AS election day looms, I know I’m not the only American woman biting her fingernails. We all care about who the next president will be, but for women the race is particularly anxiety-inducing.
The difference between President Barack Obama and governor Mitt Romney on issues of gender can be measured in decades: the latter candidate barely masking his desire to take women back to the 1950s.
We already know what an Obama presidency will look like for gender issues. Women appointed at the highest levels of office, from the Supreme Court to the State Department, expanded access to birth control and healthcare and protections against workplace inequities.
Unfortunately, we have a pretty good idea of what a Romney presidency will be like for us as well.
The former governor of Massachusetts has said he would remove Planned Parenthood’s funding and overturn the Supreme Court case that legalised abortion. His stance on pay equity — make sure women can get home in time to cook dinner for their families.
This is to say nothing of marriage equality, help for low-income Americans, or gender roles (Romney says one parent should stay at home with children — not hard to imagine which one he means).
It’s not hyperbole to say that women’s lives hang in the balance. Romney has promised to reinstate the ‘global gag rule’ — a ban on federal funds to foreign family planning organisations that either offer abortions or provide information or counselling about abortion. Global health experts have cited it contributing to maternal mortality across the world. If abortion is made illegal — a very real possibility under a Romney administration — women will seek out the procedure through unsafe means.
That’s not to say that Romney hasn’t been working hard to woo women’s votes anyway. But the Republican ‘pro-woman’ rhetoric has largely been comprised of damage control and obfuscation.
His campaign keeps repeating that women don’t care about birth control, abortion rights and reproductive health — that women are concerned about the ‘real’ issues, like the economy. The fact that women’s financial security is intimately connected to the ability to decide if and when to have children seems to be lost on them.
How women are actually likely to vote has been widely projected. The first polls showing the narrowing gender gap was likely a result of Obama’s lukewarm performance in the first debate, yet Michael Dimock, the associate director of the Pew Research Center, told Huffington Post that “the entirety of polling over the course of this year suggests ... that the gender gap is likely to look very similar to the last few election cycles, with women [likely] somewhere between six and eight points to favour Obama.”
I want women to be able to stop worrying about whether or not their hard-won rights will be stripped away. And I want to know that feminists, who have been tirelessly holding on to our gains, will have some space to think about progressive change rather than just reactionary activism. — The Guardian, London