Weekend Reading on Representation: Whose Job is it to Homeschool? How Many Editors are Men? Will We Ever Have a Woman President?

Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!


A World Bank Cambodia Health Sector Support Program, shown here in 2013 (World Bank/Flickr)

Despite the arrival of spring this week, it feels as though winter may still be coming—at least in the northern hemisphere.

News about the spread of the coronavirus—and the mixed reactions to it—have understandably dominated the headlines.

Amidst the cacophony of coverage, there have been a number of stories about the impact of the virus on women—including this one from The Interpreter by Sara Davies, Sophie Harman, Jacqui True and Clare Wenham that dives into the role of gender:

The Covid-19 outbreak has revealed the strengths and weaknesses in our collective global and national capacities to respond to this health emergency. Everything in our social world is gendered, and so it is with Covid-19. As with the experience of wars and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, women are often those least visible in crisis decision-making, yet within health emergencies they are conspicuous as healthcare workers and carers. This gendered reality is a remarkable pattern replicated across diverse societies and countries.

Front-line health professionals and workers most exposed to the infectious disease are likely to be women: nurses, nurse aides, teachers, child care workers, aged-care workers, and cleaners are mostly women. And 67% of the global health workforce is female, according to a 2019 study.

Among those workers – many part-time and casual, and most likely to be laid off or given shorter hours during the crisis and post-crisis – women are the largest group. Compared with men, women are more likely to be casual workers without sick leave/isolation leave work entitlements.Migrant women workers – nurses and domestic workers – experience double discrimination through both low-paid and/or casual work, with greater risk of wage loss and unemployment, limited access to healthcare and protective items.

As children are sent home, who will be taking time off work to homeschool them? As family members, neighbours, and friends go into isolation who will source food and provisions for them?

A market in Can Tho, Vietnam (Teseum/Flickr) 

To mitigate disproportionate gendered impacts, there is a need to ensure that economic investment during and post-crisis is not focused only on some sectors of the economy – for instance, in Australia, the manufacturing and trades, which largely employ men compared with the services sector, which largely employ women. There is a need to dedicate funding to support the economic empowerment of women who, whether health care workers, casual shop workers, or small business traders, will have managed high-load unpaid care roles and high-load low-paid work roles during this crisis.

At an individual and household level, men and women need to share the caring work involved in surviving the Covid-19 pandemic. This could be facilitated with improved government communications and risk mitigation strategies which actively target this issue.

Ensuring that public communication messages also include apps, hotlines, and clinic services for women and children to access sexual and reproductive care and gender-based violence crisis services during the outbreak is vital.

There is also the need to ensure women’s representation in Covid-10 recovery decision-making, since, as David Evans writes, “when women have less decision-making power than men, either in households or in government, then women’s needs during an epidemic are less likely to be met”. It is vital to also acknowledge that not just any woman will do when comes to crisis management: global health needs gender experts. Gender expertise is lacking in pandemic planning, outbreak response, and post-pandemic recovery.

Including gender-sensitive analysis and methods in the fields of technology, crisis economics, public health, engineering, and risk communications is crucial, since they are all vital for building future resilience to the next emergency, whether health, climate, or other disaster.


Ivonne Kristiani, deputy chairperson of Wikimedia Indonesia, gives an explanation about WikiGap. (Juliana Harsianti)

While not a direct response to the article above, the article below from the Jakarta Post by  Juliana Harsianti offers a welcome reminder that for women to have power, they need access to digital technology—which is of course true everywhere but especially true in areas where women are particularly isolated due to geography, religion, or income level:

A collective movement aims to overcome the under-representation of women inside Wikimedia.

At Eduplex, a co-working space in Bandung, participants signed the attendance list and had a coffee break, some already dressed in light gray T-shirts bearing the word “WikiGap”.

The participants, all women, were also ready with laptops on their tables.

In recent years, Wikimedia has been popular as an open and free window of knowledge offering almost everything, ranging from places, countries to public figures. Its presence has been bringing about a change in scientific openness in the cyber world. Yet Wikimedia still has a problem of representation.

“Wikimedia editors and writers are still dominated by males,” said Ivonne Kristiani, deputy chairperson of Wikimedia Indonesia, recently.

