Women make up half the electorate, but only one percent of debate questions

The World

As the three US presidential debates near, will the moderators finally ask a question concerning issues that affect women, who make up more than half the electorate?  

Thus far, the presidential campaign has rolled out like a reality TV show — with undue media interest on optics, hair styles, large border walls and Pneumonia Truthers. Voters are clamoring for more substantive discussion, and smarter questions that reflect all voters. That includes questions about women. 

Fewer than one percent of questions asked during the presidential primary debates focused on women — that’s only six of 700. 

At a recent forum with NBC host Matt Lauer, there were no questions about women. On the campaign trail, when women’s issues are raised by journalists, they tend to be mostly about abortion rights generally and Planned Parenthood specifically.

A voter exits the voting booth
A voter exits the voting booth after casting her ballot in the Pennsylvania primary at the Kimble Funeral Home polling place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 26, 2016.Charles Mostoller/Reuters
There is so much more to ask about. 

We’re diving in deep on this issue. 

For the month of October, Across Women’s Lives is launching a series that looks at how US foreign policy affects women around the world — and what this election could mean for them. Across Women’s Lives reporters will head to Pakistan to look at how women police officers are trying to reduce sexual assault and domestic violence; and to Colombia, where women are on the front lines of peace negotiations to end a decades old civil war.

Did you know that the US spends more than $1 billion each year on gender programs around the world? We’ll report from Washington on where that money goes, and on Hillary Clinton’s efforts to increase political power of women worldwide. And we'll report from Sweden and Canada, countries that openly embrace a “feminist foreign policy.” Changing women's lives abroad often starts at home, with a foreign policy that recognizes — rather than ignores — the role women and girls play in stability, prosperity and the environment. 

As journalists, we say it’s time for more questions about women. In advance of the first presidential debate September 26, we are launching a hashtag campaign appeal to the moderators to give issues affecting women equal weight. #AskAboutWomen

Share our hashtag to get the conversation going, and tweet your own questions.

Here’s one (that's definitely too long for Twitter) to get us started:

Hillary Clinton has called the subjugation of women worldwide a direct threat to the security of the United States. She has articulated a link between the mistreatment of women and terrorism. As Secretary of State, she elevated the importance of women’s issues at the State Department and reached out to women worldwide in formulating US foreign policy.

Donald Trump: Do you agree with this assessment, and what would you do as president to support women's rights worldwide?

Here's another, for either candidate:

Over the last decade, women have represented fewer than 10 percent of participants in peace talks to end violent conflicts in places like Syria, the Congo and Colombia. Women make up less than 2 percent of police and military forces worldwide. In the US, women represent 13 percent of police officers, but it's a percentage that hasn't increased in 20 years.

Do you think its important to have women better represented across the security sector? As president, what would you do to increase their presence in security, both at home and abroad? 

On the home front, it's time to broaden the debate to include questions about rising incarceration rates of women, women’s participation in the economy and their access to capital. What policies could help single mothers with children, who make up a good percentage of the 43 million Americans who live poverty?

“How can we substantively discuss policies about fair wages, poverty, how the justice system addresses sexual assault and rape, access to quality health care, and more without acknowledging how they affect more than half the population, and the majority of registered voters?" asks Antonella Lannarino, of Womensdebate.org, a group that monitors the campaign for questions about women.  “They are problems mostly for women, but their solutions can benefit society as a whole.”

The Clinton campaign has complained about this lack of interest in women. In fact, Clinton herself found this so frustrating, she interrupted a debate in New York this past spring to complain “We’ve not had one question about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care. Not one question.”

The audience applauded loudly. But it didn’t prompt the media to ask any additional questions about issues affecting women. At the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump raised issues that affect women in introducing her father.  

Still, we wonder if journalists will ask questions to Trump about affordable day care or maternity care or pay inequity; or questions to Clinton about her support of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Or will moderators pose questions about efforts to raise awareness about teen rape, or how survivor benefits would be impacted if Social Security is privatized.  

Despite mounting evidence of the inequality women face in the US and worldwide, journalists still seem to think asking about women equates to asking softball questions. Veteran foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz of ABC, who moderated the 2012 vice presidential debate, is moderating the second presidential debate this go-round, on October 9. Will she break the mold?  

If we truly felt that repression of women mattered, the media would feel pressed to ask the candidates what they plan on doing about it. 

It’s time to stop ignoring half the electorate. It’s time to #AskAboutWomen.

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