by Riane Eisler and Kimberly Otis
Women are 52 percent of the U.S. population. But not once did either President Obama or Governor Romney even give a nod in their direction for the hour and a half they debated U.S. domestic policy. Neither did moderator Jim Lehrer once mention women or point a question in the direction of the female majority. It was as if women do not exist.
This woman-less lens is not only disastrous for women, but for us all. Most Americans do not know that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, American women over 65 are nearly twice as likely as men of the same age to live in poverty. Yet in their wide-ranging sparring about U.S. economic policies, neither candidate addressed this devastating reality for American women and families -- much less what they would do to change it.
While the reported wage gap for women remains 77 cents to every dollar earned by men, which drops to as low as 61 cents for Latinas, in fact the economic realities for women are much grimmer. Women actually earn only 38 percent of men's earnings over their prime working years. The reason: women are still primarily responsible for caring for children, the sick, and the elderly in homes. Yet unlike every other developed nation, the United States does not have paid parental leave or paid family leave, much less social security credit for caring for a child at home or caregiver tax credits -- all of which are essential. Instead American women (and men) are penalized for their socially and economically essential work of caregiving.
Surely women should know what our next president plans to do about the shocking fact that U.S. maternal mortality rates have doubled in the past 25 years. This is even more tragic for women of color, as African-American women are now more than three times more likely to die in childbirth than White women. Equally shocking, according to the 2012 CIA World Factbook our wealthy nation ranks 49th in infant mortality -- behind not only every developed nation but even behind much poorer nations. Americans need to know where the candidates differ on availability of reproductive health care and contraception -- which have played major roles in moving families out of poverty and are vital not only for women but for our nation's economic progress.
Nor did the candidates and the moderator even mention job discrimination against women, or the fact that occupations where women predominate are paid significantly less than those where men do -- so that the average plumber gets over $22 an hour, whereas childcare workers make an average of less than $10 per hour.
We need to know how our next president plans to address these pressing issues. Again, this is not only vital for women but for everyone. Studies show that when women and the care work they do are valued, the return on investment for the entire nation is enormous, including measurable reductions in child abuse, domestic violence, poverty, and crime. Our taxes have been used to fund huge deficits for wars and corporate bailouts, while spending for "soft," traditionally "women's work" of healthcare, teaching, and early childhood education has been deemed wasteful -- even though it is the most cost-effective investment a nation can make.
We must see to it that policymakers -- starting with our presidential candidates -- make all this visible. We must know their position on all these issues that directly and profoundly affect all our lives and our economy. Here are some vital questions we can ask, email, or mail to every candidate for office -- questions to ask at every public forum where they speak. We must know how candidates for office will address the concerns of the majority of Americans: women, with all of their diverse and enormous contributions to economic success and quality of life for all.
Eisler is the best-selling author of 'The Chalice and the Blade' and 'The Real Wealth of Nations' and founder of the Center for Partnership Studies. Otis is director of the Center's Caring Economy Campaign.