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!
As I wrote this missive last week I was feeling anxious about the 2020 election and what the results might mean for Americans and for all those around the globe who are impacted by policies enacted by the executive and legislative branches of the United States government.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg last Friday, and the ever-present reminders of racial and economic injustice, have turned an already-polarized election into a referendum on the rule of law and protections of our most basic rights.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will lie in state in the United States Capitol on Friday, an unusual honor for a Supreme Court justice and one that has never before been granted to a woman.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the rare distinction — which has not been bestowed since the death of William Howard Taft, who served as chief justice from 1921 to 1930, after having served as president — on Monday. She described Justice Ginsburg’s death last week as “an incalculable loss for our democracy and for all who sacrifice and strive to build a better future for our children.”
The formal ceremony at the Capitol will be open to invited guests only because of the pandemic, Ms. Pelosi’s office said.
Also out of the ordinary, Justice Ginsburg will lie in repose at the Supreme Court for two days, on Wednesday and Thursday, and her coffin will be placed under the portico at the top of the building’s front steps, a setup meant to allow for social distancing.
There have been many thoughtful tributes to the late justice—including this piece from Politico that recounts her role in the unfolding jurisprudence on women’s rights, here are some excerpts:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an accomplished advocate against gender discrimination who became one of the most revered justices in U.S. Supreme Court history, has died of complications related to pancreatic cancer. She was 87.
Only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg wrote some of the Supreme Court’s most notable opinions on gender discrimination, including the majority opinion in United States v. Virginia, a 1996 case which opened the Virginia Military Institute to women…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born Joan Ruth Bader on March 15, 1933, in Brooklyn, daughter of Nathan and Celia Amster Bader. Her kindergarten class was loaded with Joans, so she became just Ruth.
It was her mother who encouraged her to read by taking her to a public library in Brooklyn above a Chinese restaurant. “Ever since, Ruth has associated the aroma of Chinese food with the pleasure of reading,” wrote Elinor & Robert Slater in “Great Jewish Women.”
Growing up during the Holocaust, she came to identify with her fellow Jews who were persecuted by Nazi Germany. Decades later, in the anthology “I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl,” she would write: “I am a judge, born, raised, and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition….”
In the 1970s, she participated in a series of gender discrimination cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in connection with the American Civil Liberties Union and its newly created Women’s Rights Project.
At issue was that the nation’s top court had never treated laws or government policies that discriminated against women as necessarily violating a fundamental right. It didn’t help that some of the laws in question were written by male lawmakers to make it seem as if they were benefiting women, by keeping them from having to deal with difficult situations that were — in the thinking of those male lawmakers — best left to men.
“Race discrimination,” Ginsburg said at her confirmation hearing in 1993, “was immediately perceived as evil, odious and intolerable. But the response that I got from the judges before whom I argued when I talked about sex discrimination was: ‘What are you talking about? Women are treated ever so much better than men.’”
Reed v. Reed (1971), for instance, dealt with an Idaho law that gave preference to a dad over a mom in administering their late son’s estate. In 1972, she successfully advocated for Susan Struck (Struck v. Secretary of Defense), who had been told she needed to terminate her pregnancy if she wanted to stay in the Air Force, clearly an issue a man would never face.
Within the all-male Supreme Court, Ginsburg found an advocate for her viewpoint in Justice William Brennan, who had been the cornerstone of the liberal Warren Court and who was still able to sometimes build a majority on the more-conservative Burger Court. Of the six gender-discrimination cases Ginsburg argued in the 1970s, she won five.
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With Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death less than two months before the presidential election it has been impossible, even in the midst of mourning, to avoid wondering what impact the sudden vacancy will have on the election.
I think the answer is either very little impact or none at all. I say that not because the consequences of President Trump filling this vacancy are minor—they are not. Part of the reason it’s so consequential is that the nation has lost a great fighter for women’s rights. I say it because this year has been filled with unimaginable drama, none of which has managed to alter the overall shape of the race.