For example, in Wikipedia—a free online encyclopedia from Wikimedia—nine out of 10 of its editors are males. The encyclopedia also features a lot more stories about male figures, thus creating imbalance between the presence of male and female luminaries in itself. Only 20 percent of the content in Wikipedia is about women so that as they are being translated into various languages, the representation of female luminaries becomes increasingly obscured.

This condition has prompted the Foreign Ministry of Sweden to invite Wikipedia to launch WikiGap, a program that aims at encouraging many women in different parts of the world to write, edit and translate diverse articles about female figures.


Mpho Mpofu, founder and executive director of The Voice of Africa Trust. (Women in Dev via Twitter)

There was an important read in the online newsource devex by Emma Smith about the need for more women in leadership positions in the development sector: research suggests that women make up about 70% of the world’s social impact workforce but hold just 30% of top leadership positions.” The article also discusses the importance of assuring that leadership in the development sector reflect the communities the organizations serve:

The development sector is led by men, despite efforts to get more women into leadership roles. Recent research suggests that women make up about 70% of the world’s social impact workforce but hold just 30% of top leadership positions.

“When we speak about feminism, it has to cut across whether black, white — we all need to acknowledge our privilege,” said Mpho Mpofu, founder and executive director of The Voice of Africa Trust.

A feminist leadership approach could be the key to spurring the radical and systemic change needed for a more inclusive and accountable sector, according to leaders at this month’s Women in Dev conference in London.But what exactly would that look like? In line with several other organizations, ActionAid — which has worked to implement a feminist leadership model — identifies self-care, collaboration, inclusion, dismantling bias, and sharing power as key aspects.

Ten years since the concept was first discussed by Srilatha Batliwala, it is encouraging to see feminist leadership gaining traction in global development, conference attendees said. But growing alongside this movement are concerns that it does not serve all women equally, too often failing to address the unique issues faced by women of color, for example.

A truly inclusive feminist approach would impact decision-making at all levels of development, they said — and many women leaders are optimistic that this approach is within reach.


(Getty Images)

Political parties are gatekeepers that play an enormous role in whether or not women candidates are able to run viable campaigns. Engaging them to be agents of change in the work to advance women’s representation is a central tenet of RepresentWomen’s research and reform agenda—so I was excited to see this new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace by Saskia Brechenmacher and Caroline Hubbard entitled “Breaking the Cycle of Gender Exclusion in Political Party Development” and the accompanying opinion piece in Apolitical that offers an in-depth analysis of the state of play and best practices for moving forward:

The year 2020 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the first global blueprint for advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality around the world. This anniversary is a natural moment to assess progress and remaining challenges in this domain. A critical element of such an assessment is a look at women’s political participation.

Women’s political participation is not only a human right, but also key for sustainable development and a thriving democracy. Put simply, full and equitable participation of women in public life is essential to building strong and peaceful democracies.

Many countries have made some progress. The global average of women in national parliaments has more than doubled since 1995, from 11.3% in 1995 to 24.4% today. Yet the overall pace of change has been slow. According to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate of change, the gender gap in politics will not be closed this century.The inconvenient truth is that political parties are a central part of the problem. For many women, they are the gateway into formal politics, as they recruit and select candidates for political office.

Yet at the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a non-profit based in Washington DC that seeks to support democracy around the world, we’ve found that parties are often patriarchal political organisations that are hostile to women’s advancement. Established parties tend to be resistant to change, as male party leaders benefit from an unequal status quo.


(University of Minnesota, Gender Policy Report)

Like many of you, I am on a number of mailing lists from academic institutions with divisions or departments that focus on gender—it would be a great project to assemble a list of all these terrific resources.

This week brought an update from the Gender Policy Report from the University of Minnesota with an interesting feature article by Karrieann Soto Vega on the paradox of women’s representation in Puerto Rico:

When Puerto Rican scholars Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón were editing Aftershocks of Disaster, a collection of writing related to the aftermath of Hurricane María, they were probably not thinking about the possibility of such a metaphor turning into reality. Yet, not long after their book was published, many have lived through a series of earthquakes along the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico’s big island and elsewhere (including my parents who felt them in the northwestern town of San Sebastián). The strongest quake resulted in widespread damage and a power outage for the entire territory in early January 2020.

