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15 Political Issues We Must Address

Political systems seem complicated, but at their core, they’re a series of laws, policies, decisions and other activities determining how society operates. Who gets to decide who runs the government? That’s a political issue. Who has to pay taxes, how much do people pay and where does that money go? Those are political issues, too. Political issues like these and countless others are the inevitable result of policies, power structures and people interacting on a local, national and international scale. What specific issues should everyone know about? In this article, we’ll give 15 examples:

# Issue
1 Weakening democracy
2 Freedom of expression
3 Political corruption
4 Climate change
5 Immigration
6 Economic inequality
7 Gender inequality
8 Reproductive justice
9 Public health
10 Systemic racism
11 False information
12 Mass surveillance
13 Labor rights
14 Housing
15 Violence

#1. Weakening democracy

Democracy has been weakening for years, which is one of the world’s most troubling political trends. According to Freedom House’s 2023 report, global freedom declined for the 18th year in a row. In 52 countries, political rights and civil rights declined, while only 21 countries saw improvements. Freedom House isn’t alone in its grim assessment. According to the Bertelsmann Foundation’s “Transformation Index,” of the 137 countries studied, there were 74 autocracies and 63 democracies. Combating this trend requires everyone’s attention and participation.

#2. Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression, which is Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protects everyone’s right to share their opinions without interference. That includes the right to receive and share information through any media. Freedom of expression is becoming increasingly threatened around the world. According to the Global Expression Report in 2023, the Global Expression Score has fallen 6 points in the last 10 years. In 2022, journalists, human rights defenders and civilians faced worsening attacks. Freedom of expression is essential to democracy and the security of other human rights, which makes its decline a serious political issue.

#3. Political corruption

Political corruption takes many forms, but it happens when government officials or other contacts use power to benefit themselves. Bribery, tax evasion, extortion, nepotism and embezzlement all count as corruption. According to data from 2019, corruption costs developing countries over $1 trillion a year. In 2024, things are not much better. A report from Transparency International found that global efforts to fight corruption are failing. The rise in authoritarianism is one reason, but safeguards in democratic countries are weakening, too. Corruption must be dealt with if a country wants to secure its economy and political stability.

#4. Climate change

Climate change causes shifts in the earth’s temperature and weather patterns. The problem? The earth is getting too hot. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human activities have “unequivocally caused global warming,” and greenhouse gas emissions are increasing. Consequences include more frequent and severe weather events, deadly heat, food insecurity, reduced biodiversity and more. Climate change is political because it demands government action, but there’s also the added fact that poor communities (who are least responsible for climate change) are the most affected. When addressing climate change, this inequality must be reckoned with.

#5. Immigration

About 3.6% of the global population are international immigrants, according to the United Nations. Immigration is not inherently a problem; there are lots of good things that result from people moving from place to place, like cultural exchange, economic growth and the achievement of other sustainable development goals. However, many immigrants are displaced by violence, economic instability, climate change and other crises. Between 2020 and 2022, the number of people seeking asylum rose by over 30%. Policies and laws should protect immigrants from exploitation, abuse and other human rights violations while addressing the conditions that force people to move in the first place.

#6. Economic inequality

Economic inequality has always been an issue, but COVID-19 made things worse. According to the International Monetary Fund, workers who earned the least (which included workers without a higher education) were affected the most. Globally, while five billion people have become poorer since 2020, the world’s richest five men doubled their wealth, according to Oxfam. Economic inequality spreads into gender inequality, racial inequality, health and so much more, making it one of the most serious political issues. What are the effects? When societies have high levels of economic inequality, they’re less happy, less educated, less skilled and less stable.

#7. Gender inequality

Gender inequality is a persistent and pernicious political issue. While there’s been progress, the 2023 Global Gender Gap Index estimates it will take 131 years to achieve full gender parity. This is good news; the score took a big hit during the pandemic, but appears to have recovered. However, the rate of change has slowed significantly. No country has reached full gender equality, although the report found that countries like Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Namibia and Nicaragua have closed at least 80% of the gap. The benefits of gender equality include equal opportunities for all, more stable economies, healthier children and much more.

