Education, economic security, health care, safety, leadership. If Maine can improve these areas for women and girls, it can lift up the state.

March is Women’s History Month. On March 13, Maine’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women released it’s second biennial report, “The 2015 Report on the Status of Women & Girls in Maine.”

The commission gathered surveys from more than 3,000 women and girls across Maine, asking what they think Maine’s priorities should be and what areas we can improve upon.

It then reviewed data and research to supplement the survey findings and worked to build consensus around policy recommendations, including some highlighted below, to offer a roadmap for our leaders to move the needle on key issues affecting women.

University of Maine women's basketball players break a huddle in the first half of their exhibition game against New Brunswick at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Maine , Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. | Michael C. York
University of Maine women’s basketball players break a huddle in the first half of their exhibition game against New Brunswick at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, Monday, Nov. 10, 2014. | Michael C. York

So how can Maine improve the lives of women and girls? Here are just five ways:

  1. Invest in education programs that will help girls succeed. Support early childhood education programs. Foster an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in the girls in your life. Encourage them to ask questions, be curious, and seek answers. We love Neil Degrasse Tyson’s advice to this first-grade girl: “When you go home, and you start poking around the kitchen … you are actually doing experiments.”

  2. Help Maine women achieve economic security. Support single mothers who seek access to continuing education and job training programs, and help teen mothers stay in school. Shift cultural norms around workplace expectations and men’s role in parenting, giving families flexibility to have successful careers and take care of their loved ones. Find ways to alleviate the penalty so often faced by caregivers (who are primarily women): lower lifetime earnings and decreased ability to save for retirement.

  3. Improve access to health care for Maine women with an emphasis on prevention. Economic and geographic barriers prevent too many Mainers from accessing the care they need; we should eliminate as many of those barriers as possible. The state should accept available federal funds to cover more low-income residents, and make sure that low-income women have access to family planning services. When women are healthy, they are better able to go to school, go to work, contribute to their communities and care for their families.

  4. Address violence against Maine women, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Promote responses through not only the criminal justice system but in all community sectors, including schools, workplaces, health care settings and social services. Recognize the links between violence and all of the other dimensions of women’s lives — including their health and economic stability — and pursue policies that help survivors achieve safety and hold offenders accountable.

  5. Support women and girls as leaders, in all community sectors. According to the New York Times, among CEOs of S&P 1500 firms, there are more men named John than there are all women combined. (Women, in fact, come third, after men named “John” and men named “David.”) Don’t assume equality equals gender blindness; actively seek ways to promote women leaders in your community and your life.

The commission’s members are diverse and include a small business owner from Aroostook County; a refugee-turned-activist from Somalia; several policy experts and lobbyists; CEOs and executive directors; and women who volunteer countless hours of their time for nonprofit boards, the PTA, their churches, and this commission — all in service to their communities and this great state.

Maine women have made great strides, and we have much to be proud of, but we know we can do even better. Click here to read the report and learn more about the policy recommendations.

Regina Rooney is public awareness coordinator for the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and a member of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, a nonpartisan, independent advisory board charged with improving the opportunities for women and girls in the state. Andrea Irwin is the commission’s acting chair.