|"The Republicans take the women's vote very seriously and the Democrats take it for granted," Bonk said.|
Mourning but determined, feminists eye economy
Fri Jun 6, 2008
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Feminists are as determined as ever to put "women's issues" at the center of the U.S. election campaign this year despite Hillary Clinton's exit. And by that they mean the economy.
"Whoever wins the presidency in November, it will be because they were able to appeal to women voters," Kim Gandy of the national Organization for Women said at a conference of the National Council for Research on Women in New York this week.
The New York senator will withdraw from the Democratic race on Saturday, leaving Barack Obama to face Republican John McCain in November's presidential election.
With Clinton out of the picture, the focus at the meeting on Friday was how to influence the election debate.
Sandra Morgen, a professor at Penn State University, said the women's movement had not focused enough on the economy.
"We are not going to have a progressive agenda unless the needs of low income women are at the center," she said.
National Council President Linda Basch said 14 million American women were living in poverty and, while 48 percent of the workforce are women, 61 percent of minimum wage jobs are held by women.
She said the housing crisis is having a disproportionate effect on women, who were 32 percent likelier than men to have sub-prime mortgages and more likely to file for bankruptcy.
Blue-collar workers, people earning less then $30,000 to $40,000 a year who voted overwhelmingly for Clinton in the primaries, will be the key to success in November, Gandy said.
"They don't particularly have party loyalties, they're going to go to the candidate that speaks to the issues that they care about," she said. "Those demographic groups voted state after state after state for Hillary Clinton."
"This is a group that is hurting desperately, and women are hurting disproportionately within that group," she said.
Kathy Bonk, director of the Communications Consortium Media Center, said Democrats had tended not to invest enough time and energy in wooing women. She said it would be important for Obama to make sure his strong grassroots network pays enough attention to the women who voted for Clinton in the primary.
"The Republicans take the women's vote very seriously and the Democrats take it for granted," Bonk said.
Some of the women academics and activists at the annual gathering were in a somber mood after Clinton's loss.
There was also tension. One questioner at the opening session on Thursday asked why the mood was so negative when an African American was in a position to win the White House for the first time.
But Gandy said if the situation was reversed, people wouldn't be telling Obama's supporters to "just get over it."
"A lot of our constituencies worked their hearts out for Hillary Clinton, and they are sad," she said.
"They're going to do the right thing ... they're going to vote for the candidate who stands up for women's issues ... but they're mourning right now," she said.
"It's only been a couple of days."
Bonk said it was time to move beyond the personalities to focus on the issues, especially the economy, from child care to paid sick leave, minimum wage and health care.
"Whether you are on the disappointed side or you're elated ... or if you prefer McCain ... we all need to come together to think about framing the issues for this election," she said.
"The last two election cycles, the only issue that really relates back to women is abortion. We've got a responsibility to broaden that agenda."
(Editing by Doina Chiacu)