Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Equality Can’t Wait

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!

The countdown to the Seneca Falls Revisited virtual conference, celebrating the centennial of suffrage, continues this week with blogs by Maura Reilly about the speakers (see below) and about Juneteenth which celebrates the official end of slavery in the United States.

Maura writes in her blog this week:

On June 19th 1865, Major General Gordon Granger led Union soldiers into Galveston Texas and brought with him the news of the end of the Civil War and the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Emancipation Proclamation and formally ended slavery in the United States, the legal end of slavery was finally upheld across the country. A year following Granger’s proclamation, the anniversary of what had become known as Juneteenth took place for the first time. The Juneteenth celebration which focused on the community of the formerly enslaved peoples in Texas continued to spread and grow over the following years.

Widespread celebrations of Juneteenth continued until the early 20th century. Economic downturn coupled with a lack of public education and awareness of the lag between the formal end to slavery and the enforcement of Lincoln’s executive order across the country resulted in decline in the celebrations of Juneteenth.

Recognition and celebration of Juneteenth saw a resurgence in the 1950s and 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement when many of the movement leaders called attention to the historic and continued importance of the anniversary. With the re-emergence of Juneteenth came calls for national recognition of June 19th as a holiday. In 1980, Texas became the first state to officially recognize Juneteenth as a state-wide holiday. The first legislation to make Juneteenth a national holiday was introduced into the House of Representatives in 1996; however, it has not yet been recognized as a national holiday. Currently 46 states and the District of Columbia recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

In 2016, at the age of 90, Miss Opal Lee began a walk from Texas to Washington, DC bringing attention to the call to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. Four years on, Lee continues to fight for the national recognition of June 19th and summing up it’s importance in four words, “because it’s about unity.” Over the past few years, awareness of Juneteenth has grown with campaigns like Opal Lee, and portrayals of the celebration in popular TV shows like Donald Glover’s Atlanta and Kenya Barris’ Black-ish. Just this year several corporations including Nike, Twitter and the NFL have made a Juneteenth company-wide holiday, and this week New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has recognized Juneteenth as a state holiday.

Juneteenth, epitomizes the hard work and time it takes to achieve reform and progress. Freedom and equality are not achieved in a single speech or an executive order. Effective and lasting change requires individuals and communities tirelessly fighting for action.

The team at RepresentWomen has also been busy with final edits to our updated report on financial support from PACs and individuals for women candidates which we first published in 2016.

We are very grateful to our terrific partners at the Center for Responsive Politics for sharing their data with us. We study the rate at which PACs and donors support women candidates to ground our work to increase the amount of money women receive so that more women are able to run viable campaigns.

We will be publishing the full report next week but check out some of the infographics that the team created to help explain the numbers:

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

There was interesting news from Egypt this week—where the parliament approved a measure to allocate 25 percent of seats to women, according to this article in The Arab News:

The Egyptian Parliament has approved an amendment to an article in the constitution to allocate 25 percent of seats to women, local daily Egypt Today reported.

During the years of 1979, 1984 and 2010, when Egypt applied a quota for women in the House, the Parliament witnessed high female representation, according to a report by The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) in 2014, which called for at least 30 percent of the Parliament to be allocated for women.

Sunday’s approved amendment came as part of other amendments approved via public referendum in 2019, including setting the number of members of parliament at 568.

MacKenzie Bezos.

According to Forbes magazine, MacKenzie Bezos and Melinda Gates have teamed up on a $30 million dollar Gender Equity Contest. (Learn more about the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge here.)

I will be very interested to see where this investment leads:

One of the most powerful women in the world is teaming up with one of the richest women in the world—Melinda Gates and MacKenzie Bezos, respectively—to host a competition with one goal in mind: gender equality.

Gates and Bezos announced the competition, called the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, through Pivotal Ventures, Gates’ investment and incubation company. The challenge will be managed by Lever For Change, a MacArthur Foundation affiliate, and will grant $30 million to the organizations (or the coalitions of organizations) with the best ideas for helping to expand women’s power and influence in the United States by 2030.

“Closing the gap on gender equality will benefit everyone. History keeps teaching us that when a diversity of voices is represented in decisions, the outcome is better for all,” MacKenzie Bezos said in a statement Tuesday. “I’m excited that the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge will focus energy and innovation on this vital catalyst for positive change.” 

Members of the Rwandan parliament.

