Sunday, December 8, 2013
By GILDA NARDONE and ELIZA TOWNSEND
AUGUSTA - During the election last fall, we heard appeals to women for votes, but they focused largely on reproductive matters and an idealized image of Super Mom, which doesn't reflect the reality of most women's lives. Life and women are more complicated than that.
Children share a book at Head Start on Cumberland Avenue in Portland in 2003. Head Start was one of the programs that experienced funding cuts when last spring’s state budget was passed. This hit Maine women hard, since they are more likely than men to be single or custodial parents, say the heads of two nonprofits.
2003 file photo/John Ewing
Women do have different experiences than men, however, and they give us different perspectives and priorities for policy initiatives and funding decisions.
The challenges facing Maine women and girls are real and numerous.
• We have a high rate of domestic violence, and 80 percent of victims are women, according to national statistics.
• Maine's poverty rate exceeds the national average for people over 65, two-thirds of whom are women. They are our neighbors, our aunts and our grandmothers.
• In recent years, Maine's poverty rate has spiked for children under 5, two-thirds of whom live in a household headed by a single woman. The resulting lack of adequate nutrition, health care, warmth and security can have lifelong impacts.
• On average, a Maine woman earns 79 cents for every dollar earned by her male counterpart.
• Women are more likely to be single or custodial parents, to be caring for aging parents and to work in insecure, low-wage jobs that lack health insurance, flexibility and paid time off. We are more likely to experience poverty, hunger and homelessness.
Economic security -- money, whether she has it and what she has to do to get it -- touches every aspect of a woman's life, including her education and career options, her health, the right to make her own reproductive decisions, her ability to escape a violent or abusive relationship and, of course, the future she and her children will have.
Unfortunately, the state budget passed last spring took a giant step backward by cutting funding for a number of key programs that make a difference to women and their families: family planning, home visits for new parents, child care, Head Start, health insurance for the working poor and low-cost prescription drugs for the poor elderly.
In 2013, we have the opportunity to start again.
On Tuesday, the Coalition for Maine Women will host Maine Women's Day at the State House, welcoming the members of the many diverse organizations working together on behalf of Maine women and girls in the fields of economic security, freedom from violence and civil rights and liberties.
The day offers the opportunity for women to meet their elected leaders, to see how public policy affects their lives, to express their concerns and priorities. It offers our political leaders the chance to interact with their constituents and to remember the degree to which the decisions they make will affect the lives of real people, including the 51 percent of the population that is female.
We hope this will be the beginning of a thoughtful, collaborative approach to our current challenges and future direction. Working together as engaged citizens and responsible political leaders, we can, in fact, shape the Maine where we want to live and work, and that we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.
Fortunately, we know the basic building blocks for a successful society: a healthy population, a strong education system, jobs that allow Mainers to support themselves and their families, the infrastructure to keep the economy moving and a fair chance for everyone to participate in that economy and our democracy.
We also need to protect the quality of life that sets Maine apart. Part of Maine's quality of life is a sense of community: the belief that we are in this together and that we all benefit when everyone gets a fair deal. This offers a useful measure for each choice made by the 126th Legislature over the next six months -- does this idea invest in Maine's people? Does it position Maine for future success? Will it help make ours a state we are proud to call home?
As they approach key decisions in the coming months, lawmakers should recognize that when women thrive, their families thrive and thus we all do better.
To ensure that policy decisions reflect our perspectives and priorities, we women must be informed, engaged and visible. Maine Women's Day at the State House is a great opportunity to get the conversation started. Wear red.
Gilda Nardone, a member of the Maine Women's Hall of Fame, is executive director of the Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community, and Eliza Townsend is executive director of the Maine Women's Lobby. They are co-chairs of the Coalition for Maine Women.