What makes Maryland a great state for women

Living in Maryland, these days, it's not hard to hang our hats on many points of pride. As a mom living in the state, I have enjoyed all that Maryland has to offer for kids: fantastic museums in Baltimore, the Terrapin football games on Saturday afternoons, and the beautiful farm pumpkin patches as we move more deeply into fall. But today we have even more good news for moms and families in Maryland: a new study shows that women in Maryland are in a better position to live healthy and economically secure lives than women in any other state.

How did we earn these top marks? Perhaps by having the most women leaders in the nation. I don't think it's an accident that the state with the highest percentage of female leaders — women make up 42.5 percent of the private sector management in Maryland and 30 percent of the state legislature — also has the lowest wage gap in the country.

And it's no secret to anyone watching the current budget standoff that having powerful women's voices at the table, like Sen. Barbara Mikulski, means that there are people out there who are fighting for women and families in every debate.

And we see a direct correlation between success in local offices and access to the crucial health services that women need. Women in Maryland have better access to reproductive health services, and they do not face invasive ultrasound requirements or unconstitutional bans on abortion after 20 weeks.

It should come as no surprise that in neighboring Virginia, where only 17.9 of state lawmakers are women, invasive and restrictive measures to limit women's access to reproductive health services have been put in place under a conservative governor's watch. Virginia requires all women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound — whether it is medically necessary or not. I am proud to live in a state that thinks that women need to be empowered to make our own medical choices — and that good medicine is the determinant of what kinds of procedures women undergo.

While Washington battles over shutdowns that will surely affect many Marylanders who work for the federal government, its contractors and others, we know that the stakes for implementing health care could not be more important in our state as well. More than 10 percent of nonelderly women in Maryland are uninsured, but Maryland is taking steps to help its people. Maryland stands out as a state that is expanding Medicaid, which could provide insurance for 70,000 more women.

With all the good news, it's important to remember that we need to do more to make sure the success is more broadly shared. While Maryland women have the smallest wage gap in the country with their male counterparts, women of color are not faring as well. Hispanic women in Maryland make only 46 cents for every dollar a white male makes, an atrociously low number. And today more than 11 percent of women in Maryland live in poverty. Women of color are doing even worse: 17.4 percent of African American women in Maryland live in poverty.

And while we have made remarkable progress in our Maryland at making sure that women are represented in the state legislature (we are ninth in the nation), having only 30 percent of Maryland's state legislative seats held by women is just not good enough in a state where women make up 53 percent of the population. It's so crucial for our daughters to see themselves in the faces of those who get to make the most important decisions about their education, their health and their access to opportunities.

It's interesting that the lyrics of "Maryland, my Maryland" refer strongly to Maryland's history in the Civil War, but the "Maryland" referred to in the song is consistently a "she." Maybe our forefathers realized something that some in other states are yet to find out — that taking care of women and families is what makes a whole state strong.

Andrea Purse, a resident of Silver Spring, is vice president for communications at the Center for American Progress. Her email is andrea.purse@americanprogress.org.

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