-leaning states, namely Texas and Alabama, the very existence of abortion clinics has been threatened over the past few weeks. A Texas bill requiring abortions to be restricted to mini-hospitals could limit the state to just seven or eight abortion clinics, while in Alabama, House Bill 527 could shut down important abortion clinics for being too close to public schools. Women's abortion rights have been secured for decades by the ruling of Roe v. Wade, but discussion has been limited regarding a woman's right to access abortion clinics.
6) How Should Access To Medically Safe Abortions Be Protected?
Although some states have passed measures to ban certain types of abortions, federal law maintains women's rights to obtain abortions. Thus, right-leaning states with ideological opposition to abortion rights have begun to focus on combating the existence of abortion clinics. In 2015, it's almost become less a question of protecting women's abortion rights, and more a question of protecting the rights of abortion clinics to exist.
7) How Do We Address The Current High Rates Of Sexual Violence Toward Women?
Statistics published by Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) reveal that one in three women will experience rape in the United States, and statistics from the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) reveal that 44 percent of all rape victims are under age 18. RAINN's statistics also reveal that 98 percent of rapists will never be jailed, indicating a need for not only improved preventive measures, but a better approach for enforcement and prosecution.
8) How Should Rape Be Handled On College Campuses?
Columbia University faced heavy criticism for its disciplinary panel's treatment of famed mattress carrier Emma Sulkowicz and other victims of sexual assault as well as its failure to protect Sulkowicz's alleged rapist from harassment. Columbia's disciplinary measures have sparked a national debate on the role of university disciplinary panels in cases of campus rape. Meanwhile, an estimated one in five women have experienced rape while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Obama's administration has made efforts to fight rape culture on college campuses that the next administration must challenge itself to continue.
9) Should Federal Concessions Be Made To Female Youths In Their Seasonal "War On Dress Code?"
Public school dress codes may appear irrelevant to politicians in Washington, but San Mateo High School Senior Chloe Cross's senior quote has attracted widespread media attention for good reason. In districts across the country, formal dress code statements assert that female students must avoid certain fashions to not distract their male peers and adversely affect their abilities to learn. However trivial public school dress codes may seem in the adult world, if a vast majority of female students feel that their male peers' educational experiences are prioritized above their own, it's in the interest of American politicians to address the issue.
10) How Should We Eliminate Sex Trafficking?
Statistics from the Polaris Project reveal that in 2014 alone, there were 3,598 reports of sex trafficking in the U.S. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children claims that one in six minors who ran away from home could be victims of sex trafficking — up from one in seven in 2013. Sex trafficking, especially for women, is a rising issue in the United States that receives little attention from the media — and American politicians, for that matter.
11) How Do We Address International Women's Rights Issues?
Treatment of women varies across different cultures, especially those removed from western society. In some nations, females experience genital mutilation, sex trafficking, arranged marriages (often for child brides), and deprivation of education. The role of the United States in such sensitive foreign policy matters is often hotly debated.