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A young girl holds a flag aloft as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada October 24, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)
A young girl holds a flag aloft as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally in Las Vegas, Nevada October 24, 2012. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

Expat dispatches: ‘Women’s issues’ are sadly missing from the U.S. election Add to ...

Jennifer Khurana, from Ottawa, is a human rights lawyer in Washington, D.C.

This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.

The 2012 election campaign highlights one thing very clearly for me as a Canadian expat living in the United States. Where would I rather live as a woman? No contest – take me home. The campaign has brought to the fore a host of problems often referred to as “women’s issues” but that are more accurately characterized as human rights and justice issues. Respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, economic justice and substantive equality – they concern us all, and this election underscores how America continues to fail when it comes to half of the population.

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Many people – men and women – are hurting in this country, have lost jobs, struggle to find affordable housing and worry each day about how to make ends meet in feeding their children or trying to avoid bankruptcy to pay their medical bills.

Yet being a woman in this country means you are more likely to earn lower wages, live in poverty and find yourself among the have-nots. While the link between gender and income inequality is not unique to the United States, this election features candidates who differ dramatically in terms of the impact their economic and social policies will have on women.

One candidate has run on a belief in the power of free enterprise and the market to adequately address problems in society, promising a budget of spending cuts that will only further eviscerate those programs that affect the lives of those who are most economically and socially vulnerable in society. A platform that promises to repeal “Obamacare,” hit Medicaid, Medicare, social and child care assistance, as well as funding for housing and public education, can only be bad news for those who are already struggling, and will also disproportionately affect women.

Besides constituting a sizable chunk of the 47 per cent disparaged by one of the candidates as being “dependent on government,” and “thinking they are entitled to health care, food and housing,” women in America have a great deal to fear in 2012, irrespective of income bracket.

Issues that should be no-brainers in a democratic society respectful of basic rights are far from given in a campaign where reproductive health and respect for a woman’s right to choose have all too easily been forfeited as a concession to the more extreme elements of the GOP and the religious right. The grotesqueness of the uneven protections granted in this country is shocking. On the one hand, the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” is constitutionally entrenched, as is Ann Coulter’s right to use incendiary and offensive language to refer to the President of the United States in the name of free speech, and yet criminalizing women’s choices about their own bodies is not so sacrosanct and may yet be up for debate. Chilling indeed.

President Obama said in the recent townhall debate, “these are not just women’s issues, these are family issues; these are economic issues.” They are issues that all the women, and indeed men, in my life care deeply about. I wish I could say the same about the American electorate that is coming perilously close to choosing a candidate who may brag of his binders full of women but does not share these same concerns for equality, fundamental freedoms and the values this country purports to embody.

It may be a power to be reckoned with on the world stage and remains a country of incredible opportunity and hope for some, but in areas that really matter – to women, to children, to families, to building a society which is fair and just to be proud of – the current political and policy discourse in the United States is far from a model worth emulating.

There is a glaring disconnect between the promise and possibility of the United States as a land of freedom, liberty and equality for all and the reality for at least half of the population. Pay equity? Decent, safe, public schools? Affordable access to basic health services and preventative care? Birth control for all? Maternity leave? Think again. The United States remains one of a handful of countries (with Papua New Guinea and Swaziland) with no mandatory paid maternity leave, and is in the dubious company of Iran and Sudan and remains the only industrialized democracy that continues to find objection to joining 185 other countries in ratifying the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, an international treaty providing basic protections for the rights of women.

As the mother of both a little girl and a little boy, I want to live in a country where I don’t need to consider why my daughter’s future is not quite so bright, and not where, in the words of comedian Tina Fey, “gray-faced men with a $2 haircut” want to make decisions about women’s bodies on our behalf and without our consent. We all have a lot of work to do, Canada included, in fostering societies with some semblance of true socio-economic justice and dignity, but when it comes to being a woman living in the United States I would just like to click my heels together and go home.

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