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Women and the Presidential Election
Sharmini Peries

SHARMINI PERIES, JOURNALIST, TRNN: Welcome to the coverage of women and the 2008 US presidential election at The Real News Network. Women voters have outnumbered their male counterparts in every major election since 1984. Yet, according to the 2006 Census, the disparity between the wage of working women is 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Further, when we scan the election coverage on major news networks, women’s issues are largely absent. What does the health care platform of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party mean for ordinary women? How does the economic recession affect women? And what do the two parties offer to ease the burden? To explore these issues and much more, I spoke to Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, while we were in Denver.


PERIES: Fifty-one percent of the population over that are women. And most of the last few elections held, a majority of the people that voted were women.


PERIES: By about 10 million votes. Yet if you were to watch the network news today, you wouldn’t know that, and you wouldn’t even know that there was a women’s platform and that the DNC was actually addressing women’s issues in a very substantive way. So I wonder what’s going on.

SMEAL: Well, they always play women’s issues as if they’re not as important—let’s be real—although they impact half the population and then some. But this platform is one of the most progressive ones for women’s issues in the history of the Democratic Party—I would say it is the most. It covers women not only in sections—like, they have a women’s equal economic opportunity section—but it’s in every section there is issues that pertain to women. And they say it. You know. It’s for full equality. It’s for affirmative action for women and employment and education. It has a tremendous health care plank, includes full reproductive health rights, including not only support for Roe v. Wade, and it says emphatically that it should not be restricted, and they would oppose any and all efforts to do so. But then it goes into family planning, paid family medical leave, which United States workers do not have. And it’s not only for paying it, it’s for extending it to more workers, ’cause right now it only covers about half and it’s unpaid. They want to pay it and then extend it. It has sick leave policies paid. The average American women worker has no sick leave. Believe that? I mean, it’s just unbelievable. The rest of the industrial western world does; we don’t. This is emphatically for it. And then it has, you know, a plank against violence against women. It’s for ratifying the international women’s treaty CEDAW—which is called the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Sex Discrimination—very strongly. It is the most complete. It’s in every area: the early childhood planning for early childhood education and care is terrific. So believe me, I’ve participated in [inaudible] since ’76 for women’s issues, and this is the strongest platform.

PERIES: Do you think Hillary Clinton had a lot to do with it and her campaign?

SMEAL: Oh, absolutely. I think her campaign was a very positive influence, no question about it. I think that the fact that the women’s movement has come of age in this country, the fact that, I would say, the vast, vast majority of delegates are feminists, the women active in women’s organizations. And, also, Obama should give credit to his policy director from his legislative staff (took a leave), [Karen Kornbluh, who] is the principal author of the platform. She is a feminist, had it in her brain that she wanted women’s issues throughout the platform.

PERIES: Let’s unpack that a little bit, because the common perspective out there is that Hillary was for women and a women’s platform and a women’s agenda, however, that Obama’s campaign is just beginning to tackle the issues, and that they’re not so embedded in it. And do you think there’s some truth to that? Because it’s contributing to the division in the party.

SMEAL: No, I don’t really think so. I mean, I had endorsed Hillary, as many women’s rights leaders did, ’cause we knew her and worked with her, but a lot of feminists endorsed Obama. His chair of his women’s policy committee, a woman named Judy Gold, is a magnificent feminist, strong on all the issues. She’s not, you know, new to this. She’s been active in the women’s rights movement, I’d say, for over 20 years. Karen Kornbluh, I just said, his legislative director, very strong on feminist issues. They have a women’s policy committee with noted and very well-known feminists on it. So his positions are good—they’re not just good, they’re very good. And so I’m very happy about that.

PERIES: If you had to choose just one issue—I know there’s many women’s issues, and the women’s movement have been struggling to bring it to the surface, but if you had to choose one issue that you will be really pushing for if you actually have Senator Obama elected as president, what would that be?

SMEAL: Well, you know, I’m never a one-issue person. I really believe in multiple issues, so you can believe that we’re going to be pushing on all fronts. But I feel that with Senator Obama and Senator Biden—and Biden is very strong on a host of women’s issues too and has been a friend of the women’s movement for a long time—I think we have a shot at passing the CEDAW, the treaty. And it’s a disgrace we haven’t. We’re the only country of our size that hasn’t.

PERIES: This is the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

SMEAL: Right, and the United States should be a part of that. It’s a disgrace that we’re not. And it has a real impact on real women’s lives that we would be not only worldwide, but here in the United States, ’cause the treaty has a high stature in our system of law. So this would be very important. And, by the way, it has tremendous implications for fighting violence against women, and I particularly think that this ticket will be very attuned to that. Senator Biden is the principal author of the Violence Against Women Act that provided for the first time, starting in 1994, not only funding for fighting violence against women, providing shelters, training police officers, really elevating this as a nationwide issue that the government should deal with, but also he’s made sure it was reauthorized in 2000 and 2006, and he’s for having the United States make this a major issue worldwide. And I don’t know if you realize it, but Obama has been speaking about it. So we could have a real breakthrough here, and as you know, this is not just a little issue for women in their [inaudible]. Too many women are the victims of domestic violence. But then there’s sexual assault, rape. It should be treated much more seriously.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Eleanor Smeal: President of the Feminist Majority. Two term President of National Organizaiton for Women (NOW). Smeal is the author of "How and Why Women Will Elect the Next President "" (Harper and Row