Lately, charges and countercharges have flown from each end of the political spectrum, each claiming the moral high ground when it comes to women.

Many of the remarks from both sides of the table have been out of line. Divisive language inflames ideologues and moves us all away from the critical issues facing women, regardless of party affiliation.

Most disheartening about this unproductive back and forth is that it centers on sex and gender roles. Newsflash to both ends of the spectrum: The day-to-day issues that the majority of women are wrestling with don’t have to do with our reproductive organs. Women also care about issues related to the overall economy, Social Security, pay equity, child care, family health care, domestic violence and more.

Don’t get us wrong; reproductive health issues are very important. Thankfully, the Maine Legislature has a long history of addressing them in a nonpartisan and reasonable way. As recently as last spring, members of both parties came together to defeat a slew of bills that would have disregarded a woman’s judgment and personal privacy. For that, we are grateful.

Last year, 11 out of 24 homicides in Maine involved domestic violence. Nationally, women make up 80 percent of victims of domestic violence.

Fortunately, during this session, leaders from both parties put aside partisanship to strengthen Maine’s bail system to ensure that never again can a high-risk abuser merely rotate through bail and be released, only to carry out his threats.

Sadly, it is hard to escape the fact that many proposals at the state and national levels will negatively affect women and the families they support.

Still unresolved as of this writing is the state budget, the legislative proposal that may affect more women than any other, because women of all ages make up the majority of Medicaid recipients.

Maine’s poverty rate for people over 65, nearly two-thirds of whom are women, exceeds the national average. Our child poverty rate has increased significantly over the last decade, and it is highest in families headed by single women.

The stop-gap budget that passed earlier this year eliminated health coverage for 14,000 low-income Mainers, most of them women, many also mothers.

The line-item veto of General Assistance has the potential to affect women adversely as well. General Assistance is most commonly used for housing costs, and having somewhere to go is, of course, critical to escaping domestic violence.

The budget currently under review proposes to cut not only family planning services, but also home visitation, child care credits and Head Start.

Now, before we obsess over sex again, let’s recognize that last year, family planning health centers provided preventive and primary health care services to more than 28,000 Mainers. Affordable child care and Head Start give young children consistent and reliable care and education while allowing their parents to earn a living.

Women make up the majority of Mainers in low-wage, inflexible jobs that do not provide benefits. The recent report of the American Association of University Women indicates that in Maine women make, on average, 79 cents to every $1 men earn.

These differences are explained only in part by differences in employment categories of women and men. Even accounting for those differences, pay inequities persist. Political leaders who want to address women’s needs would do well to support policies that help women earn a living wage that allows them to support themselves and their families.

There are many reasons that women’s issues are making headlines, but one of the most important is that we vote. The number of female voters has exceeded the number of male voters in every presidential election since 1964, and the proportion of eligible women voting has exceeded the proportion of eligible men voting in every presidential election since 1980.

No wonder each side of the spectrum is eager to win us over. The question is, are they prepared to look beyond issues of sex and gender roles to do so?

 

– Special to The Press Herald