Have a look at the following graphic from RealClearPolitics. It shows the average of polls matching Biden against Trump. The data begins on February 1, when many in the political establishment thought Joe Biden was toast. He didn’t win one of that month’s contests until South Carolina on February 29, but he was still polling ahead of Donald Trump. In March Biden was ahead of Trump both before and after America began shutting down over the coronavirus, and as his path to locking up the nomination began in earnest. At the end of May he was ahead of Trump both before and after the killing of George Floyd. As the summer wore on and Black Lives Matter protests moved from one city to another, at times becoming violent, he was ahead of Trump. When the nominating conventions—largely virtual this year—opened and closed he was ahead of Trump. On September 22 he was 6.6% points ahead of Trump—only a 1.2% difference from the February 1 polls where he ran ahead of Trump by 5.4%…
What is the state of the race in the suburbs? Until recently, the news for Trump has not been good. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll has suburban voters breaking 60% to 35% for Biden.
But that’s a national poll. What really matters are the suburban voters in swing states. For instance, in the critical state of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee suburbs seem to be tilting towards Trump. But in the equally critical state of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia suburbs seem to be moving towards Biden.
So, the question of impact boils down to this: if the coming fight over the Supreme Court is going to affect the election, it will affect it by changing the mobilization of women voters in the suburbs. In some places it might help bring voters back to Trump, helping him win narrow victories in key states. In other places it might energize even more voters to vote for Biden. With the Supreme Court in play, abortion rights are front and center. But support for and opposition to legal abortion is so baked into our partisan preferences that it may not make much of a difference in the election. Overall support for legal abortion has been stable and high, 61%, for nearly a quarter of a century. And this holds for the suburbs as well. Suburban voters aren’t much different than urban voters in their support for legal abortion (59% support, 39% oppose).
There are other big issues before the Court: the future of Obamacare, voting rights and LGBTQ rights, to name a few. All of these issues will mobilize voters in what is shaping up to be one of the most intense elections in our lifetime. It is not at all clear that the fight over the Supreme Court vacancy, consequential as it is for our future, will be as consequential in November.
RepresentWomen has done some preliminary research into the best practices to get more women into judicial offices—while there isn’t a great deal of tracking of this critically important data we have found that women are more likely to be appointed than elected to judicial office.
Intentional actions like gender-balanced appointments and commitments to gender balance in government are central to making serious and sustained progress toward gender parity in our lifetimes. This story from Kenya caught my eye because it reveals a level of discourse and action on gender equality that is echelons above what is common in the United States:
Kenya faces a historic decision to close parliament for failing to enact rules on fair gender representation in public bodies.
Chief Justice David Maraga advised President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve the legislature after receiving six petitions on the matter. Lawmakers were supposed to have implemented the legislation by 2015, five years after Kenya adopted a new constitution that includes a requirement for more women representatives in leadership.
It’s a “brave and precedent-setting move from CJ Maraga,” said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy and international development at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. “The political class will seek to find a way to avert this, because if parliament is disbanded it will mean fresh elections.”
The constitution requires that no more than two-thirds of members of elective and appointive public bodies be of the same gender.
Kenya’s bicameral parliament falls short of the required gender ratio, according to the National Gender and Equality Commission. The National Assembly has 349 members, of which 76, or about 22%, are women, while only 21, or 31%, of the 67-member Senate are female.
Maraga’s advice leaves Kenyatta with the choice of either complying and triggering a series of by-elections, or defying him and risk having new laws challenged in court. The impasse threatens to bring Kenyatta’s legislative agenda to a halt two years before his term ends.
Women should have a greater say in tackling challenges the country faces, said Damaris Seleina Parsitau, director of the Institute of Women, Gender & Development Studies at Egerton University in Kenya’s rift valley region. “Any society that is gender inclusive is a better society,” she said.
