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Women's rights not a topic discussed by some presidential candidates

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Presidential candidate Donald Trump

Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit in Altoona, Iowa, Jan. 28. According to Dianne Bystroom, the director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics, Republican candidates generally don't address women's rights.

This article was published Jan. 23, 2016 in the Huffington Post as part of the #OUCovers16 project and has been reformatted for the OU Daily. 

Presidential candidates speak often on issues of national security, terrorism and immigration, but there's one subject many of them seem to avoid: women's rights.

In the 10 Republican primary debates before Feb. 28, only eight questions were asked related to women, and only one directly about women's rights, according to transcripts of the debates.

The questions, of course, are controlled by the moderators, but the questions are about topics at the forefront of campaigns, and not about topics like the gap in pay between men and women, Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and an OU alumus, said.

"Unfortunately, pay equity issues don't rise to the forefront of most political campaigns," Bystrom said. "So they're asking about things like the economy, terrorism (and) immigration."

These are issues women care about as well, but the issues directly related to women are not the first thing Republicans talk about, because these issues don't resonate enough with Republican voters, Bystrom said.

"They do care about that, and I care deeply about that, but in a typical election, the issues are much broader ... if you look at the big picture, what Americans really care about are not these issues," Bystrom said. "I wish they cared more."

Some think the Republican candidates refraining from talking about women's rights issues might actually be a good thing.

"If they're gonna talk about it, they don't usually have a positive view of women's rights or feminism in general, so it's usually very negative," said Collin Powell, an interior design and German sophomore and co-president of the Society for the Advancement of Gender Equity at Iowa State University.

Some Republican presidential candidates do not have the greatest track record with women.

Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner, has frequently made damaging remarks toward women.

Trump says he loves women, that he has employed several women in his many companies, according to Huffington Post. In the second presidential debate he said he wanted to "take care of women," according to Time's transcript of the debate.

"To me it's condescending to say 'I love women,'" Bystrom said. "I do think he's worked to promote some women in his business enterprises, but I don't think he has as strong of a record as other candidates on the issues."

There are a lot of things wrong with Trump's views on women's rights, mostly from a lack of education, said Megan Frisvold, a global resource systems and environmental studies sophomore and co-president of the Society for the Advancement of Gender Equity at Iowa State University.

"He doesn't really understand women's rights or women's issues. He's just not really educated on it (and) doesn't really seem to give a time of day about it," Frisvold said.

At the third Republican debate, Ted Cruz was asked about the pay gap and what he would do to fix it.

Cruz said he would fix the economy. Then he went on to talk about what Obama had done for women in his administration and offered no elaboration on how fixing the economy would fix the pay gap, according to Time's transcript of the third debate.

"If you don't have a plan to fix it, why even talk about it," Bystrom said. Herein lies the problem: the Republican candidates don't have a plan of how to help women's rights issues, so they can't talk about it, Bystrom said.

"I think it shows a lack of commitment," Frisvold said. "You wanna take care of women, you want to fix women's rights, but you're not committing any time in your primary speeches."

Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton take a different approach than Republicans. Sanders and Clinton are both pro-choice, and neither think the government should have any control over women's bodies, according to both candidates' websites.

They both are passionate about closing the pay gap and pointedly emphasize women of color, who make even less than white women.

They both support government-mandated paid family leave, and Sanders cites the embarrassment America faces as being the only major power that doesn't have it, according to Sanders' website.

The Democrats talk about these issues more, because studies show that their voters actually want to hear it, Bystrom said.

"There's actually been research that shows in the 2012 race President Obama talked about (these issues) and that actually resonated, according to research, with women voters," Bystrom said. "The Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, tried to characterize women's issues as the economy ... That was a good strategy, because that was women's top issue, but on the other hand, the women that did vote on 'women's issues' were more persuaded by President Obama."

On the forefront of these issues are millennials, now larger than any other group, but they have a hard time getting respect from the other generations, Frisvold said.

"I think just generally on issues, millennials are more educated than Baby Boomers and Gen. X-ers give us credit for," Frisvold said. "We care about what's happening to us. As it is, we're having hard times finding jobs. We have way more college debt than anybody in history.

"I think on the millennial side, there needs to be a reform in the minds of people towards us."

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