Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way

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!


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way
Women leaders Andrea Merkel, Tsai Ing-wen, Jacinda Ardern, Katrin Jakobsdottir, Sanna Marin, Erna Solberg and Mette Frederikson (CNN.com)

widely-circulated piece by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox in Forbes discusses the impressive role that women leaders have been playing in reducing the impact of the coronavirus in their respective countries.

These countries all have some form of proportional representation system to elect their parliaments which, in tandem with intentional recruitment strategies, leads to more women getting elected and women’s power becoming normalized.

While the United States ranks 81st worldwide for women’s representation, Germany ranks 49th, New Zealand ranks 20th, Iceland ranks 31st, Finland ranks 11th, Norway ranks 17th and Denmark ranks 25th.

Research confirms that voting systems have a clear impact on norms around women’s leadership and representation.

And read a snippet of the piece by Avivah Wittenberg-Cox below:

Looking for examples of true leadership in a crisis? From Iceland to Taiwan and from Germany to New Zealand, women are stepping up to show the world how to manage a messy patch for our human family. Add in Finland, Iceland and Denmark, and this pandemic is revealing that women have what it takes when the heat rises in our Houses of State.

Many will say these are small countries, or islands, or other exceptions. But Germany is large and leading, and the UK is an island with very different outcomes. These leaders are gifting us an attractive alternative way of wielding power. What are they teaching us?


Here at Ms., our team is continuing to report through this global health crisis—doing what we can to keep you informed and up-to-date on some of the most underreported issues of this pandemic. We ask that you consider supporting our work to bring you substantive, unique reporting—we can’t do it without you. Support our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern. (CNN.com)

There was another interesting piece on this same topic on CNN.com by Leta Hong Fincher who concludes:

It’s too early to say definitively which leaders will emerge as having taken enough of the right steps to control the spread of coronavirus—and save lives. But the examples above show that a disproportionately large number of leaders who acted early and decisively were women.Yet, on January 1, 2020 only 10 of 152 elected heads of state were women, according the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations—and men made up 75% of parliamentarians, 73% of managerial decision-makers and 76% of the people in mainstream news media.

“We have created a world where women are squeezed into just 25%—one quarter—of the space, both in physical decision-making rooms, and in the stories that we tell about our lives. One quarter is not enough,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. It is long past time for us to recognize that the world is in dire need of more women leaders and equal representation of women at all levels of politics. 

At the very least, the disproportionate number of women leaders succeeding in controlling this pandemic—so far— should show us that gender equality is critical to global public health and international security. 


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way
Slovak President Zuzana Čaputová flanked by new Ministers after their swearing-in ceremony in Bratislava. (JOE KLAMAR / Getty Images) 

Rick Zednik, managing director of Women Political Leaders, wrote a great piece on Medium about the deficits of “traditional” leaders and the benefits of gender-balanced leadership:

When faced with adversity, male leaders have defaulted to militaristic vocabulary at least since defeated Romans were falling on their swords. When an army is invading, or a tyrant’s forces are running rampant, such martial language is appropriate.

A pandemic, however, respects none of the rules of war. There is no opposing general ordering troops to fire. No oncoming battalions following chain of command. Indeed, no enemies making any decisions at all.

Since responding to a virus is not achieved via combat, successfully suppressing it requires a wholly different mindset. Fortunately, several leaders around the world have reacted to the unconventional threat in unconventional style. And they are getting better results.

Although her position is largely ceremonial, Zuzana Čaputová, the President of Slovakia, was one of the first world leaders to make important symbolic moves in public. For the new cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony on March 21, she led government leaders in wearing a mask, and showed how it can even be done with style. Her destigmatising gesture set an example for a country that has maintained one of Europe’s lowest coronavirus-related mortality rates.

These female heads of state and government are not the only success stories of political leadership in the age of Covid-19. Several men have also distinguished themselves with language and an approach suitable to the crisis. But the cases here highlight a form of leadership more often employed by women. It includes the following features.