If I had a sudden infusion of support from the Equality Can’t Wait Challenge, I would follow the data from the 80 some countries that rank above the United States in women’s representation and invest it in a campaign for electoral reform as this fantastic article by Ruth Butaumocho in Zimbabwe’s leading paper suggests:

“For me, a better democracy is a democracy where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect, but to be elected.”

The above words from former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, in an interview with the New York Times a few years ago highlight the importance of gender equality for the economic, social and political development of humanity.

Bachelet made the remarks in 2012 while serving as the executive director of UN Women, where she worked to achieve female empowerment in 75 countries.

Eight years after Bachelet’s statement, women’s rights as well as their economic and political standing have been on a positive trajectory in some countries, whilst in others, gender inequality still persists.

In countries that attained palpable achievements towards gender equality, individuals and communities took a deliberate stance to change their circumstances either through the use of existing structures or created an enabling environment.

Those, who failed to achieve could have been let down by structural deficiencies or they just lacked the zeal, temerity and the urge to change their own narrative.

For locals, the ongoing public consultations on the Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2, presents gender equality advocates with an opportunity to further push for robust equal representation of women in politics by making their representations known and the changes they would want to be implemented.

The decision to extend the female proportional representation for another 10 years is premised on the growing concern that women in Zimbabwe continue to be under-represented in political governance with figures hovering way below the stipulated 50 percent representation under SADC Declaration on Gender and Development.

Explained in layman’s terms, proportional representation is a term used to describe a range of electoral systems where the distribution of seats corresponds closely with the proportion of the total votes cast for each party or individual candidate.

Having realised that anomaly, the Government introduced a female quota system to ensure more representation of women by reserving 60 seats for them, through a proportional representation system.

Through this, the country was able to record a significant jump in terms of representation where 31.5 percent of members of the National Assembly were women, 48 percent in the Senate and 13.3 percent of positions in council were now being held by women

I am excited to be a featured speaker at the Seneca Falls Revisited virtual conference—along with ReflectUS CEO Tiffany Gardner, New York state Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, and many others.

Here is an excerpt from Maura’s speak blog this week:

Tiffany Gardner is the CEO of ReflectUS. Mrs. Gardner has a background in international human rights advocacy and domestic public interest. She has worked on women’s rights, human rights and grassroots organizing throughout Africa, Southeast Asia and the United States. She has had professional experiences with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the United Nations International Law Commission and Human Rights Watch. Most recently, she was the co-founder and director of the One World Exchange Program, where she created, designed and implemented international service programs for under-represented U.S. college students and organized international solidarity coalitions.

Mrs. Gardner has published several articles on issues of social justice and global inclusion, including “The Commodification of Women’s Work: Theorizing the Advancement of African Women”, “Radio Jamming: The Disarmament of Radio Propaganda” (regarding the Rwandan genocide), “Race and Federal Recognition in Native New England”, and “Human Rights Approaches in State Development Programming”. Her most recent publication is entitled “No Shelter from the storm: Reclaiming the right to housing and protecting the health of vulnerable communities in post-Katrina New Orleans”, published by Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is a former Mergers & Acquisitions associate at the New York law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. She received a B.A. from Yale University, a J.D. from New York University School of Law and a LL.M. in human rights law from Columbia University Law School.

Honorable Ruth Hassell-Thompson is a former New York State Senator who has worked tirelessly throughout her career in the service of the public. Hassell-Thompson began her political career on the Mount Vernon City Council in 1993, where she served as council president and acting mayor for the city. In 2000 Hassell-Thompson was elected to the state Senate representing New York’s 36th district for a total of eight terms. During her time serving in the Senate Hassell-Thomson was instrumental in passing the marriage equality legislation and several other landmark pieces.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson has become a leader and fervent advocate for the economic development issues impacting women and people of color. Hassell-Thompson served as the Executive Director of the Westchester Minority Contractors Association (WMCA) and successfully negotiated both public and private contracts to increase economic participation with minority and women-owned businesses.

Ruth Hassell-Thompson attended Bronx Community College and Sarah Lawrence College in New York. Hassell-Thompson has gone on to receive two honorary degrees as well from Mercy College and Eastern Theological Consortium. Hassell-Thompson has received several awards throughout her career including, the Joseph P. Gavrin Memorial Award for Personal Achievement and Contributions to the community, the Sojourner Truth Racial Justice Award, the Harriet Tubman Humanitarian Achievement Award, and the Minority and Women Business Development Award.

As part of our #SuffrageCentennial festivities we are celebrating Women Creators with this portrait of Ava DuVernay.

And finally, this week’s suggested reading from the team at RepresentWomen:


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.