What this election means for women

Protesters hold up signs in front of the Massachusetts State House at the Women's March on Oct. 17, 2020. Photo by Caitlin Faulds/BU News Service

By Claudia Chiappa
BU News Service

Less than two weeks from Election Day, constituents from all over the country are mobilizing to cast their vote in what is predicted to be a historical election with a record turnout. While this year’s election will be significant for everyone, women, in particular, have a lot at stake as issues ranging from health care and reproductive rights to gender equality are on the line. 

“This election is the most important and consequential of our lives,” said Tonya Williams, Director of Strategic Communications at Emily’s List, a Democratic political action committee. “Women should consider the type of leaders they want grappling with and solving major issues like COVID-19 and the economic hardships that have resulted. During this global pandemic, health care for millions of people, as well as protections for millions of more people, are on the line.”

According to “What Women Want,” a Supermajority report released over summer, some of the most important issues for women this election cycle are systemic racism and inequality; economic relief; access to quality and affordable health care; and protection and expansion of women’s right to vote. The report is based on the research conducted by Supermajority, a women’s group founded in April 2019, and research by Supermajority Education Fund and Avalanche Insights.

“Specifically, women told us leaders need to have plans to end the COVID-19 pandemic, combat rampant racism and injustice, protect the Affordable Care Act, raise the minimum wage, provide more stimulus payments, protect our democracy, and help us take care of the people we love,” said Zack Mooney, Supermajority’s East Regional Organizing Director.

Protesters march around the Boston Common at the Women’s March on Oct. 17, 2020. Photo by Caitlin Faulds/BU News Service

A brief published by Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that the 2020 election cycle would significantly impact the policy agenda surrounding women’s health. Biden and Trump have opposing views on the future of the Affordable Care Act, which has improved access to coverage for women everywhere.

Another vital issue at the center of the election is reproductive health: access to contraception and to abortion is on the line for women, with President Trump expressing opposition to abortion and limiting access to no-cost contraception with his plan to repeal ACA. KFF also indicates sexual violence as a pivotal issue at stake this election, mainly due to Trump’s repeal of the Title IX regulation.

While women of all ages, races, and backgrounds are mobilizing to vote, this election is particularly significant for women of color everywhere, who are constantly challenged because of their intersectional identities. 

“The reality is that we are in a fight for our very lives,” said Lakeila R. Stemmons, National Director of Higher Heights. “The fight isn’t new, but we will get the future that we fight for. It is in this moment that we can leverage our collective power to ensure that Black women have a seat at the table and that our voices are heard as policies are being created that directly affect Black women’s day to day lives, our family and community.”

Stemmons said that a recent Higher Heights poll of 506 Black women likely to vote found that 75% of Black women are “now more motivated than ever to vote.” According to Stemmons, this motivation stems from the continuous exposure to police brutality issues and the concern surrounding reproductive rights, among others. 

“Black women are anxious,” Stemmons said. “They’re concerned for their families. They’re worried for their livelihoods. The big question we should be asking is how do we use the backdrop of this moment to truly harness Black women’s substantiated political power to demand policy changes.”

A high percentage of female voters follows historical trends, as women turnout has been higher than men’s for the last three decades. According to research by Pew Research Center based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, women have turned out to vote at higher rates than men in every U.S. presidential election since 1984. In 2016, 63% of eligible women said they voted compared to 59% of men. Similar trends can be observed in midterm elections, where women have voted at higher rates than men since 1998.

A protester holds up a pro-choice sign at the Women’s March on Oct. 17, 2020. Photo by Caitlin Faulds/BU News Service

“Women have historically been a key voting bloc and they will be the deciding factor this election season,” Williams said. “The truth is that women know what’s at stake — health care, their reproductive freedom, economic stability, and much more. Through voting, women have the power to determine what kind of future they want, and particularly with this election, it has the power to save our democracy.”

Kathleen Andreson, Member Events & Operations Manager at Women Donors Network, said that in addition to voting, women are mobilizing in other ways. She said that the current “democratic crisis” resulted in increased passion and funding of initiatives.

“I would say that beyond voting and contributing, people are busy advocating in the form of writing, calling, and organizing in a variety of ways to protect voting rights and to expand the pool of voters,” Andreson said. 

Another incentive encouraging high female turnout is Kamala Harris’s nomination. The 2016 election was the first time in U.S. history there was a female nominee for president. In the upcoming election, Kamala Harris may become the first female Vice President of the United States. This would be a significant victory for women’s activists, who believe more females should be in leadership positions.

“As an African American and South Asian American woman, she has been a first throughout her career, so Senator Harris is no stranger to being a groundbreaking candidate,” Williams said. “The weight of having Senator Harris as part of this ticket is reflected in the record-breaking amount raised after the announcement, the enthusiasm of the supporters, and the coalition of women organizations and voters who have joined forces to support her.”

Harris’ nomination is not only historical because she is a female candidate, but also because she is a woman of color.

“Representation matters,” Stemmons said. “Black women voters are demanding a return on our voting investment in the forms of policies that directly impact Black women and our families and claiming seats at decision-making tables. Senator Harris’ nomination as vice president didn’t erase the entire debt, but it was a substantial down payment and a poignant declaration that the Democratic party is no longer willing to take for granted their most loyal constituents — Black women.” 

Nina Liang, Executive Director of Emerge Massachusetts, said that this election is particularly notable for the organization because Kamala Harris’ journey as she ran for office is what inspired Emerge’s creation.

Emerge trains and encourages women to run for office so that they can be part of the decision making process, and Lian said that Harris’ presence on the ballot is “incredibly impactful” to future leaders.

“With Kamala Harris being the first female Vice President, also a person of color and a legislator, that really inspires people to run for office,” Liang said.

With the November 3rd election promising to have a never seen before turnout, Harris’ nomination, and women’s issues at stake, women’s voices are more important than ever. 

“Women are not only superheroes, they are the majority of Americans,” Mooney said. “They are the majority of volunteers, donors, and voters. And before this pandemic, they were the majority of the labor force. So women are a true force in this country.”

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