Women’s representation advocates in the Solomon Islands have also embraced systemic strategies to advance gender balance in government according to this story in the DevPolicyBlog:
A total of 26 women stood as candidates at the 2019 Solomon Islands national general election and, for the first time since independence, two women won seats in the national parliament. While this could be perceived as a positive development, it is clear that women remain poorly represented in national politics. Baker has provided a detailed overview of women’s candidacy and their competitiveness at the 2019 election. This blog serves to complement that analysis by identifying key challenges for improving women’s political participation based on the data collected from our observation. It begins with an analysis of women’s affiliation with political parties before presenting survey results on attitudes towards women candidates and observations on women’s political campaigns.
Political parties and women candidates
Recent legislation that creates incentives for political parties to endorse women candidates has had limited success to date. The Political Parties Integrity Act 2014 introduced a number of reforms aimed at strengthening political parties, including specific measures relating to women’s political participation. In particular, it allows for the provision of a ‘special measures grant’ to any political party that supports the election of a woman into parliament. The Act also requires political parties to ‘reserve for women at least ten per cent of the total number of candidates it selects and endorses to contest an election’ (s. 48(1)). In cases where political parties receive less than 10 percent of applications from women, however, they become exempt from the need to reserve any places for women. In practice, this caveat means that political parties can easily sidestep the requirement to recruit more women.
For the 2019 election, there was significant disparity in the representation of women candidates among political parties. Only four of the 13 political parties endorsed more than the required 10 percent of women candidates. Overall, however, more women have become affiliated with political parties than in the past. In 2019, 65 percent of women candidates contested as members of political parties, close to the 69 percent that were endorsed by political parties in 2014. This was significantly higher than in 2010, before the introduction of the Act, when only 24 percent of women candidates were affiliated with parties. Despite encouraging more women to become officially endorsed by a political party, the Act has not had an impact on the overall number of women contesting national elections, which has remained similar to previous elections
Appallingly few women will have speaking roles at the UN gathering of world leaders this month. According to this story by Stephanie Fillion from PassBlue that ran on Ms., just 11 out of 196 expected speakers will be women:
The first woman scheduled to speak at this year’s opening session of the United Nations General Assembly is 53rd on the list of about 119 heads of state—President Zuzana Caputova of Slovakia—delivering her remarks on Sept. 23. The day before, the first of the big gathering, will not feature any women at all, according to a provisional agenda issued by the head of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, Movses Abelian.
Although the UN makes the schedule on a first-come-first-serve basis, some member states believe other factors are taken into account, and if so, gender should be a top consideration.
The lineup has upset at least some Western countries, so a few of those that will be represented by women—from heads of state to ministers to delegates—at this year’s debate told PassBlue they were working on an official reaction to require more women be moved up in the list. The annual session, to be held virtually with prerecorded speeches sent by world leaders because of the pandemic, coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing. It’s therefore especially painful for some countries that so few women in total—11, it appears, so far—are scheduled to speak at the “high-level” session, from Sept. 22-29.
Among the first-day speakers are leaders from Brazil, the United States, France, Chile, China, Turkey, Cuba, Russia, Iran, Qatar and South Africa — nary a woman in the mix.
“As UNGA approaches and we celebrate the 75th anniversary,”’ Isabel Saint Malo, a former vice president of Panama, told PassBlue, “I regret that a small number of women will be addressing the General Assembly. The UN, as custodian to Agenda 2030 and development objectives, should be a leading example in terms of representation and inclusion. However, what we see at the UN is parallel to representation in other spaces.”
Some countries are also trying to get more women to speak earlier in the week by asking countries to voluntarily swap places with a woman speaker. They also considered sending a letter to Secretary-General António Guterres, since one of his priorities is gender equality. A member state also apparently suggested the idea of mixing up heads of state and government, as some heads of government are de facto leaders of their country. But this idea was said to be blocked by the Group of 77, the coalition of developing countries plus China.
“It just struck me when I first took a look at the list,” a Western diplomat told PassBlue. “And what strikes me even more is that nobody really raised the issue so far.”
