10/22/2012 11:17 am ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

Candidates: Open This Binder

"Binders full of women" has dominated Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the late night talk shows in the days since last week's town hall debate. As the campaign draws to a close, the race will likely hinge on women voters. The issues hit very close to home: reproductive freedom, access to health care and immigration.

Some think Monday night's foreign policy debate will cut short the red-hot battle over the women's vote. Not true. The issues facing women around the globe are serious, and women's fates and freedom are tied tightly to larger U.S. policy imperatives.

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have the digital equivalent of binders full of women -- in Amnesty's case, hundreds of cases of women's rights activists, imprisoned or otherwise targeted because they claimed their rights and defended the rights of others.

Seventeen years agothe fourth World Conference on Women established that "women's rights are human rights." That simple yet powerful statement is just as relevant today.

When the candidates meet for their final debate Bob Schieffer should ask about women. Here are three questions to start with:

  • Fifteen-year-old Pakistani girl Malala Yousufazi is fighting to recover from a gunshot wound after Taliban militants opened fire on her for simply demanding an education. She is emblematic of oppression of women and girls who are at risk from a Taliban bent on intimidating them from demanding their rights. What concrete steps will you take to support the rights and security of women at risk from the Taliban and other militant groups, and how can the stability of this key region be ensured if women's rights are at such grave risk?
  • Russian performance artist Nadya Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot has been sentenced to two years in a remote penal colony for the crime of singing a song. Her performance in a Russian Cathedral was considered offensive to the church and to President Vladimir Putin, and led to a conviction for hooliganism. What will the United States do to address a deteriorating climate of respect for human rights in Russia, where journalists and activists are threatened, new and restrictive laws are being passed and groups like UNICEF are being kicked out?
  • Bahraini teacher and activist Jalila al-Salman has been jailed for educating teachers about their rights and challenging the repression of the Bahraini government in response to popular protests for freedom and human rights. What will the United States do to confront the severe human rights abuses in Bahrain and address the perception that it has applied a double-standard, siding with protesters in much of the Middle East while defending the Bahraini government despite its continuing failure to live up to its human rights obligations?

These are just three examples of women at the forefront of the fight for human rights in societies all over the world.

We welcome Mr. Schieffer at Amnesty's offices to study our binders of women. He would be doing the women of the world and the United States a great service.