By Rachel Elfenbein
As women in the United States, we now often find ourselves forced into defending our legal rights, instead of campaigning to advance them. Recently, the Republicans have been very effective at raising campaigns to threaten our reproductive rights. And the national political debate has narrowed in on abortion as the key women’s issue. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign agenda fights to expand our rights as women, not just to defend them. Bernie’s agenda prioritizes the needs of working women of all races in building a more just country.
As women, we know that women’s issues include but go far beyond abortion and contraception. We know that we face multiple forms of injustice based on our gender, race, and/ or class, in addition to reproductive injustices. We want to control our own bodies and reproductive capacities. At the same time, polls show that we, as women in the U.S., care most about economic issues, health care and violence..
Bernie’s presidential campaign platform addresses all these issues as women’s issues in order to fight for gender equality in the United States. Bernie defends Planned Parenthood’s reproductive health services and our rights to access contraception and to choose to terminate a pregnancy. At the same time, he stands for the advancement of our rights as women to income equality, support for our care work, healthcare and to live free from violence.
1. INCOME EQUALITY
Bernie’s agenda is clear that income issues are women’s issues. That is why he stands for:
Equal Pay for Equal Work
On average, women currently make 79 cents for every dollar that men make. This gender wage gap is closing very slowly. At this current rate of change, we will not earn wages equal to men’s until 2059. At the same time, Bernie’s agenda recognizes that black and Latina women in the U.S. suffer even worse gender-based wage discrimination. We cannot afford to wait over forty years for wage equality. This is why Bernie is advocating for the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act.
Raising the Minimum Wage and the Tipped Minimum Wage
The majority of minimum wage workers and tipped workers in this country are women. Workers in tipped occupations are twice as likely as workers in other occupations to live in poverty. Under this current poverty minimum wage regime, the government is subsidizing employers by providing social assistance (for example, food stamps, Medicaid, public shelter and housing) when workers’ wages are not enough to meet their and their families’ needs. No workers and their families should have to live in poverty, and taxpayers should not have to pick up employers’ slack. Given that women are most of the lowest wage workers, Bernie argues that raising the minimum wage and the tipped minimum wage to $15/ hour will help to close the gender wage gap in addition to keeping women and families out of poverty.
Expanding Social Security
Because of the gender wage gap, women collect less social security than men and are likely to collect less money from pensions, if we even have them. And because many women spend more time out of paid work or do part-time paid work so that we can care for our families, we contribute less money to social security than men and then benefit less from it when we reach retirement age. Bernie is campaigning to increase minimum social security benefits. This would help to ensure women can live old age out of poverty and in dignity.
2. CARE WORK
Bernie’s agenda recognizes that we, as women, tend to do the bulk of care work in our families and that caring for our families is not only a labor of love. It is also a key economic issue that shapes how we work outside of our homes. This is why he is campaigning for:
Paid Family and Medical Leave
The United States is the only wealthy country in the world and one of only four countries in the world that does not grant mothers the right to paid maternity leave. The Family Medical Leave Act only entitles workers to unpaid leave to care for family members. Only a few states in the country have laws granting mothers and/or fathers rights to paid parental leave. The lowest wage workers are much less likely to have employer-provided paid family leave. Many of us are forced to choose between paying the bills and taking care of our families. This “choice” that we are dealt violates the “family values” that so many politicians claim to support. Bernie, on the other hand, is campaigning for the right for all workers to have at least 12 weeks of employer-provided paid family and medical leave.
Paid Sick Leave
Latino and black workers and low-income workers of all races disproportionately do not have access to paid sick days. Paid sick days would help us workers care for our families and ourselves when we are sick, while remaining employed and earning incomes. Bernie is proposing that all of us have the right to at least one week of paid sick leave per year.
Universal Quality Childcare & Pre-Kindergarten
While we have free, public daycare and pre-K programs, only a few children in the U.S. can access them. Many of us cannot afford the costs of private daycare and pre-K. Since we as women tend to bear the responsibility for taking care of small children, the lack of affordable childcare prevents many of us from pursuing the work and education we would like outside our homes. Universal quality public childcare and pre-K would help us to rest assured that our children are safe and learning, while we do paid work or receive our education outside the home.
The costs of healthcare disproportionately impact women, and Bernie’s campaign addresses this by proposing:
Healthcare as a Human Right
Women in the U.S. tend to spend more money on healthcare than men. We also tend to outlive men, which means we use health services for more years than men. Yet we earn far less than men and have less money to spend on healthcare. Bernie is campaigning for health care as a human right for all of us. Healthcare should not be a product to be bought and sold in the marketplace, where those of us with less resources cannot afford the vital care we need. Making health care a right through a Medicare-for-all single-payer healthcare system would mean that we could rest assured that our insurance will cover us when we are in need.
Despite progress in recognizing the prevalence of violence against women and providing services to survivors in the U.S., our response is still woefully inadequate. Bernie proposes:
Expanding Violence Against Women Services
On one day alone in 2014, over 6000 requests for shelter and housing by domestic violence survivors in the U.S. went unmet. Services addressing violence against women cannot currently meet survivors’ needs due to reduced government and private funding and lack of staff. No women should face homelessness because they are being abused, let alone in the richest country in the world. We need to make sure all survivors’ needs are met. This why Bernie is campaigning for the expansion of services for women experiencing violence.
Rachel Elfenbein holds a Ph.D. in sociology. She is a mother and has worked as a popular educator, researcher, facilitator, and counselor with civil society organizations in southern Africa and North America on issues of youth, gender violence, HIV/AIDS, occupational health and safety, and children’s, women’s and workers’ rights.
All the information above on Bernie Sanders’ campaign agenda was adapted from https://berniesanders.com/issues/fighting-for-womens-rights/.
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