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!
July 24 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s equality champion Bella Abzug‘s birth and the midway point of the suffrage centennial.
The August issue of National Geographic pays tribute to the many women like Abzug who have shaped and continue to shape the conversation about women’s rights and representation.
Here is a snippet from the long and rich piece written by Rachel Hartigan:
“Well I have been & gone & done it!!” Susan B. Anthony wrote to a friend on November 5, 1872.
That day Anthony and her three sisters managed to vote in Rochester, New York. Nearly a century after the nation’s founding, seven years after the end of the Civil War, and two years after the 15th Amendment granted voting rights to African-American men, it was still illegal for most women to vote. Anthony and her sisters had been sure they would be denied. Indeed, that’s what they had hoped would happen. They wanted grounds for a lawsuit.
But Anthony, a well-known and intimidating figure, couldn’t help herself. A few days earlier, she had browbeaten the young officials who were registering voters at a local barbershop into putting the women’s names on the voting rolls. When that proved an unexpected success, she spread the word.
On Election Day, some 15 women in Rochester voted. “We are in for a fine agitation in Rochester,” wrote Anthony to her friend and fellow campaigner Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Although she hadn’t expected to vote, she knew her defiant act would have ramifications.
Two weeks later, the opportunity she’d been aiming for arrived on her doorstep in the form of a well-mannered federal officer. He was there to arrest her.
By that point women had been campaigning to get the vote for decades. They’d begun to question their subordinate role in society, rallied to improve women’s rights within marriage, and called for universal suffrage. They’d ventured beyond the domestic sphere of their homes and neighborhoods, into spaces where no “respectable” women would go, and had spoken in public before mixed crowds, which no respectable women would do. They’d inserted themselves into a political process that made no room for them. They’d insisted on what they believed were their rights as citizens. They’d elevated women’s voting rights to an issue that national politicians could no longer ignore.
The U.N. secretary-general called Saturday for a new social contract and global deal to create equal opportunities for all in an address on the birthday of late anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela.
“A new social contract within societies will enable young people to live in dignity, will ensure women have the same prospects and opportunities as men, and will protect the sick, the vulnerable and minorities of all kinds,” Antonio Guterres said in a keynote speech to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela Foundation on what would have been the late president’s 102nd birthday.
Guterres said people want social and economic systems that work for everyone, and a say in the decisions that affect their lives.
“They want their human rights and fundamental freedoms to be respected,” the U.N. chief said. “The new social contract, between governments, people, civil society, business and more, must integrate employment, sustainable development and social protection, based on equal rights and opportunities for all.”
“Inequality starts at the top: in global institutions,” Guterres said. “Addressing inequality must start by reforming them.”
He also warned against populism, nationalism, extremism and racism, saying they would only lead to more division and inequality in society.
Guterres, who referred to himself as “a proud feminist,” also called for dismantling the “patriarchy” and moving toward gender parity.
“Globally, women are still excluded from senior positions in governments and on corporate boards. Fewer than one in 10 world leaders is a woman,” Guterres said. “Gender inequality harms everyone because it prevents us from benefiting from the intelligence and experience of all of humanity.”
“Put on your gender glasses. And, if you have a systematic feminist foreign policy, you never take off those glasses.”—Ann Linde, foreign minister of Sweden
Sweden’s focus on sexual and reproductive care in the midst of a crisis is an example of its feminist foreign policy — an approach, first adopted in 2014, that places women and girls at the center of almost every diplomatic decision the government makes, with the ultimate aim of advancing gender equality around the world.
Six years and several raised eyebrows later, more countries are now following Sweden’s lead, raising the pressure on the United States to do the same.
What is a feminist foreign policy?
For decades, governments treated gender inequality as separate and unconnected to the “hard,” big-ticket items of trade or national security. It was instead considered a large part of “soft” diplomacy, particularly in the 1970s, when heads of state, academics, global institutions like the World Bank and nonprofit organizations started investing development and aid money into initiatives like microfinancing and small loans for women and girls, said Lyric Thompson, senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women in Washington.
The microfinancing and loans strategy, however, made up just a tiny portion of any institution’s budget and didn’t consider important factors, like whether the women on the receiving end were legally allowed to work in certain sectors or socially allowed to interact with other men, or whether they were the primary or secondary income providers in their household, meaning the funding could often be misdirected.
In 1995, the U.N. signed a declaration that officially made gender equality a global priority, thrusting it from the sidelines onto center stage and widening the lens to focus on women not in an isolated way but as part of unequal systems.
“Women’s rights are human rights,” declared the then-first lady Hillary Clinton at the U.N. conference in Beijing.
Last week marked an anniversary for Wyoming which became a state on July 10, 1890—incredibly, women had been granted the right to vote in the territory in 1869—but more than a century later, Wyoming women are underrepresented in the Equality State, according to this story in the Casper Star Tribune:
Wyoming has a proud history of women in politics. The birthplace of women’s suffrage, Wyoming notably appointed the nation’s first female justice of the peace, had the first town in the country to be governed entirely by women and elected America’s first female governor.
More recently, women held a number of key positions within the Wyoming Legislature in the 1980s and, within the past decade, both the House Minority and Majority Floor Leader positions within the Legislature were both occupied by women – a rare feat for a state body long dominated by men.
That legacy hasn’t been reflected in Wyoming recently, however, where the state’s “citizen legislature” bears little resemblance to the composition of the citizenry it serves. According to a Star-Tribune analysis last year, state lawmakers are typically older and much more affluent than the citizens of their districts, while men outnumber women by a rate of more than 5:1 despite women making up 49 percent of the state’s population.
