Political issues shape every facet of our lives, including where we live, where we learn, where we work, what kind of healthcare we can access, whether we’ll face discrimination, and much more. In this article, we’ll explore 20 of the most important political issues facing the world today.
- Wealth inequality
- Gender inequality
- Violence against women
- Climate change
- COVID-19 recovery
- Fracturing healthcare systems
- Government corruption
- Weakening democracies
- Future pandemics
- Freedom of the press
- Water shortages
- Worker rights and the future of labor
- LGBTQ+ rights
- Humanitarian aid
While extreme poverty (living on less than $2.15/day) has decreased over the decades, it still impacts around 659 million people. At the beginning of 2022, 62% of the global population lived on less than $10/day. Several political factors drive poverty, including income inequality, gender inequality, and poor government policies. The consequences are society-wide and include political instability, reduced economic development, poorer health outcomes, higher mortality rates, and higher crime rates.
#2. Wealth inequality
According to an Oxfam report, the world’s richest 1% hold nearly ⅔ of all the new wealth created since 2020. The 10 richest men alone – which includes Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Bernard Arnault and family – hold more wealth than the entire bottom 40%. To help conceptualize how much money that is, the report provides a clear example: if the top 10 billionaires spent $1 million every day, it would take them 414 years to spend all their combined wealth. This level of wealth inequality doesn’t happen in a vacuum; there are political drivers like government policies, discrimination, and stagnant wages. What happens to unequal societies? There’s less economic stability, less social mobility, higher crime rates, and poorer health outcomes.
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#3. Gender inequality
The global gender equality goal will be reached in 300 years, according to recent data. This represents a severe step back from past estimates. At the end of 2019, equality would have taken around 100 years. Then COVID-19 happened. Global health crises, attacks against reproductive rights, violence against women, climate change, and other factors drive inequality, so the world must address multiple issues to achieve gender equality.
#4. Violence against women
Violence against women is one of the most persistent political problems. During COVID lockdowns, violence against women got worse, leading to what the UN and other organizations sometimes call “the shadow pandemic.” The American Journal of Emergency Medicine (as reported by the Harvard Gazette) estimated that domestic violence cases increased by as much as 25-35% around the world. A multi-pronged approach addressing legal protections, poverty, access to social services, education, and more is needed.
#5. Climate change
What’s political about climate change? Views about rising global temperatures and appropriate responses are highly politicized. As a study from the University of California shows, things like public perception of climate change, the cost and effectiveness of technologies, and the response of political institutions to public pressure all affect climate change. When addressing the world’s largest environmental issue, politics can’t be ignored.
#6. COVID-19 recovery
The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is difficult to articulate. When combined with other crises, COVID-19 pushed 70 million people into extreme poverty. It had a significant impact on people under 25, who will back up 90% of the prime-age workforce in 2050. It also reversed much of the progress made with gender equality. Recovery will remain a major political issue for most countries around the world.
#7. Fracturing healthcare systems
According to the WHO, over 930 million spend at least 10% of their income on healthcare. 100 million people slip into poverty every year due to out-of-pocket costs. Universal healthcare could help. According to a Yale study, almost 212,000 people could have lived if the United States had universal healthcare in 2020. Universal healthcare systems aren’t perfect, however, so their issues must be addressed, as well.
#8. Government corruption
Government corruption, which includes bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power, occurs when officials misuse their office or resources to enrich themselves, their friends, or other specific groups. According to the World Bank, corruption disproportionately affects the poor and reduces access to services like healthcare, education, and justice. In addition to violating human rights, government corruption weakens a country’s stability. While world rankings vary in reliability, most of the world has a poor score on Transparency International’s annual corruption index. Addressing corruption is a key part of addressing things like poverty, gender inequality, and more.
#9. Weakening democracies
Global democracy rankings have some biases, but in general, research shows global democracy has been suffering recently. We may have already reached our lowest point, and according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index Study, more than a third of the world’s population lives under authoritarian rule. Just 6.4% of the world enjoys “full democracy.” Weakened democracy brings a host of political issues involving human rights, economic development, corruption, and much more.