#8. Reproductive justice

Lots of rights fall under the reproductive justice umbrella, including access to contraception, access to abortion and maternal healthcare. What’s political about reproductive justice? According to Human Rights Watch, the right to make decisions about healthcare, how many kids to have, when to have kids and whether to have kids at all is vital to other human rights, especially for women. There’s been progress over the years, but reproductive rights remain a major political issue. 40% of women still live under restrictive abortion laws, and four countries (like the United States) have rolled back abortion rights.

#9. Public health

Public health is the science of protecting and improving human health on a local, national and international scale. Public health professionals research diseases, treat injuries, educate people and much more. Because things like income, housing and discrimination affect health, it’s a political issue. Globally, the public health sector is struggling; the head of the World Health Organization said the world is “not ready” for the next pandemic. How likely is another pandemic? One study found that the probability of large pandemics like COVID-19 could grow three times over the next few decades. Improving healthcare systems and public health measures needs to be a priority for politicians, NGOs and healthcare workers.

#10. Systemic racism

Racism, which is prejudice or discrimination based on race, is always a violation of a person’s human rights, but when it’s baked into societal structures, it becomes even more political. According to Amnesty International, systemic racism includes policies and practices that lead to unjust advantages to some and harmful, discriminatory disadvantages to others, simply because of their race. In the United States, the wealth gaps between white and Black people could cost the economy $1-1.5 trillion between 2019-2028. Racism also impacts public health, which is a deeply political issue. No matter where it occurs, racism harms society.

#11. False information

There are two main types of false information: misinformation (which includes unintentionally inaccurate information) and disinformation (which is deliberately false information with an intent to spread fear or hatred). Both threaten democracy. In its 2023 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum described how technology like artificial intelligence allows people to disrupt the political process. Cloning politicians’ voices and creating fake videos are just two activities. False information must be dealt with, but governments don’t always have good intentions. Authoritarians can exploit vague laws that give them the power to define false information, choose the severity of punishments and silence critics. This makes false information a complex political issue that must be handled carefully.

#12. Mass surveillance

Governments have always been keen to know what citizens and visitors are up to, but technology makes it easier to use mass surveillance techniques that violate people’s privacy. According to the ACLU, national security agencies regularly spy on private communications, create huge databases and catalog “suspicious” activities for unclear reasons. This is disturbing in the best of cases, but in the hands of authoritarian governments, surveillance technology is even more dangerous. Activists, journalists and other human rights defenders have been imprisoned and killed because of spyware. As governments incorporate artificial intelligence and expand their surveillance power, people should understand the privacy threats.

#13. Labor rights

Article 23 of the UDHR states that “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” Tragically, 28 million men, women and kids are subjected to forced labor. This is a major political issue, especially in countries with weak labor protection laws, but even in places where forced labor isn’t as severe, people still struggle to make ends meet. In the United States, half of tenants can’t afford their rent. Decent wages must allow people to afford housing, education, healthcare, transportation, clothing, food, water and an emergency fund.

#14. Housing

Everyone deserves decent shelter, but the world is facing a housing crisis. Affordability is a big issue. According to the International Monetary Fund, home prices in most EU countries, the Middle East and Africa are 10-25% higher than they were before the pandemic. Many regions also don’t have enough housing, while interest rates are pricing out current and hopeful home buyers. Climate change also presents a looming threat. According to the United Nations, climate disasters have been the main cause of internal displacement over the past decade. Those experiencing homelessness or insecure housing were most affected.

#15. Violence

Violence contributes to political instability, human rights violations, inequality and other serious issues. While threats to human life are the most obvious consequence, violence also forces people to flee their homes, which increases their risk for more violence and exploitation. At the end of 2023, global violence had forced 68.3 million people into internal displacement, which is the highest number since data became available. Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Gaza has recently risen to catastrophic levels. In 2024 at the time of writing, nearly 10 million people in the DR Congo were moving, millions were displaced with thousands dead in Sudan and at least 35,000 were dead in Gaza. Those are just three examples; violence against women and girls is increasing globally, too.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.