Obama vs Romney: When It Comes to Women Voters, All Campaigns Offer Is Talk


Whether Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s assertion that pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended to happen” will affect women’s support for Mitt Romney on election day remains to be seen. Of course, Mitt Romney’s subsequent refusal to withdraw his campaign’s endorsement for Mourdock’s senatorial race does not help, and may have even cost him what little support he gained from his comment about asking for “binders full of women.”

Mourdock’s illiteracy on issues of rape is not an isolated event, but an endemic feature of American politics. In August, Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin said that women rarely get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” making the bizarre claim that only some forms of rape are legitimate. At around the same time, although it was not as highly publicized, GOP Senate candidate Tom Smith told reporters that getting pregnant from rape is similar to “having a baby out of wedlock,” in effect trivializing the trauma and violence of rape.

The Obama campaign has been quick to capitalize on Mourdock’s gaffe, taking a swipe at Romney for his continuing endorsement of the Indiana Republican Senate candidate. Romney’s campaign has only responded that it “disagrees with Richard Mourdock’s comments, and they do not reflect his views.”

In the weeks leading up to the elections, it is very easy for a presidential campaign to seize on one-liner bungles without highlighting long-standing problems affecting women’s rights and reproductive justice in the United States. Looking back at 2012, the situation is grim. There have been many worrying signs that whatever gains made by women’s rights and advocacy groups in the last 50 years are slowly coming under threat.

For example, earlier in April of this year, the Senate voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. The Senate-approved bill would expand the coverage to offer services and grant temporary visas to undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse. The bill also specifies that the law would include gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender victims. Other provisions in the approved bill would also allow Indian tribal courts to try certain non-Indians in some cases of domestic violence that occurred on reservations.

The House of Representatives, however, passed its own watered-down version of the bill that omitted provisions that would protect undocumented immigrants, LGBTs, and American Indians who are victims of domestic violence. Currently, the reauthorization of the bill is stalled, and its future remains uncertain.

Even more recently, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) released a report that showed that female graduates make 18% less than their male counterparts one year out of college, a shocking fact given the passage of the Equal Pay Act almost 50 years ago. The same study also found that the pay gap between women and men increased 10 years after graduation, with women only earning 69% of what men earned.

Even having taken into consideration differences like career choices, race/ethnicity, industry, marital status, hours worked, workplace flexibility, and number of children, the study still found an unexplained 5% pay gap, which would increase to 12% 10 years after college graduation. Despite these numbers, efforts to update and expand the Equal Pay Act with the Paycheck Fairness Act earlier this year failed in procedural votes both in the House and the Senate.

The failures to ensure women’s rights in the United States explain the lower rankings obtained by the U.S. in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum on Tuesday. The Gender Gap Index examines the gap between men and women in economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. The index is also independent of a country’s economic development, so that the gender gaps are measured relative to development level.

In the report, the U.S. ranks 22nd, behind countries like Cuba (19), Lesotho (14), the Philippines (8), and Ireland (5). Iceland, Finland, and Norway came in first, second, and third. The U.S.’s rankings has actually fallen over the last three years, taking slot number 55 in political empowerment, 33 in health and survival rates, 8 in economic participation and opportunity, and 1 in educational attainment (see p. 350 of the report). The U.S. also ranked at 61 in wage equality for similar work.

What all of this – failed efforts to advance equality of pay and protections for victims of domestic abuse, coupled with misogynistic comments from the nation’s leaders – ultimately means is that women’s rights issues have been slowly eroded away, and we have yet to see either campaign propose anything concrete to fix the problems. Currently, many of the legislative efforts aimed at securing women’s rights and gender equality are outdated, while existing provisions are coming under increasing attack.

There has been a lot of pandering to women from both campaigns, but no real promises and policy outcomes from either. Perhaps when high-school student Tess Saperstein wrote, “issues affecting women must be in the forefront of the debates of the 2012 presidential election,” she meant it as an imperative. Let’s not allow Romney or Obama get away by just talking about women.