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!
Election results are still coming in but we know that record numbers of women won at the local, state and congressional level this week. Some highlights include increased numbers of women of color who have been elected to Congress, wins for ranked-choice voting reform allies at all levels, gender parity on the Washington D.C. city council, and wins at the local level for allies like Natalia Macker who won re-election to the Teton County Commission.
While many 2020 races remain undecided, including the presidential race, many women made herstory this week up and down the ballot. These victories include 87 women elected to statewide executive positions including 15 women of color, and at least 133 women serving in the 117th Congress with at least 43 women of color & record numbers of Republican women.
Several women made history at the state level this year including:
*Jenifer Rajkumar: a RepresentWomen board member, Rajkumar was elected to represent New York’s 38th district in the New York General Assembly. She is the first Indian American to serve in the Assembly.
*Sarah McBride: was elected to the Delaware State Senate, McBride is the first openly transgender person to serve as a State Senator in U.S. history.
*Madinah Wilson-Anton: was elected to the Delaware General Assembly, she is the first practicing Muslim to serve in the state’s legislature.
*Taylor Small: was elected to serve in the Vermont State Legislature, Small will be the first openly transgender person serving in the legislative body.
*Mauree Turner: achieved historic firsts when they were elected to the Oklahoma State Legislature. Turner is the first Muslim lawmaker elected in Oklahoma and the first non-binary state legislator in U.S. history.
*Stephanie Byers: a member of the Chickasaw Nation was elected to the Kansas State Legislature. Byers is not only the first openly transgender person elected to the legislature, but also the first transgender person of color to serve as a state legislator in U.S. history.
*Tarra Simmons: was elected to the Washington State Legislature. Simmons is the first person previously convicted of a felony to serve in the legislature. To learn more about the representation of incarcerated women and Simmons take a look at RepresentWomen’s Brief on Incarcerated Women.
The 117th Congress will include at least 132 women, with at least 107 women in the House of Representatives and 25 women in the Senate. Some of the women making herstory this year include:
*New Mexico: elected the state’s first all-woman (and all woman of color) House delegation. The delegation includes Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, Teresa Leger Fernandez, and Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation.
*Cori Bush: was elected to serve Missouri’s first Congressional district. Bush a Black Lives Matter activist is the first ever Black woman to represent the state in Congress.
*Marilyn Strickland: was elected to represent Washington’s tenth Congressional district. Strickland is the first Black woman in the State’s Congressional delegation.
*Republican women: drove many of the Republican gains in Congress this cycle, with at least 13 non-incumbent Republican women winning their elections (a record for Republican women). Some of these winners include: Kat Cammak the first Republican woman to represent Florida’s 3rd district and Cynthia Lummis the first woman elected Senator of Wyoming.
Local progress toward parity
A couple city and tribal councils achieved gender parity this week, including:
*Washington, D.C.: the city council will be majority women for the first time since the 1990s and majority Black for the first time since 2012. Wins for women include Christina Henderson’s victory in the highly contested at-large seat, Brooke Pinto in Ward 2, and Janeese Lewis George in Ward 4.
*Northern Cheyenne Tribe: elected all women to the five open tribal council seats and the Tribal presidency and vice presidency. Winners include, President-elect Donna Marie Fischer, Vice President-elect Serena Brady Wetherelt, Melissa Rae Fischer, Gwen Talawyma, Norma Gourneau, Silver Little Eagle, and Debra Waters Charette. Women now make up 70% of the Tribal Council and 100% of the Tribal executives. To learn more about Indigenous women’s political representation in the U.S. read RepresentWomen’s Brief on the State of Native Women’s Representation.
*Natalia Macker: re-won her seat on the Jackson Hole County Commission race by very wide margins. Macker’s second term goals include, improving access to childcare, funding human services and improving water quality.
Uncalled Congressional Races: Of the 36 uncalled House races, 21 feature at least one woman and three have the potential to make history for women’s firsts, including:
The California 39th: features Young Kim (R) with 90% of votes reported, Kim stands slightly ahead with 50.3% of the votes. Should Kim win, she will be the first Korean-American woman to serve in Congress.
