Editor’s Note: Janet Walsh is acting women’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.
Janet Walsh: Donald Trump has an opportunity -- and a responsibility -- to demonstrate he really does respect women
Trump owes women his all-out support for laws and programs to combat violence against women, she says
“Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody.” So said Donald Trump during his presidential campaign.
But Trump’s other words and actions during and before the campaign made a mockery of that statement. We all know his record: the public bragging about sexual assault and subsequent dismissing of his comments as “locker room talk,” the body shaming tweets, the assertion that women should be punished for abortion, and more. Now that Trump is President-elect, he has an opportunity – and a responsibility – to demonstrate he really does respect women.
An estimated 32% of women in the United States have suffered physical violence from an intimate partner and approximately 19% have been raped. According to the Violence Policy Center, more than 1,600 women were murdered by men in 2014 and the most common weapon used was a gun. Sexual violence against women in the US military is widespread, and many victims have faced retaliation for reporting abuse.
Trump owes women his all-out support for laws and programs to combat violence against women. He should stand by the Violence against Women Act, a law that has helped hold abusers accountable and enabled survivors to get services and seek justice for more than two decades. Trump should also ensure accountability for sexual assault in the military, and end retaliation against victims.
In the workforce, women who worked full-time, year-round in 2014 earned 79% of men’s median annual earnings, and the gender wage gap is bigger for black and Hispanic women. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives thousands of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment charges every year. In 38 states, the cost of infant care “exceeds 10% of the state’s median income for a two-parent family.”
Moreover, the United States is an extreme outlier on national paid family leave. A 2014 International Labor Organization report found that out of 185 countries, only the United States and Papua New Guinea lacked paid leave under law for new mothers, and more than 70 guaranteed paid paternity leave.
Trump said he’ll guarantee six weeks of paid maternity leave “by amending existing unemployment insurance.” But to promote true equality, he should promote paid family leave for all workers, and push Congress to enact the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. This law, if enacted, would enable workers to take leave to care for new children or seriously ill family members, or to deal with their own serious health conditions, with partial pay for up to 12 weeks. Trump should also support measures to eliminate workplace harassment and discrimination, and make child care equitable and affordable. Given a report that Trump paid male campaign staff members on average about one-third more than female staff, he should make an extra effort to eliminate the gender wage gap.
The United States is one of only a few countries, rich or poor, that has experienced a recent increase in women dying in childbirth. Women’s reproductive rights are under assault: In 2015 alone, state lawmakers introduced nearly 400 bills and enacted 47 new restrictions on reproductive health care, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. The Hyde Amendment blocks Medicaid funding for abortion except when the pregnancy results from rape or incest, or endangers the woman’s life. This disproportionately impacts low-income women.
Trump claims he will promote health care choice and quality. Yet many proposals he made during the campaign would be devastating for women’s health. He pledged to nominate “pro-life” Supreme Court justices, saying they would “automatically” overturn Roe v. Wade. He promises to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act, which expanded access to women’s health services, and he wants to make the Hyde Amendment permanent law. Trump should realize that highly restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower abortion rates, and where abortions are tightly restricted, they are often unsafe and carry higher risk, especially for poor women. He should promote comprehensive reproductive health care, not undermine existing access to care.
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Globally, an estimated 35% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner, or sexual violence by a stranger. Approximately 15 million girls marry before age 18 each year. At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, and women and girls account for about 70% of human trafficking victims globally.
Trump has said little about global women’s issues. He should realize that for years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the United States has shown strong leadership on issues like child marriage, gender-based violence and human trafficking. He should nominate a highly qualified proponent of women’s rights to lead the State Department’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, and ensure that the office has sufficient resources and power to lead on these issues.
“I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans,” Trump said in his acceptance speech. As president, he needs to back those words with actions that demonstrate true respect for the half of “all Americans” who are women.