In light of the recent anniversary of the historic ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the hard-won right to vote, it is important to reflect on the history of unequal treatment that women have endured in this country. Over the near-century since the ratification of women’s right to vote in 1920, women’s roles in community, business and government have expanded dramatically, and women have continued to advance toward equality in all areas of our society.
Unfortunately, the reality is that women in Maine continue to experience hardships and barriers to economic success at disproportionate rates. Poverty is at a 17-year high in our nation, and 40 percent of single mothers raising children in Maine live in poverty, a state of affairs that is harmful to women, their families and communities, and our country. It is essential for the well-being of these families that we ensure access to job training and postsecondary education, the surest road out of poverty and a critical component of Maine’s ability to meet the workforce needs of the coming decades.
Other vital supports — such as affordable health care, reproductive freedom and freedom from violence — must also be in place in order to ensure that women are able to support themselves and their families. Women who venture into business must have access to capital and management training, both of which are sometimes elusive. And, later in life, we must ensure the security of Maine’s elder women, who often find themselves living alone in poverty, while many more are buoyed over the poverty line by Social Security, a critical income-maintenance program for our seniors.
Promoting the education, health and safety of women is an investment in all of our futures. It is unreasonable to expect that we can overcome the current national economic challenges without the full participation of all of our citizens. The issues important to women are also critical to the growth and security of our entire society. Women’s issues do not exist in a vacuum, and they should not be treated as such. Yet, as with all issues we face, we are confronted with record deficits and debt. By focusing our efforts on programs with innovative approaches to intractable problems or with records of proven performance, we can ensure that women obtain the security and equality that is essential to the success of our communities and the recovery of our economy.
I have had the privilege of volunteering on Angus King’s campaign for United States Senate the last couple of months. I have been incredibly impressed by Angus’ championing of issues of importance to women — not the least of which is unequivocal position that access to reproductive options is a human right, and critical to women’s abilities to maintain economic security for themselves and their families. Most important, I have watched Angus reach positions not through knee-jerk reactions or a standing party platform, but by thorough research and analysis that includes advocates, experts and citizens impacted by the policy at issue.
I am thoroughly convinced that Angus will bring to Washington the same common-sense and inclusive approach to policy that served him well in Augusta. That approach will serve women particularly well when it comes to issues of economic security, freedom from violence and reproductive rights. At a recent event, Angus reaffirmed his commitment to reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act as one of his first orders of business as a U.S. senator.
Angus’ other priorities include a sensible approach to welfare reauthorization that provides states with flexibility to promote programs that truly reduce welfare dependency and increase long-term security; streamlining that will improving access to programs to support small businesses, which are the engine of Maine’s economy; and ensuring that Medicare and Social Security are shored up to support Maine’s seniors, who are anticipated to encompass more than a quarter of our population by the year 2030.
I am heartened and buoyed by Angus’s ideas for breaking the gridlock in Washington, which will benefit all Mainers — men and women alike.
Rebekah Smith is an attorney from Union.