Hillary Clinton
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has formally entered the 2016 race for the White HouseGetty

Hillary Clinton will carry the mantle for gender in her second bid for the White House. Announcing her campaign for the presidency on 12 April, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady has already been accused of "playing the gender card" by chauvinists – who throw the phrase out in an attempt to belittle the fact that even if Clinton is inaugurated in January 2017, 80% of elected officials throughout the country will still be men.

And so she should make explicit virtue of her gender. Or, to be more precise, Clinton should continue to campaign in a way that has never been done before: she will put women and children first. She will cast herself as a champion for low-wage earners, confronting an entrenched sexism from the Mad Men era that remains firmly in place to this day. To do so, she will not only have to rely on her four decades on the forefront of law and politics, but on the fact she is a woman.

Clinton has been growing into her role as a feminist pioneer since her emotional concession speech in 2008, to a packed hall in the National Museum of Women in DC.

"When I was asked what it means to be a woman running for president, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I'd be the best president." Even without pushing her gender, her campaign at the time put – as Clinton phrased it – "18 million cracks in that glass ceiling".

She is not just pushing gender issues now, though – Clinton has been promoting women's rights for a long time. Her speech at the 1995 Beijing Women's Conference was a watershed moment in which she called out sex slavery, domestic abuse and female infanticide as the human rights violations they are. Her proclamation "women's rights are human rights and human rights are women's rights" became the motto of a global movement.

As secretary of state, she has championed initiatives solely concerning women and children: from advocating the elimination of stereotypes that hinder paid employment for women to domestic violence to publicly speaking out against the detention of female activists in China.

Hillary Clinton UN Women
Clinton attends the Step It Up For Gender Equality event in March 2015Getty

Predictably though, as with anyone who talks about being female or the problems that women face, Clinton has faced criticism for being explicitly pro-women. She has been criticised for adopting the identity of "grandmother-in-chief" and for using the Twitter hashtag #GrandmothersKnowBest – in a tongue-in-cheek dig against ageist and sexist tropes used against her.

While some quibble that her defining herself as a grandmother is patronising in light of her 40-year career, she is shining a light on the gender and age bias she faces. It is hardly demeaning to point out she is both female and 67. A grandmother running for presidency is unheard of.

By pushing her position as a woman in power, Clinton is gradually unravelling the prevailing double standards around the perceived readiness of women to hold the highest office. How can you hope to address the issue that there has never been a female president without mentioning being a woman? Misogyny tells us politics is a man's world, as exemplified in every "Iron My Shirt" placard and every novelty nutcracker with emblazoned with Clinton's face.

Ideally, US voters would have the choice between other female candidates, which would force Clinton to focus more on how she intends to govern and relax the focus on her gender. But in the currently climate of women in politics, we do not have this choice.

A win would mean a woman in the White House, undoubtedly a vital step in the movement towards equal female political representation. This is not to say all problems will be solved: violence, sexism and the pay gap will still persist as challenges that will take a landmark shift in societal attitudes to change.

While Barack Obama's election was heralded as a new, post-racial era and the beginning of the end of years of black oppression, the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and the videos showing the killing of unarmed men by white police officers are sad proof the problem is very much still there. Clinton cannot definitively solve all problems faced by women, except one – that a woman has never governed the US.

But a loss would perpetuate the myth that woman cannot win big elections. That women are not meant to be president. So Clinton must continue to use her gender to hammer on the glass ceiling. At the moment we can only imagine the world's most powerful job in the hands of a woman. But it just might happen.