THE BLOG
01/23/2016 04:21 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2017

Women's Rights not a Topic Discussed by Some Presidential Candidates

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

During the last six Republican primary debates, only six questions have been 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.

Which does not include questions about the pay gap, Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and a University of Oklahoma 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 that 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.

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

Donald Trump, the current Republican frontrunner, is known for making damaging remarks towards 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.

"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."

Another candidate, Jeb Bush, has fought funding women's health, saying "I'm not sure we need half a billion for women's health issues," according to the New York Times.

Bush touts defunding Planned Parenthood when he was governor of Florida, but according to Mic, that decision didn't go so well for Florida women.

The last question asked at a debate, which related to women was directed toward Ted Cruz. He was asked about the pay gap and what he would do to fix it.

Cruz said he would fix the economy, and then 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. Here in 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."

No Republican is committing time, except Carly Fiorina.

"I can tell you that it is only possible in this country, that (a) woman can start like I did....and end up in charge of a company and running for president," Fiorina said to the crowd at the 10th Annual Iowa Renewable Fuels Summit.

Fiorina has spoken at many events about women's rights and women's equality to men under God.

Fiorina believes firmly in women and men being paid the same for the same job. However, she emphasizes that men and women should be paid for doing the same quality of job as well. She blames the unequal pay in this country on the labor unions and the government, according to her website.

Where Fiorina is coming from is different from the normal point of view, Powell said.

"For the traditional campus feminist...she's a woman and she's running for president, she's talking about women's rights, but she's not pro Planned Parenthood, she's still kind of against major issues that the traditional feminist left would be for," Frisvold said.

Fiorina has taken a Republican point of view on issues relating to women and this view is not supportive, Bystrom said

"It's definitely a step in the right direction, I'm glad she's running for president, it's good to have a woman in the GOP running for president, because that's a major thing," Frisvold said.

"But the way she is approaching it, you're gonna lose some of your key voters."

Fiorina believes laws for women's rights create a dependency for women on the federal government. She believes that all issues are women's issues and more laws only restrict women's freedoms.

"Public opinion surveys show for a long time, that one thing men and women differ on, in a general broad sense, women are more supportive of government support, men are not," Bystrom said. "That is rooted in the fact that women still make less than men even in the same position."

Women are more likely to believe that the government can be friends and supportive of them in their lives, Bystrom said.

"That is one thing men don't agree on," Bystrom said. "So, Fiorina has taken a Republican view of this, but the overall view is that women feel that the government have a role in their lives."

Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats in general take a different approach than Republicans.

Sanders and Clinton are both pro-choice, neither think the government should have any control over women's bodies, according to both candidates' websites. Clinton emphasizes that she would never do it, and the government should make abortion rare by promoting adoption.

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."

Correction: This story originally said Megan Frisvold and Collin Powell were co-president's of "Student Activists for Gender Equity." This has been changed to "Society for the Advancement of Gender Equity," the accurate name for the group.