The diplomats who are trying to change the lineup do not want to use their names for fear of looking self-promotional, they said.
The lack of women leaders illustrates how few occupy the top jobs in national governments. In 2020, only 22 countries among the 193 UN member states have female heads of government.
A youth representative attending a United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) meeting on Monday said that addressing the issues of gender equality begins with addressing the issues of women’s leadership and representation.
“The world has for centuries dealt with the silent pandemic of sexual and gender based violence,” Akosua Adubea Agyepong coming from Ghana said in a video message at the UNGA ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations.
“The General Assembly called for the achievement of fifty fifty gender parity within the United Nations, and I must commend the exemplary leadership of the Secretary-General in achieving parity,” she said.
“The world needs the ingenuity, innovation, energy, and leadership of young people,” she added.
For the first time in U.S. history, a Black woman will be at the top of the general election ballot in 2020. As the Democratic nominee for vice president, Sen. Kamala Harris will appear on all ballots nationwide this fall.
But Black women are making history not just at the presidential level this year. With the last state primaries before November 3rd held last week, the Center for American Women and Politics reports that a record number of Black women will also be major-party nominees for the House of Representatives this year, meaning that Black women’s representation will persist down-ballot as well.
At least 61 Black women—48 Democrats and 13 Republicans—will appear on ballots across the country for Congress in November. This number is markedly higher than the previous record of 41 Black women congressional candidates set in 2018. A record number of Black women also took part in primary contests for major-party House nominations this year as well; 117 (89 Democrat, 28 Republican) women House candidates in 2020 identified as Black alone or as Black in combination with other races, up from the previous high of 80 (66 Democrats, 14 Republicans) set in 2018.
The rise in Black women’s candidacies and nominations at the congressional level indicates an important shift in political participation. While Black women have always been at the forefront of organizing and activism in U.S. politics, more are now translating that advocacy into candidacies.
I was very interested to see this advertisement in The New York Times about the work of the Knight Foundation to track the investment of leading foundations in minority and women-owned firms—here is a link to a piece on their site about the project.
There was a very interesting piece in The New York Times by Alisha Haridasani Gupta about building a gender-sensitive workplace culture in California—topics in this piece relate directly to RepresentWomen’s work to ensure that legislative rules and norms are in place that enable women to serve effectively once elected:
At age 7, Hannah-Beth Jackson — now a state senator in California — wanted to be a baseball player.
But because she was a girl, she wasn’t allowed to join the Little League, even though she was among the best players.
“At the time, girls were really encouraged to play with tea sets and dolls, which I found incredibly boring,” she said in a phone interview.
Baseball wasn’t to be, but it spurred Ms. Jackson to try to eliminate gender-based barriers over her decades-long career — first as an attorney, and later as an elected official.
In 2015, she wrote the California Fair Pay Act, which has been described by legal experts as the country’s most aggressive equal pay protection law, placing the burden on employers to prove that gender is not the reason for pay discrepancies among employees doing “substantially similar work.”
In 2018, Ms. Jackson wrote a bill requiring companies headquartered in California to add more women to their boards, or risk a fine of at least $100,000. Though that law faced immense pushback, with some claiming it amounts to discrimination, it also set off ripples across the country, prompting other states to consider similar laws, and private companies and established investors, like Goldman Sachs, to push for board diversity. In the months immediately after the law went into effect, more than 90 percent of companies in California had at least one female board director.
This year, Ms. Jackson proposed a new bill that would expand family leave to more workers. It was brought to a vote on Aug. 31, the last day of California’s legislative session, and there were concerns that it might not pass among some lawmakers who were worried it would further burden small businesses already in crisis mode.
It was so close that California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who was on maternity leave and had been denied a proxy vote, traveled from Oakland to Sacramento with her month-old baby to vote in person.
It was over a year ago that my husband and I ran into Senator Elizabeth Warren fairly late at night walking down a deserted DC street with her husband—we were returning to our car from a play and they were walking their dog.