Disarmament is the limitation, reduction, or banning of certain weapons. Organizations like the UN are especially concerned with weapons of mass destruction like nuclear weapons, whose devastating effects were experienced during the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945. Because of crises like the war in Ukraine, the world is facing an increase in nuclear rhetoric and the potential for another arms race.
Fossil fuels drive climate change, which makes renewable energy sources and energy independence urgent political issues. While the implementation of renewables like solar, hydro, and wind power has significantly ramped up in recent years, the transition needs to happen faster. Political challenges like climate science denial, fossil fuel lobbies, ineffective infrastructure, and so on need to be addressed.
Digitalization has transformed modern life, and while it has many benefits, there are vulnerabilities, too. According to a report from the Bipartisan Policy Center, things like geopolitical conflict, ineffective corporate leadership, and too-few cyber personnel impact cybersecurity risks. What parts of society get targeted? A Washington Post article lists the potential for attacks on defense, offense, and the economy. Institutions like government agencies, hospitals, schools, and banks have been affected. As the digital landscape changes quickly in ways that benefit attackers, organizations and governments need to stay one step ahead.
#13. Future pandemics
The COVID-19 pandemic was not a fluke, but rather a dire warning of what the future could hold. Public health systems, economies, state leadership, and the global community need to prepare. Pandemic preparation also needs to recognize how politicized science has become and how powerful misinformation is. Understanding how misinformation works and how it preys on people’s vulnerabilities can save lives.
#14. Freedom of the press
According to the World Press Freedom Index, which ranks 180 countries every year, press freedom has been declining for 10 years. In 2022, only eight countries received a “green” ranking, while in countries like Mexico, North Korea, Iran, China, and Cuba, press freedom has been consistently bad. Journalists face regular threats like harassment, imprisonment, and death as political issues like extremism, struggling economies, and authoritarian governments hurt press freedom.
Political factors like climate change, economic instability, political instability, and more increase immigration. Over the years, rates have steadily been increasing and will continue to increase as climate change disproportionately affects certain places, like the African continent. Conflict and war – like the war in Ukraine – also affect the number of immigrants and refugees. Protecting individuals and families requires political action.
#16. Water shortages
According to the UN, 2 billion people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. Drought, poor water management, pollution, climate change, and other factors cause water scarcity, while consequences affect a variety of issues like public health, Indigenous rights, gender equality, and more. Water scarcity also increases the risk of violent conflict, which cements its place as an urgent political issue.
HIV/AIDS education and treatment have come a long way, but according to the WHO, around 650,000 people died from HIV-related causes in 2021, while 1.5 million got HIV. There is still no cure, though with proper treatment, HIV is a manageable health condition. Ensuring strong public health responses and equitable access to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment resources are major political issues.
#18. Worker rights and the future of labor
Article 23 of the UDHR addresses worker rights, which include protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work, and the right to form and join labor unions. Problems persist; in 2022, the IUTC Global Rights Index reported record-high rights violations. The future of labor is also an urgent political issue considering factors like globalization, digitalization, an aging workforce, and COVID-19 recovery.
#19. LGBTQ+ rights
Marriage equality has improved over the years – and continues to improve – but LGBTQ+ rights are threatened around the world. Places like Ghana and Uganda have laws harshly punishing anyone who identifies as gay, while the United States has seen a surge in legislative attacks against trans youth and adults. This type of discrimination has significant political consequences on safety, healthcare access, housing, employment, and more.
#20. Humanitarian aid
The humanitarian world follows certain principles: humanity, neutrality, independence, and impartiality. However, it can’t be completely separated from politics. As an NPR article explains, large chunks of the humanitarian system use a Western-based approach, which can create cycles of dependence rather than sustainability. The New Humanitarian also points out how humanitarian aid can be weaponized, which makes conflict sensitivity essential. Humanitarian aid is far from neutral; it’s just as political as every other issue on this list.