Where is Bernie Sanders on Gender Justice?

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

I want to support Bernie. I really do. He’s right on the money to call for expanding Social Security, the most effective anti-poverty program in the United States. And I am more than down to fight alongside him against rampant inequality and for better wages and working conditions.

But I have to ask. Why does Bernie struggle so much to talk about gender? Why is it like pulling teeth for him to talk about my identity as a woman in addition to my identity as a worker?

I took a look through his platform recently, and I didn’t exactly see women represented there. For one, most of the policies that would disproportionately benefit women (equal pay, paid family leave, paid vacation, and paid sick days) are housed within the “Real Family Values” section, a classification that implicitly characterizes women’s rights as valuable only insofar as they benefit a larger family unit.

And while the platform mentions abortion briefly, it fails to offer any recommendations about how to preserve and expand access. Due to the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used for abortion except in limited circumstances. This restriction means that, as a result of economic deprivation, poor women, who are disproportionately Black and Brown, can be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. To reduce these barriers to women accessing basic health care services, Bernie should throw his support behind the EACH Woman Act, a recently introduced piece of legislation that, according to RH Reality Check, “would ensure that anyone who has health care or health insurance through the federal government also has coverage of abortion care.”

I also couldn’t help but notice the largest proposed expenditure in Bernie’s platform, which would allocate $1 trillion over five years to modernize our infrastructure. Bernie claims it would create 13 million jobs. From an economics standpoint, this makes perfect sense, as government spending on infrastructure has a strongly positive effect on economic output.

But I have to ask again, jobs for whom? While infrastructure spending creates a lot of employment opportunities, these openings are disproportionately filled by men. In fact, due to harassment and discrimination, women make up only 26% of all construction workers. In order for the gains of Bernie’s proposal to be more equitably shared, he must also explicitly embrace the National Women’s Law Center recommendations of ensuring stronger enforcement of workplace protections and an expansion of training opportunities. While this is just one example, it demonstrates why strong economic investments that fail to take identity-based barriers into account are incomplete.

However, in the past few weeks, Bernie has started to recognize that not all inequality boils down to class inequality, particularly around the issue of race. In response to powerful #BlackLivesMatter activism, he released his racial justice platform before an enormous crowd of 28,000 people in Portland on Monday night. This document is intended to address physical, political, legal, and economic violence perpetuated against Black and Brown people in this country and opens with the names of Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, and others who have died at the hands of law enforcement or in police custody. Thus far, it has received seemingly positive initial reviews:

As Deray McKesson noted, the anti-violence framing of the platform would benefit from further elaboration. Right now, it’s disappointing that there’s no mention of law enforcement’s usage of sexual assault as a weapon of control and terror, a tactic that is disproportionately wielded against the bodies of Black women. Or the complicity of the state in the rapes of trans and queer women of color in immigration detention centers. Bernie should build upon this promising anti-violence framework by expanding it to also include gender-based violence.

Among the viable presidential candidates, Berne’s commitment to progressive economic policies could place him closest to what achieving gender justice demands. But, he cannot rest on his laurels – he must do more to include women, especially marginalized women, in his calls for a more equal nation.


Alyssa Peterson serves as a Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national survivor-run, student-driven campaign to end campus sexual violence.  

Alyssa Peterson serves as a volunteer Campaign Coordinator for Know Your IX.

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