The California 48th: features Michelle Steel (R) with 94% of votes reported Steel holds 50.4% of the vote. If she is successful, Steel like Kim will be the first Korean-American woman in Congress.
The Texas 24th: features Candace Valenzuela (D) with 88% of votes reported Valenzuela holds 47.5% of the vote compared to competitor Beth Van Duyne (R) with 48.8%. If elected Valenzuela would be the first Black Latina to serve in Congress.
Despite record numbers of women running for Congress, however, women will make up just 26 percent or 27 percent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives because we have a winner-take-all voting system that limits competition and protects incumbents.
While it’s exciting to celebrate candidates firsts and additional women elected to Congress, this election should serve as a clear reminder that we must invest in systems strategies that create more opportunities for women to win such as the Fair Representation Act and expanding the size of the House.
After all the votes are in, we will know exactly where the United States ranks internationally—but it looks like gains for women in the House of Representatives will put the U.S. either right above or right below Afghanistan.
At the risk of saying this too often, countries that have adopted fairer voting systems have elected more women to office. A shining example of this reality is New Zealand which moved from our antiquated winner take all voting system to a mixed member proportional representation system in 1993 and now ranks 20th globally for women’s representation with women making up 41 percent of Parliament.
Jacinda Ardern, elected to a second term as prime minister of New Zealand, has just appointed a diverse cabinet that includes Maori women in prominent leadership positions including the new foreign minister, Nanaia Mahuta, according to this story in The Washington Post:
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a new cabinet Monday, describing her ministers as an “incredibly diverse” group who are highly qualified for their positions and reflective of “the New Zealand that elected them.”
“I think as a country we should be proud of this,” said Ardern, 40, who has been widely praised for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The island, home to about 5 million people, went into a strict lockdown early on in the pandemic and has thus far recorded only 25 deaths. Ardern won reelection in a landslide last month, with her Labour Party taking the majority in Parliament.
Her cabinet, set to be sworn in Friday, will focus on helping the nation recover from the coronavirus pandemic. It is made up of 20 people, five of whom are Maori, the Indigenous people of New Zealand who make up more than 16 percent of the nation’s population. Eight cabinet members are women.
They include Nanaia Mahuta, who will serve as foreign minister, becoming the first woman to do so in New Zealand’s history. She was first elected to Parliament in 1996 and has also served as minister for Maori development and local government. In her new role, she will replace Winston Peters, who lost his reelection bid this year.
“She is someone who builds fantastic relationships very, very quickly, and that is one of the key jobs in a foreign affairs role,” Ardern said Monday. “You only need to look at the difficult work that she has had to conduct over, for instance, her local government portfolio, and that to me demonstrates those diplomacy skills that we need to represent New Zealand on the world stage.”
Mahuta has already made history in New Zealand’s Parliament. Four years ago, she began wearing moko kauae, a traditional Maori chin tattoo, becoming the first woman to do so while serving as a lawmaker.
There was a good piece in Borgen Magazine about the systems strategies that are being employed in Nordic countries to advance women’s representation across sectors:
For the past couple of years, Nordic countries have made phenomenal progress in elevating the status of women to ensure gender equality is achieved. In fact, all five Nordic countries—Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland and Denmark—hold the top spots in the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report for gender equality. This is largely due to women’s significant political representation and specific policies implemented that promote gender inclusivity.
Currently, most of the Nordic countries possess female leaders or prime ministers that are successfully leading their economy, especially in its recovery from COVID-19. Additionally, at least 40% of Parliaments have female leaders. In particular, 46% of Sweden’s Parliament and half of the seats in its government’s cabinet are held by women. Similarly, in Finland, more than 47% of the parliamentarians are women and currently has the world’s youngest female prime minister, Sanna Marin. Also, to ensure that women are politically represented in the government, these countries—specifically Sweden—enact quotas that motivate and prepare women for these powerful political positions.
Encouraging women to pursue political positions is crucial in narrowing the gender gap. When more women are in positions of power, they are more likely to implement legislation and policies that promote gender inclusivity. For example, the Gini coefficient metric system used to measure income inequality (where 1 is complete inequality and 0 is complete equality) calculated an average of 0.25 in Nordic countries. However, in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, income inequality is measured as above 0.30. This is because in Nordic countries female leaders encourage women to occupy jobs. In fact, an analysis made by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimated that more than 75% of women across all five Nordic countries have jobs.
