What are women’s issues?

The term is often used as journalistic shorthand for abortion rights and birth control, but the full agenda is much broader.

At a debate tonight, hosted by the Women’s Policy Center at the Abromson Center at USM in Portland, all but one of the candidates for Maine’s open seat in the U.S. Senate will be questioned about their positions on issues that concern women, from economic opportunity to children’s health and education, in addition to reproductive health care.

It is a wide range of issues that affect a broad cross-section of the Maine population.

And victories in past struggles for women’s rights have not made historical inequalities go away.

Women make up more than half the population, but more than 80 percent of the domestic violence victims. Two-thirds of the people older than 65 living below the poverty line are women. So are a high percentage of low-income single parents with children younger than 5.

Women in Maine earn 79 cents to each dollar earned by men for the same work. Women earn 60 percent of college degrees, but still face discriminatory glass ceilings in traditionally male professions.

A recent Yale University study found that gender bias still exists in the sciences, where professors are more likely to hire and mentor male students than females with the same credentials.

With such a broad range of issues facing more than half of the electorate, it would make sense that tonight’s debate would draw all of the candidates running to fill retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe’s seat in the U.S. Senate.

Democrat Cynthia Dill, independent Angus King and three other candidates whose names appear on the ballot are expected to appear.

Republican Charlie Summers, however, has dropped out of the debate, choosing to attend other campaign events instead.

That’s too bad.

All Maine voters deserve to hear Summers’ positions on these issues and see him explain them while standing on the same stage as his opponents.

Women’s issues, in their most broad definition, will be at the center of this campaign, and attendance at this debate should have been considered a must for all candidates.

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