ReportIt’s hard to believe that election day is now less than a week away. The Economists’ Policy for Women’s Issues has graded the candidates nationally, but here with a special (and first!) edition of Global Exchange, Gwen and Tonni will be grading each candidate on their work in international issues that affect women. We are absolutely thrilled to have them address a topic that has been egregiously overlooked in this election. –Kristen

In just a few days the citizens of the United States of America will cast their ballots and determine their President, the future leader of the Free World (and really anything he so chooses). Today we consider what both candidates’ positions on reproductive health, international trade, the conflict in Darfur, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan mean for women internationally.

Toni Ann Brodber: Not too long ago I found myself explaining to a newly baptized American friend of mine why we foreigners watch every 4 years with bated breath as the American public decides our collective fate. Your policy often becomes our policy whether we like it or not. Some of us know this first hand. Frankly many of us faced near asphyxiation as a result of recent US policy decisions. Now, by the time we’ve learned how to breathe with barely any air there’s hope…and the cycle begins again.

Gwendolyn Beetham: I don’t know how many of my friends (including, you, Tonni!) from around the world have told me that they wish they could vote in this year’s election, not least because White House policies very much affect women around the world.

No pressure.

With the current economic crisis, what the next president’s foreign policies will mean for women isn’t grabbing any headlines. There has been some coverage of how the candidate’s different policies will affect US women, but, like our friends at the Center for New Words, we’re of the opinion that there just hasn’t been enough. So, we’ve done the research for you. We’ve looked at how the candidates’ foreign policy positions will affect women globally, and have taken it one step further by grading the campaigns. Our findings may (or may not)surprise you.

Reproductive Health

The Global Gag Rule (also known as the Mexico City Policy) was a Reagan-era policy that made it possible to deny U.S. funding to organizations that that “provide abortion services or counsel, refer, or lobby on abortion”. One of George W. Bush’s first official acts in office was to reinstate this policy, which had been repealed during the Clinton Administration. This rule led to the scaling back of reproductive health programs in approximately 56 countries around the world, which, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, “imperils women’s health and lives both in countries where abortion is legal, as well as where it is illegal.” Reports on the impact of the Gag Rule on women’s lives point to a shortage of contraceptives, clinic closings, loss of funds for HIV/AIDS education, and a rise in unsafe abortions in countries where the rule has been implemented.

According to a survey conducted by RH Reality Check in December 2007, Obama plans to overturn the Global Gag Rule and reinstate funding for UNFPA. McCain supports the Global Gag Rule and voted against repealing it in 2005. He has not addressed UNFPA directly, but, when asked in a town hall in Iowa whether he believed that contraceptives stopped the spread of HIV, McCain responded, “You’ve stumped me.”

Obama/Biden: A
McCain/Palin: D-

For the past seven years, the Bush Administration has also stopped funding the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), claiming that it “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.” UNFPA’s office in China as an example of such support, despite the fact that a U.S. fact-finding mission to China found “no evidence that UNFPA has supported or participated in the management of a programme of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization”. More recently, USAID discontinued funding to Marie Stopes International (MSI) in several African countries due to the organization’s ties to UNFPA in China. (Curiously, such moral objections don’t seem to stop the government from letting China buy up much of the U.S.’s debt.) According to UNFPA, the $34 million in funding that the U.S. would give annual could prevent:

    2 million unwanted pregnancies;
    nearly 800,000 induced abortions;
    4,700 maternal deaths;
    nearly 60,000 cases of serious maternal illness;
    over 77,000 infant and child deaths.

For more policies and grades, click to go past the jump!

International Trade
Free Trade Agreements. Turns out sometimes these are as good for a Detroit auto-worker as it is for a central American woman (i.e. they pretty much suck). US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) might be beneficial for those at the extreme upper echelons of the business world in Central America, but it is absolutely detrimental to women’s economic growth. CAFTA does not protect women workers from workplace discrimination. The labor laws included in the pact exclude workplace discrimination, so good luck to those Dominican women working in the country’s export processing sector who took issue with being fired for being pregnant. (Women who would also benefit from those programs cut because of the Global Gag Rule.) An Obama/Biden presidency would withdraw from CAFTA, a McCain/Palin would continue to support it.

Obama/Biden: A-
McCain/Palin: D-

Senator Obama has opposed CAFTA from its very beginnings.

It is no surprise that women and children are particularly affected by the genocide in Darfur. More than 2.5 million people have been displaced in Darfur (with up to 300,000 dead); tens of thousands of them are women and children. The Obama/Biden claims that they will put an end to the genocide in Darfur and pressure the government to stop killing its own citizens. They are one step behind the International Criminal Court, whose judges are considering whether to issue an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Beshir on 10 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. The McCain/Palin campaign doesn’t address Darfur directly; however, Governor Palin claimed that she was at the forefront of the movement in Alaska to sell stocks of companies that did business with Sudan. The facts show that she may not have been at the forefront but at least she joined the bandwagon.

Obama/Biden: B
McCain/Palin: B-

It’s all fine and dandy to get out but what next? Will the US President support initiatives such as those in Rwanda to ensure that women are included in government? Support for women goes beyond ending the war, but it is a good place to begin.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
The positions of each candidate on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are widely published, but rarely do these conversations consider the effects on women civilians in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Neither campaign website addresses this issue, nor do they address what withdrawal (of any type) will mean for women there.

Obama/Biden: C
McCain/Palin: D-

Even with an exit plan, there needs to be provisions to ensure that the transition is favorable for women and children.

Interestingly, neither Iraq nor Afghanistan reconstruction forces have taken full advantage of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which addresses women’s roles in peacekeeping and in reconstruction. In Iraq, the failure to include women in reconstruction resulted in a “big disappointment” for women’s rights under the new constitution. In Afghanistan, a report in 2007 found that “pervasive insecurity in contemporary Afghanistan has not been conducive to the actualization of the commitments set out in 1325…” and that “the recent negotiations between the Taliban and NATO/ISAF in the South – raises many concerns”. In neither case – despite widespread abuses – were leaders of previous regimes brought to court on charges of gender-based human rights crimes (such as was the case in Rwanda).

Notable mentions from the Obama/Biden team:

Violence Against Women:
As Chairman of the Foreign Relations committee, Senator Joe Biden has taken many steps to support international women’s rights, including, in 2007, the introduction of the International Violence Against Women Act. Biden was also one of the original sponsors of the domestic , or VAWA, first passed in 1994. Senator McCain has voted against VAWA twice.

Senator Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act (2007), which (if passed) will make microbicides a higher priority on the U.S. Federal AIDS research agenda. What are microbicides? They are totally amazing women-controlled methods of protection against sexually transmitted infection and unwanted pregnancy. Microbicides come in many forms – gels, creams, films – but they are unique in that they are relatively undetectable, which makes them key in the fight against HIV/AIDS by empowering women to protect themselves without the knowledge of their partners.

Senator Obama has introduced various pieces of legislation specifically addressing the needs of women vets, including efforts to provide funding for additional caseworkers and mental health counselors for returning soldiers, with a special women’s mental health treatment program.

Notable mentions from McCain/Palin:

Senator McCain has stated publicly that the “special needs” of women veterans should be responded to. (There is no information on his website on whether he has supported this statement legislatively.)

For further information:

For a comprehensive list of gender -specific veterans’ needs, see the 2008 biannual report from the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Facts on Darfur

Obama/Biden Foreign Policy

Obama/Biden Women’s Issues

McCain/Palin National Security

McCain/Palin Values

This is what women want campaign

Gwen and Tonni