5 ways women's issues were ignored in 2016


2016, a year many predicted would end with a shattered glass ceiling and female president-elect, has not been great for women.

The year, of course, undoubtedly had its high points: To name a few, 50+ companies have signed the White House Equal Pay Pledge, Samantha Bee emerged as a much-needed female voice in late-night television and President Barack Obama's administration finalized a rule prohibiting states from withholding federal funding from organizations that perform abortions. 

But 2016 has also left many women feeling disenfranchised and vulnerable, and vital issues like equal pay, paid family leave, reproductive rights and equality for the LGBT community are even more at risk under the impending Donald Trump presidency.

Though it's a tough list to narrow down, here are just five of the ways women's issues were ignored in 2016.

The continued anti-abortion fight

One of the most high-profile attacks on women's rights, of course, has been the continued fight against abortion access by "pro-life" advocates. This fight has been waged through state legislation, such as the 20-week abortion ban recently signed into law by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the continued threat to defund Planned Parenthood, and the threats and acts of violence committed against those who perform abortions.

These efforts, of course, have almost always been enacted without consideration for the myriad reasons why women choose to have an abortion in the first place — a question Ohio legislator and "heartbeat bill" co-sponsor Jim Buchy admitted he'd "never even thought about."

The willful ignorance of these anti-choice lawmakers not only denies women the basic right to assert control over their own bodies, but also systemically places women's lives at risk. Late-term abortions, falsely described by Trump during a presidential debate as "rip[ping] the baby out of the womb," are rare procedures often undertaken in cases where there's a life-threatening risk to the mother — and are banned in almost half of U.S. states.

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The Republican-led attacks on Planned Parenthood also ignore the 97% of health services the organization provides in addition to abortions. 

"Millions of millions of women — cervical cancer, breast cancer — are helped by Planned Parenthood," Trump said during a Republican primary debate in February 2016. "I would defund it because I'm pro-life, but millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood."

The normalization of sexual harassment and assault

One of the most contentious moments of the campaign was the October release of a 2005 tape featuring Trump bragging about "grabbing [women] by the pussy" and using his celebrity status to kiss and touch women without their consent. The video's release was followed by a slew of sexual harassment and assault allegations against the then-candidate, with at least 12 incidents reported as of Oct. 28.

So, what happened next? Trump brushed off his comments as "locker-room banter" and threatened to sue the women who had come out against him. Allies jumped to his defense and dismissed his remarks, claiming they were simply indicative of his "alpha personality." 

During the scandal, comments made by Donald Trump Jr. in 2013 shed further light on the family's perspective toward sexual harassment in the workplace. "If you can't handle some of the basic stuff that's become a problem in the workforce today, then you don't belong in the workforce," Trump Jr. said. "Like, you should go maybe teach kindergarten."

And then the country elected Trump president.

Another major touchstone that helped signify the larger trend of trivializing sexual harassment and assault came in June, when Stanford swimmer Brock Turner received a six-month sentence for the sexual assault of an unconscious woman in 2015.

In a heart-wrenching statement describing the profound consequences the assault had on her, the anonymous victim wrote: 

"I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset, while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken. Nobody wins. We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering. Your damage was concrete? stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me. You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today."

While Turner's crime was eligible for a sentence of up to 14 years in state prison, the student instead received six months in county jail. "A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him," judge Aaron Perksy noted. Turner was released from jail in September 2016 after serving just half his prescribed sentence. 


Ignoring the plight of female refugees

Women in America, of course, are exceedingly fortunate in many respects compared to women in developing countries around the world. While the large-scale issues facing women worldwide are numerous — from the millions of uneducated women and girls to the 200 million victims of genital mutilation — some of the most prevalent struggles of 2016 were those faced by female refugees, particularly refugees escaping conflicts in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Politicians opposed to accepting Syrian and Islamic refugees point to the possibility of allowing in unvetted young men who pose a threat to national security (a largely unfounded claim, given the United States' thorough vetting process for refugees). But this refugee fear-mongering comes at the expense of the women and girls who make up roughly half of all Syrian refugees. These displaced women, the Women's Refugee Commission reports, are "even more exposed to exploitation, abuse, and sexual violence," with sexual attacks being highly prevalent in refugee camps. 

The commission also notes that 15% of pregnant refugee women — who make up between 6 and 14% of all displaced women ages 18 to 49 — may experience life-threatening complications and have little to no access to sufficient health care services. By focusing all the attention on a barely perceptible percentage of the total refugee population who are at risk of committing terrorism, politicians and anti-refugee advocates ignore the basic needs of women and children from war-torn countries who simply seek a safer life.

Delil Souleiman/Getty Images

Not giving women a place at the table

In an article on the cancellation of Amazon's female-driven series Good Girls Revolt, the Atlantic noted that none of the executives involved with the decision to not renew the show were women — a demographic makeup that's sadly indicative of many American businesses, from car manufacturers (who only started using female crash-test dummies on 2011 models) to Kimberly-Clark, whose products include Kotex tampons and menstrual pads. By having predominantly male corporations and studios make decisions and products for women, the preferences, desires and needs of women have largely been ignored. 

Of course, part of the way we can actually reflect women in culture is by elevating their voices and telling their stories. In many ways, that's been a bright spot of 2016: In addition to female-led TV shows like Orange Is the New BlackDifficult People and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, this year brought an all-female remake of Ghostbusters, the emergence of Full Frontal with Samantha Bee as a force of late-night comedy and a female-led Star Wars movie with Rogue One

But the year has also shown how controversial these female voices can be: The Ghostbusters movie was plagued by sexist criticism from its announcement, New York Times writer Ross Douthat decried Hillary Clinton's "Samantha Bee problem" and Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy criticized Rogue One for not having a "strong and vigorous male lead." 

Eric Charbonneau/AP

How these female stories can become more normalized, of course, is by fighting against the criticism and creating more cultural products that follow in their footsteps. The key to getting these stories and products made in a way that will appeal to women is by putting women in the room where such decisions happen.

Finally: the election of Donald Trump

Of course, if there's one event of 2016 that hurt women's issues, it was Trump's victory on Election Day. Faced with a choice between an experienced female candidate who fought for women's issues, combated decades of criticism and declared "women's rights are human rights" in 1995 and a reality television star with a history of sexual assault and zero political experience, American voters (at least in terms of the Electoral College) decided on the latter. The campaigning process, too, seemed to largely ignore the voices of female Clinton supporters and their concerns. While fans of Bernie Sanders and Trump enjoyed significant media attention, female Clinton supporters more often reserved their opinions for "secret" Facebook groups.

Alex Brandon/AP

Since being elected President, Trump has further emboldened legislators seeking harsher abortion restrictions and expressed his criticism over Time's "Person of the Year" award having its title switched from "Man of the Year" in 1999.

He will assume the presidency Jan. 20.