“It basically sends a message right out of the gate that you don’t belong here,” said Jen Simon, the executive director of the nonpartisan Wyoming Women’s Action Network…
Simon hopes the group’s efforts help draw attention to the many barriers to public office that women face not just in the Equality State, but around the country. On Thursday, Simon – who also serves as a senior policy adviser with the Equality State Policy Center – hosted a forum featuring a number of key figures helping to elect more women in politics.
The panelists – which included Vote at Home Institute founder Amber McReynolds and RepresentWomen CEO Cynthia Richie Terrell – outlined a number of policy decisions that have impacted women’s ability to run for and hold office across the country, some of which could feasibly be implemented in Wyoming.
One solution, recommended by Richie Terrell, could be the return of multi-member districts, which allows voters to select numerous people to represent them in the Legislature, which could encourage voters to choose from a diverse field of candidates. These districts – which were once prevalent in Wyoming before being ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 1991 – have been shown to increase the number of women holding elected office.
Other reforms, like ranked-choice voting, have been shown to substantially increase the amount of women elected in the cities that use it.
I am very pleased to announce the release of RepresentWomen’s report on the history, impact and future of ranked choice voting for elections in the United States. A heartfelt thanks to Courtney Lamendola, Maura Reilly, and the many interns who helped to compile and analyze the data for this report.
I hope that you will read the full report—which is attached—and the executive summary which is below:
The following study provides an update to our 2016 report, The Impact of Ranked Choice Voting on Representation, which tracked how well women, people of color, and women of color fared in the 100+ ranked choice elections that took place in the California Bay Area between 2004 and 2014. We found that women (42%), people of color (60%), and women of color (22%) were more likely to win in ranked choice elections than in a plurality election.
As of 2016, women held 59% of the 53 Bay Area offices elected by ranked choice voting, and people of color held 60%.
Four years later, our research shows that ranked choice voting has continued to have a positive impact on descriptive representation in the United States, as women and people of color continue to run and win in higher numbers in ranked choice elections.
Over the last decade, 19 cities and counties used ranked choice voting to determine the outcome of their municipal elections.
Out of the 156 local-level ranked choice elections that had three or more candidates in the running, 34% (308 of 907) of all candidates were women, and 35% (109) of these women won. Of the women who won, 38% were women of color.
Overall, women won 48% (109 of 227) of the individual seats up for election. At the start of 2020, half of all mayors and nearly half (49%) of all city council members elected in cities that use ranked choice voting are women.
This report comes at a pivotal moment in the election reform movement, as Democrats opted to use ranked choice voting in five party-run presidential primaries and caucuses, Virginia Republicans used the system to nominate congressional candidates, Maine passed a law extending the use of ranked choice voting to the general election for president, and the number of localities set to use ranked choice voting in their next election has doubled to more than 20 since 2016 — with New York City among them.
In the year of the suffrage centennial, this report is even more timely, as its findings make a strong case for adopting an election system that has been proven to have a powerful impact on women’s representation and leadership.
Next Tuesday we will be discussing disparities in PAC and donor support for women candidates as part of RepresentWomen’s Summer Speaker Series—register here for the Zoom webinar sessions.
This week marked the anniversary of the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention where Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other suffragists gathered to discuss women’s equality which culminated in the adoption of the Declaration of Sentiments on July 20, 1848 which is troublingly still relevant:
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course.
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.
Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves, by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.
The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.
He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.
He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men – both natives and foreigners.
Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes, with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master – the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce; in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women – the law, in all cases, going upon the false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands.
After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.
He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.
He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.
He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education – all colleges being closed against her.
He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.
He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.
He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.
He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.
Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, – in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.
In entering upon the great work before us, we anticipate no small amount of misconception, misrepresentation, and ridicule; but we shall use every instrumentality within our power to effect our object. We shall employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf.
We hope this Convention will be followed by a series of Conventions, embracing every part of the country…
This week also marks the anniversary of the National Association of Colored Women which was founded by Mary Church Terrell, Ida B Wells, and Frances E.W. Harper on July 21, 1896:
Black women like Sojourner Truth, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, and Harriet Tubman participated in women’s rights movements throughout the nineteenth century.
Despite their efforts, Black women as a whole were often excluded from organizations and their activities. Black female reformers understood that in addition to their sex, their race significantly affected their rights and available opportunities. White suffragists and their organizations ignored the challenges that African American women faced. They chose not to integrate issues of race into their campaigns.
In the 1880s, Black reformers began organizing their own groups. In 1896, they founded the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), which became the largest federation of local black women’s clubs. (While the term “Colored Women” was a respectable term in the early twentieth century, the phrase is no longer in use today.) Suffragist Mary Church Terrell became the first president of the NACW.
Suffrage was an important goal for black female reformers. Unlike predominantly white suffrage organizations, however, the NACW advocated for a wide range of reforms to improve life for African Americans.
Jim Crow laws in the South enforced segregation. Blacks and whites attended separate schools, used separate drinking fountains, and even swore on separate Bibles in court. Black students had fewer opportunities to receive a good education, much less go to an elite college, than white students. Schools for African Americans often had old textbooks and dilapidated buildings.
The 1896 Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson supported Jim Crow laws as long as segregated facilities were “separate but equal.” But, as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case ruled, separate facilities were never equal.
And, as always, the team at RepresentWomen has compiled a list of suggested #FeministReading from Sarah Cooper, Catherine Shaw and Joan Morgan especially for you: