Many media outlets nationwide have been reporting on a “war on women” consisting of recent legislative acts across the nation to limit the rights of women. One only needs to look at Congress to witness the extreme legislative actions being used by conservatives to thwart advances in civil rights. The Violence Against Women Act, once met with wide bipartisan support when it was introduced in 1994, is up for reauthorization this year — it failed to receive a single GOP vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee last month.
Other laws around the nation validate the sentiment that there is a real threat to women’s rights — a “war on women.” New legislation in Virginia would require invasive ultrasounds before abortions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker repealed his state’s equal pay law, making it easier for employers to discriminate on the basis of gender. Since former President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act in 1963, the gender pay gap has narrowed by less than a half-cent per year. Right now, women only earn 77 cents for every dollar a man takes home — at this rate, American women will have to wait fifty years for equal pay.
Gender inequality does not just exist in the workplace but in the public political sphere as well. As the Minnesota Daily Editorial Board said in a recent editorial, “A major problem is women are largely underrepresented in government. While women are 51 percent of the U.S. population, they make up only 17 percent of Congress. The U.S. ranks 90th in the world for women in national legislatures behind countries like China and Iraq.”
The female voice in U.S. politics is diminished in the debate over reproductive and civil rights. Lawmakers ignore the real needs of women when, for example, Arizona decides to penalize women for using contraception for nonmedical purposes. Controlling when one becomes pregnant is the most important factor on a woman being able to exercise agency over the decisions in her life — whether and when she can work or attend college, for example. For many women, legislation restricting their rights is, in fact, war.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has begun to say that 2012 will be a historic year for women in the Senate — with reproductive and civil rights issues at the forefront of state legislation, and it seems they are right. Female voters decided the 2008 election when President Barack Obama won 57 percent of women while males were deadlocked 50-50 along party lines. With a “war on women” brewing in Washington, it seems as though presidential candidates Obama and GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney will be fighting a war for women instead.
After Rick Santorum’s campaign — one that championed many of the conservative legislative efforts on reproductive rights — ended, the current political race is without such a polarizing figure and wide open for female voters. Frontrunners must note that many female voters are undecided at the moment; they should take a fresh, critical look at the rights of women and how recent legislative attacks are harmful rather than helpful.
Not only would championing more equal rights for women be politically advantageous, but it would set a precedent for challenging several of the attacks of the war on women. Though there has been battle after battle in this “war” on several issues, frontrunners need to move past extreme legislative actions and focus on fighting a different war, a war for women rather than against them. If this were their focus, candidates could advocate giving women equal opportunities and more control over their own bodies.