More collective than individual. On March 16, Čaputová told Slovaks, “We must help one another.” On television three days later, she continued to use the first person plural pronouns we, us and our, saying, “Regardless of our political preferences, we share the same expectations at the moment: that the government will guide us through the hard days, that it can prepare our hospitals for the increased number of sick people and that it will propose measures to help us manage the economy and social consequences.”

More collaborative than competitive. When Merkel delivered an unprecedented television address on March 18, she said, “Since World War II, there has been no greater challenge to our country that depends so much on us acting together in solidarity.” She then reassured Germans that they needn’t feel rivalry in a search for essential food and supplies. “Hoarding, as though there are never going to be fresh supplies, is pointless and shows a complete lack of solidarity.”

More coaching than commanding. In her March 23 press conference, Ardern asked New Zealanders to “be kind” to each other. She said, “People are afraid, and they are anxious. What we need from you, our community, is to support others. Check on your neighbours, start a phone tree with your street, plan how you’ll keep in touch with one another.” When a reporter asked whether she herself was scared, she replied, “No, I am not afraid, because we have a plan. And I just ask New Zealanders now to come with us on what will be an extraordinary period of time for everyone.”

These leaders have come across as self-confident, not arrogant. They have been assertive without showing a desire to dominate. They have taken the responsibilities of their position, without emphasising their authority. They have conveyed strength not despite their empathy, but because of it.


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way
(Justin Sullivan / Getty)

There is of course ample evidence of women’s leadership during the coronavirus in the United States as this piece in The Atlantic by Russell Berman on San Francisco mayor London Breed illustrates:

By her own admission, Breed had no particular experience with pandemic response prior to the coronavirus. The disasters San Francisco spends the most time practicing for are earthquakes and fires, although it did have an epidemic-response plan on hand. “This is not one we had practiced. But it is one that we were prepared for,” Breed said.

Breed may be relatively new to public-health crises, but the officials she has leaned on—Grant Colfax, a former director of HIV/AIDS policy in the Obama administration; Tomás Aragón, the county’s public-health chief; and Carroll—have decades of experience. Colfax began his career in the 1980s during the height of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco, and the epidemiologists I spoke with said the lessons from that period likely contributed to the city’s fast response to the current outbreak.

“I think they remember how hard it was when we didn’t close down the bathhouses and saw what happened to the epidemic at that point,” said Maldonado, the Stanford epidemiologist.

Officials in San Francisco are cautious about their initial success, cognizant that it could be fleeting if the city lets up too quickly on social distancing. “We are not in any way breathing a sigh of relief at this point or declaring victory in any way,” Carroll said.

Breed is concerned about the city’s large homeless population, and in particular those addicted to drugs who are not cooperating with social-distancing practices. The city has expanded shelter capacity to spread out people living in them, as well as invested more money in cleaning shelters. But it has not broken up tent cities of homeless people on the advice of the CDC, and Breed said many workers are now more reluctant to interact with homeless people who are refusing to adhere to social distancing. “It’s gonna be difficult,” she said. (Breed was right to be worried: After we spoke, the city announced that an outbreak at one of its largest homeless shelters had infected 70 residents and staff with the coronavirus.)

As for her city’s overall situation, its relative calm in the national storm, Breed is ambivalent, even nervous. She’s worried that good news will beget bad news, that the story of San Francisco’s success will lead its homebound citizens to relax at the very moment they must stay hunkered down. “San Franciscans are complying and people have been incredible with following this order. But on another note, there are a lot of folks who are not,” Breed admitted. “And I am not comfortable letting up.”


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way
RepresentWomen studies the impact of RCV on representation outcomes for women and people of color. Above is data on the gender and race of mayors in jurisdictions with RCV.

I am thrilled to report that the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, signed a local option bill permitting jurisdictions to adopt ranked choice voting! Many thanks to the incredible work of delegate Sally Hudson.

