Letter to the Candidates: What Will You Do to End Harsh Realities for Women Worldwide?

Letter to the Candidates: What Will You Do to End Harsh Realities for Women Worldwide?


The staff of the International Women's Health Coalition pens a letter to our future president with concrete ideas for how to reverse the current harmful policies that do nothing to end violence, stop needless deaths from pregnancy and childbirth or prevent HIV.

Dear U.S. Presidential Candidates, 

Women have taken center stage in this year’s race for the next President of the United States. We’re not just talking about Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton-increasingly, election coverage has focused on women’s roles in national security and foreign policy, the importance of the women voters, and debates over what constitutes sexism.

But to a large extent, what has been absent from campaign coverage, and what we will be looking for in tonight’s debate on foreign policy, is a meaningful discussion about what each candidate would do to empower women, in the United States and abroad, to exercise their right to a just and healthy life.

We’re not looking for platitudes or placations.  We’re looking for an end to the long-time inequities that keep women from fully participating in their societies.  Surely this is a goal to which we all should be committed.

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We, women voters and activists, ask Senator McCain and Senator Obama to make women’s health and human rights central to their foreign policy plans. Healthy, empowered women create a more prosperous and secure future for their families, communities, and nations.

We, along with many of our partners in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, have a message for the presidential candidates.

When one of you takes office next January, you will have the unique opportunity, and the profound responsibility, to reverse current harmful policies that dictate harsh realities for millions of women. You can end violence against women. You can stop needless deaths and injuries during pregnancy and childbirth. You can empower the three billion women worldwide who are HIV negative to stay that way.   

Here’s how you can change women’s lives:


  • Promote and protect the human rights of women;
  • Help guarantee that every woman can access essential health services, including family planning and care during childbirth; and
  • Give women the power to protect themselves and their partners against HIV/AIDS.


On day one of your Administration, we urge you to send the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to the Senate for ratification. The United States holds the disgraceful distinction of being one of only eight countries, including Somalia and Iran, which have not ratified CEDAW.  Ratification would send a strong signal to the world on women’s rights. As important, it would show that the U.S. government fully respects and supports treaties negotiated by the United Nations.

Second, we ask you to guarantee women’s right to access basic health services.  During the ten minutes you spend reading this letter, ten women will die giving birth. They did not have to die. If every woman had access to simple treatments for common problems in pregnancy and childbirth, backed up by emergency obstetric care near where they live, three quarters of these deaths could be averted. It is past time to ensure that reproductive health is the leading investment we make to meet the health needs of the world’s people.

Finally, we ask you to recognize that combating HIV/AIDS is an enormous part of U.S. development assistance.  Women and young people bear a disproportionate burden of new infections worldwide, and the new Administration needs to put the power of prevention in their hands.  We should invest in technologies that put the power for prevention in women’s hands. This means subsidizing universal access to female condoms so that they are affordable and available to all women and girls. And it means doubling research and development financing for microbicides, and continued funding for vaccine development.

Given the current economic crisis, we urge you to spend every cent wisely, and this means bucking the recent trend of allowing best public health practices, such as sexuality education, to be shoved to the side in the name of political expediency

You may think we are a group of women (and one brave man) urging you to promote a women’s agenda. The reality is that by changing the future for millions of girls and women, you will also transform the lives of boys and men and entire communities. You have the power to create another kind of world, and it will take courage and vision to act boldly. The reward-in lives saved and in our restored reputation as a global leader for social justice and gender equality-is incalculable.


The Staff of the International Women’s Health Coalition
New York, NY

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