The World

India Has an All-Women Party, Why Not Us?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Democratic primaries have left Heidi Schnakenberg doubting women's stake in the two-party system. She's wondering about following the lead of women in India, who recently formed their own party.

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(WOMENSENEWS)--We all know the argument.

But here it is for the record: Since the Democrats are more likely to stand between us and a Supreme Court that could criminalize abortion, all women who care about reproductive rights should vote for the Dems.

And since women have less money and power than men, on average, we should align with the Democrats since they tend to be friendlier to workers while Republicans are chummier with owners.

The gender gap--with voting-age U.S. women preferring the Democrats by 10 percentage points in the 2000 election and by 7 percentage points in the 2004 election, for example--shows this reasoning in action.

But after the unrestrained sexism toward Sen. Hillary Clinton during the primaries, many women are left wondering about the Democrats' pro-woman credentials given the party's members and constituents' failure to speak out against some of the uglier things that went on.

Members of the Facebook group Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich fantasized about Hillary being raped. Some people actually went to the effort of making up hateful T-shirts that read: "If Only Hillary Had Married O.J. Instead." Keith Olbermann, an MSNBC anchor who usually attacks Republicans, at one point discussed the need for a superdelegate to take Clinton "into a room" but not come out.

In an April 14 Salon.com article, Rebecca Traister described an exchange between two progressives: "One of my closest girlfriends, an Obama voter, told me of a drink she'd had with a politically progressive man who made a series of legitimate complaints about Clinton's policies before adding that when he hears the senator's voice, he's overcome by an urge to punch her in the face."

Bipartisan Misogyny

I've always said that acceptable misogyny was a bipartisan phenomenon.

Much has been said of the sore-loser, sour grapes, politically naive response of Hillary loyalists who have failed to warm to Barack Obama.

But not enough has been said about how polling data shows the anti-female bias of anonymous male Democrats. According to a March 2008 Survey USA poll, the gender voting gap changed significantly when Clinton and Obama were matched against the GOP's presumptive nominee John McCain.

In that poll, 13 percent of male Obama supporters said they would switch to McCain if Clinton were the nominee. Less than 2 percent of female Clinton supporters made the same threat against Obama.

Both Obama and McCain have disturbing views on restricting abortion.

McCain's abortion stance is spelled out on his Web site: "John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench."

Obama is hardly so extreme, but he's certainly no Hillary Clinton on this women's issue. In a July 1 interview with Relevant magazine Obama said: "I think it's entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don't think that 'mental distress' qualifies as the health of the mother."

These are not the days for women's rights advocates to accept any party that tolerates any slights. The political neglect of women is too harmful for everyone in this country, including children.

President Bush just proposed a regulation that would call birth control "abortion." The United States has the second-worst newborn death rate and worst child poverty rate of any other wealthy nation.

Human trafficking, 80 percent of which sexually exploits women and girls, is now the largest human trade in history and the third largest illicit trade behind drugs and weapons. The most common crime against an individual due to natural-born characteristics is gender-based, including rape and other forms of sexual assault, domestic violence, homicide, and domestic and sexual slavery.

Pulling Our Issues Together

To address all this, we need more than an a la carte political approach. Fighting for a pay-equity bill one day, battling back an abortion ban the next, keeps us all focused on the trees instead of the forest.

Women's groups are out there pushing strong, holisitic agendas.

The Bella Azbug Leadership Institute developed an overview of the status of women from 1977-2007 and has presented it to presidential candidates.

The National Council for Research on Women launched a public policy initiative for the election year focused on the "big five:" economic security, health, violence, immigration, education.

Women's eNews has compiled a "Memo on the Status of U.S. Women" that highlights women's policy needs in the areas of work, safety and reproductive health.

The nonpartisan grassroots group Moms Rising is working to make motherhood and family issues more politically visible in an effort to reform family leave, child care and job flexibility.

In October a group called Radical Women is calling a 41st anniversary conference in San Francisco. The goal doesn't sound radical to me, it sounds overdue: "a concrete education and action plan to focus and strengthen the U.S. feminist movement--one that can win survival issues, such as 24-hour child care, nationalized health care and full reproductive rights."

Asking Women to Join

As the country's most underrepresented majority, perhaps we should consider following women in India, who recently created the United Women Front, an all-women's political party. Its first item of business is equal representation by gaining 50 percent of parliamentary seats.

I asked Lily Henriquez, a Democrat friend of mine in New York, if she would switch her allegiance to a woman's party.

She said yes, if it made health care a priority and wasn't another women's celebrity organization. "It would have to be a place where the average woman feels comfortable and you don't have to be somebody to get in."

Marine Capt. Anna Maltese is a Republican originally from Mexico and an advocate for victims of sexual assault in the military.

She says a women's political party must be bipartisan, welcome men, and focus on disasters like crimes against women (which the United Nations says is the most pervasive human rights epidemic today).

Other female Democrats I know express discontent with their party's treatment of women, but aren't sure if money and energy should be diverted to the administrative effort of party building.

We need a new plan, whether it is a political party or a grassroots effort. Safety, health, rights, dignity and respect for women must become a reality.

As Capt. Maltese says, it may take something of a revolution.

Heidi Schnakenberg is a screenwriter, journalist, author and activist.

Women's eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at editors@womensenews.org.




 
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