See this story from the Star-Exponent: 

Northam signed Saturday, the final day for him to act on legislation, a bill from Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, to implement a pilot program that gives localities the choice of using ranked-choice voting, a practice that is gaining popularity across the U.S.

In ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates from their most favorite to least. A candidate who gets a majority of support of the first-choice votes wins the election. But if no candidate wins a majority in that first round of voting, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated. That candidate’s supporters have their votes transferred to the person they selected as their second choice.

The process — informally called an “instant runoff” — continues until a candidate wins a majority.

The bill takes effect July 1, 2021.

“States have always been the laboratories of democracy,” Hudson said Tuesday. “We want elections with broad participation from diverse candidates and voters. Ranked choice voting helps achieve that goal.”

Hudson added: “It helps voters express our diverse views at the ballot box and elect leaders that invest in real coalition building. I’m excited to continue the work by helping our cities and counties roll out (ranked-choice voting) pilots in the years to come.”

Several U.S. cities have ranked-choice voting, including San Francisco and Minneapolis. New York City is set to start using it in 2021.


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way
A clip from the movie Represent.

The movie Represent, which tells the story of women from different backgrounds who face obstacles while running for office, sent this update on the premiere: 

Although our in-person premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival was cancelled last month, CIFF has just announced the launch of their two week, online-only festival, CIFF Streams: clevelandfilm.org/films/2020/represent

So from TODAY through April 28th, if you live in Ohio, you’ll be able to buy an $8 “ticket” from the link above to stream Represent from the comfort of your own home. Unfortunately, for right now, this is ONLY available through the Cleveland Film Fest to people in the state of Ohio. But we promise– we’ll have more news for folks in the other 49 states soon.


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way

Become a member of of Higher Heights for America and you can participate in their Campaign Boot Camp featuring a very impressive team of women leaders:

Join us for a member- only #BlackWomenLead Campaign Boot Camp on Saturday, April 18, 2020 at 1:00 p.m. ET, and learn how to campaign during COVID-19 and beyond. Our members-only #BlackWomenLead Leadership series is all about creating an environment for Black women to vote, run, win and lead.

Join or reactivate your Higher Heights membership to sign up 

This boot camp is for candidates, campaign staff, volunteers and those who are considering running for office. You will hear from experts on fundraising, voter mobilization and communications on how to run an effective campaign.  


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way
Ruth Mandel on the front porch of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Under her watch it became the premiere research and education institution in the country for the study of women in politics. (Deborah Walsh)

And finally, The New York Times reported that Ruth Mandel died this week after a long career in the field of women and politics.

After a harrowing childhood, Mandel went on to become the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University which she led for more than two decades:  

Ruth B. Mandel was an infant when she and her parents fled Germany on the eve of World War II. They were among the 937 passengers, almost all of them Jewish refugees, aboard the ocean liner St. Louis on what was often called the Voyage of the Damned.

The Nazis had allowed the ship to sail with the expectation that the Jews would never be allowed to disembark — thus, the Nazis claimed, proving Hitler’s point that Jews were unwanted and justifying his persecution of them.

Indeed, Cuba spurned them. So did the United States and Canada. The ship was forced back to Europe, where roughly a quarter of the passengers would die in Hitler’s death camps.

A lucky few, including Ruth and her parents, made it safely to England. They moved to the United States after the war, and she went on to become director of the influential Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.


Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way

Check out the suggested reading from the RepresentWomen team and think fond thoughts of all the women who celebrated milestones and birthdays this week—including Clara Beyer, Anne Sullivan, Loretta Lynn, May Edward Chinn and Eva Bowring who became the first woman Senator from Nebraska in 1954.

Weekend Reading on Women's Representation: Women Leaders Show the Way

The coronavirus pandemic and the response by federal, state and local authorities is fast-movingDuring this time, Ms. is keeping a focus on aspects of the crisis—especially as it impacts women and their families—often not reported by mainstream media. If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

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.