Despite having women in prominent positions of leadership, the government in Puerto Rico has not been responsive to underlying gender issues that have been worsened by recent disasters.

Despite having women in prominent positions of leadership, the government in Puerto Rico has not been responsive to underlying gender issues that have been worsened by recent disasters, nor to the demands of women’s and feminist organizations. A common assumption might be that Puerto Rico’s current governor, Wanda Vázquez—a woman who has held other governmental positions regarding women’s well-being in the archipelago—would be focused on and responsive to the gender implications of disaster, from sexual violence in shelters to an increase in femicides. Unfortunately, this has not happened.

Besides the fact that current leadership held lawmaking positions before the initial earthquake shocks, inaction regarding gender inequities in Puerto Rico is also impacted by federal jurisdiction. “Aftershocks remind us that disasters are not singular events but ongoing processes,” Bonilla and LeBrón write. These “processes” have to do with economic and socio-political control rooted in the territory’s colonial status.


From Gender on the Ballot, March 2020

There were two particularly interesting reads this week from Gender on the Ballot.

The first was this piece by Atima Omara entitled “No Country for Woman Presidents” that explores the vexing lack of women in the presidential race:

Last week, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard dropped out of the Presidential race, making her the last woman candidate to drop out of the Democratic primary for the presidential nomination. There are now only two older white men fighting to secure the Democratic nomination.

Congresswoman Gabbard was always a longer shot, so in the week prior when Senator Elizabeth Warren dropped out after a weak Super Tuesday showing, a collective cry could be heard around Twitter from those who’ve long been advocates for women’s leadership in politics, acknowledging that we were losing the last woman candidate in the race who could come close to the nomination.

We started off with the most diverse presidential race field in the history of politics. What on earth happened?

Many critics point to the campaign Warren ran, and for sure her campaign is not blameless. However, there are some factors that affected Warren’s campaign that are unique to women candidates.


Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) 

The second great read from Gender on the Ballot is by Kate Caldwell and Brenda Parker entitled “Lead on: Leadership and Women with Disabilities in Government” that offers a very important reminder about the leadership of women with disabilities in the political process:

Throughout history the voices of people with disabilities have been suppressed, hidden away from society in segregated institutions, schools, and workshops. To this day we continue to see vestiges of this as the disability community advocates for policy that will allow people to choose where they live (Olmstead Decision), to have equal access and opportunity in education and employment (IDEARehab Act, ADA), and to no longer be paid sub-minimum wages.

Men with disabilities have risen to powerful positions in government, including former Presidents. However, only recently have women with disabilities acquired seats at the table and voices in the policymaking process. In fact, despite recent gains, women remain under-represented in government. The result is when policy decisions are being made, they are often made without representation from people that will be affected most. For example, faced with the current COVID-19 pandemic policymakers are scrambling to create a stimulus package but, according to the Center for American Progress, the initial Bill failed to take into consideration the needsof women and the disability community, who will be disproportionately impacted during this crisis. Follow this discussion at #SeeUsSchumer and #CripTheVote.

Disability is often overlooked in policy discussions unless someone with a disability is at the table. For example, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a veteran and double-amputee, used her position to pass legislation requiring airlines to report the number of broken wheelchairs. Wheelchairs are critical assistive devices that facilitate independence, work, and travel. Yet, many people with disabilities have been stranded with a broken wheelchair and received little response from airlines about repair, replacement, or compensation. The first report found an average of 25 wheelchairs are broken a day!


As is true every week, there were a number of amazing #WomenLeaders who celebrated birthdays including: the first woman member of the Supreme Court Sandra Day O’Connor; along with Kristin Rower-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising; Carolyn Goodman, mayor of Las Vegas; Ellen Bravo, CEO of Family Values at Work Consortium; Jessica Chastain, actor and women’s equality advocate; Barbra Streisand, actor and singer; Sally Kohn, author and commentator; Wilhelmina Kekelaokalaninui Wideman Dowsett, Hawaiian suffragist; Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; Gloria Steinem, advocate extraordinaire; Aretha Franklin, beloved singer; and legendary civil rights advocate Dorothy Height.

some of these #WomenLeaders are pictured below:

Aretha Franklin
Gloria Steinem
Dorothy Height

About

Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.