We chatted about a number of things that night including ranked choice voting. She was pretty unfamiliar with the concept that night—but I am thrilled to report that she has endorsed it fully now recording this video with Maura Healey in support of the Yes On 2 campaign in Massachusetts and penning this op-ed with my dear friend and member of Congress Jamie Raskin in the Boston Globe:
To defend our democracy, we need to fortify it. One way is by strengthening the principle of majority rule while defending and protecting the rights of all individuals, including those in the minority. Massachusetts voters have a chance to do just that in November by approving ranked-choice voting on Question 2.
Although many people believe that majority rule is a core part of what it means to be a democracy, numerous examples show why this isn’t the case in the American system of government. In two of the last five presidential elections, the antiquated Electoral College system has propelled two popular-vote losers (George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016) to the Oval Office. The Senate is still tied up in knots with the anti-majoritarian filibuster rule. And, in far too many other races, elected officials win not because they actually earn anything near a majority of the votes but because they collect a few more votes than the runners-up. That is how the current plurality system works.
To fix this, communities across the country — from Maine to California, and even here in Amherst and Cambridge — have taken steps to safeguard our democracy by adopting ranked-choice voting.
So how does ranked-choice voting work? Under the current plurality system, each voter is allowed to vote for only one candidate, and the candidate who receives the most votes is elected — period. That works fine when only two candidates are on the ballot. But in a big field of candidates, particularly in a primary, this means that someone with 30, 20, or even 10 percent of the vote could be declared the winner simply because the remaining 70, 80 or 90 percent of the votes are scattered to many different candidates.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank their choices among as many of the candidates as they want, and no candidate is declared the winner until someone receives more than 50 percent of the votes. The ballots are counted for everyone’s first choice. If no one has a majority, the votes for the candidate who finished last are then distributed to voters’ second-ranked candidate. If a candidate breaks the 50 percent threshold, the winner is declared. If not, then the votes of the remaining candidate at the bottom are reallocated to those voters’ next choice — and so on until someone gets a majority.
By requiring the winner to reach more than 50 percent of the vote, ranked-choice voting ensures the winning candidate is the one with the broadest appeal to the majority of voters. The ability to mobilize the broadest and deepest appeal across the electorate would replace the ability to target a passionate minority constituency, which may be extreme or nonrepresentative from the standpoint of most voters as the key to winning.
Today’s elections host some of the largest and most diverse candidate fields — and that’s great. But in the current plurality system, large fields split up common voting blocs. So most voters might overwhelmingly prefer to elect identified environmentalists to their town council, and a dozen environmentalists might show up to vie for that spot — but as the green dozen divides up the majority of votes, a single pro-fossil-fuel candidate who stirs up antienvironmental sentiment could win with only a small fraction of total votes cast.
Ranked-choice voting has another remarkable virtue: Everywhere it has been adopted, it has replaced the politics of personal destruction with positive coalition politics. If two like-minded candidates are running against each other in a large field, they are more likely to work for the second and third choices of their opponent’s supporters by appealing to what they have in common rather than focusing on divisive issues.
For everyone who worries that they won’t know enough about every candidate to rank multiple candidates, they can leave the other options blank. If that voter’s choices don’t make it into the final round, then that voter is no worse off under RCV than under the current system.
Ranked-choice voting can make our elections more positive and require successful candidates to build broad coalitions. It can ensure that everyone’s vote counts and open the door to elections that more fairly represent the electorate. Most important, ranked-choice voting can make sure that the winning candidates have successfully appealed to the majority of the voters. That’s a stronger democracy.
I harvested cherry tomatoes today. Just another week or so for the remaining ones to ripen before the nights are too cold in the D.C. suburbs. I also made grape jelly, raspberry jam and pickled green beans—it’s a lovely time of year despite the heady electoral winds buffeting us.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out this week’s suggested feminist reading from the team at RepresentWomen!
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