Job Opportunities for Women
Many women occupy jobs in countries such as Finland and Norway because there are implemented policies that benefit women in the workforce. For example, in Finland, a law was passed where both parents are guaranteed paid parental leave for at least 14 months. With the additional paternal leave, mothers are less obliged to stay at home and are given more opportunities to obtain jobs. This incentives fathers to provide for childcare, meanwhile allowing mothers to explore jobs and career paths in the given time. Studies have shown that with this policy, countries like Sweden can see a 7% increase in the mother’s annual salary with each additional month of paternal leave taken.
Following the principle of equal pay, Iceland implemented an effective law ensuring companies prove that they provide equal pay among its employees every three years. What is especially unique about this policy is it leaves the responsibility up to the company rather than the employee, which has been proven to be ineffective in the past. Even holding the number one spot on the Economic World Forum for gender equality, Iceland still took accountability for its 16% pay gap among its employees. By ensuring that more than 25 companies abide by this recent legislation, Iceland—along with the other Nordic countries—significantly narrowed the gender gap in impendent situations, such as wage disparity.
If many other countries, such as the United States, follow Nordic countries’ examples in minimizing the gender gap, they would be able to reap the many benefits from gender equality. For example, if the United States closed its gender gap, it will be able to receive an additional $1.2 trillion into the economy. By enacting policies and providing job opportunities that promote gender inclusivity, many nations will be able to further narrow their gender gap in the future.
Ranked-choice voting was used for the first time in a state—in Maine—to tally presidential votes and was used in the U.S. Senate race there as well along with a handful of first-time uses in local elections around the country.
The ranked-choice voting team in Massachusetts ran an incredible campaign but last-minute attacks from the Republican governor and a negative editorial in the Wall Street Journal contributed to a loss. Ballots are still being counted in Alaska, so we don’t yet know the outcome of the measure for ranked-choice voting—but we do know that ranked choice voting was adopted in all five cities where it was on the ballot. There was a good write up of ballot measures in Ms. by Oliver Haug:
By 54 percent, Massachusetts voters defeated Question 2, which would have supported adopting ranked-choice voting (RCV) for “state executive officials, state legislators, federal congressional representatives and certain county offices.”
Alaska also voted on a similar initiative—Measure 2—proposing the adoption of an RCV system for certain races. However, final results for that race will likely not be known till next week (though with around 80 percent of precincts reporting at the time of this article, results are currently leaning against the measure, by a margin of 57 percent).
While a similar RCV measure made it to the ballot in North Dakota, it was removed from the ballot by the state Supreme Court prior to the election in August.
However, voters came out in support of RCV in all of the cities where it was on the ballot:
Voting reform advocates aren’t giving up hope for ranked-choice voting on a larger scale.
“I think the loss in Massachusetts and the tight race in Alaska are a reminder that working with legislators to pass RCV through the legislative process may be an effective, and certainly the most affordable, way to advance reform,” said Cynthia Richie Terrell of RepresentWomen. “It’s important to have conversations about reform with existing lawmakers to build investment in the reform and protect it from the inevitable attacks.”
RCV as a voting reform benefits women and BIPOC candidates by eliminating vote-splitting and incentivizing positive campaigning, among other benefits.
The United States is the only country in the world with the electoral college system.
Jesse Wegman, our friend at The New York Times, has a good explainer video and book on this topic. Colorado voted this week to join the National Popular Vote interstate compact. As a reminder, Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by 3 million or so votes in 2016 and Joe Biden is on track to win by an even larger number in 2020.
Gender was indeed on the ballot this week and there is a lot to celebrate but the results also confirm that there are serious deficiencies in our electoral system—from the Electoral College to winner take all voting to the inevitable partisan swings in midterm elections that will impeded serious and sustained progress toward gender parity and to that elusive more perfect union.
I am writing this blog from my hometown of Hamilton, N.Y., where I am spending a few days to attend the memorial service for my dear friend Betsy Pownall’s mother, Gertrude Pownall, who, in 1961, became the first female instructor to teach at the then all-male Colgate University.
Gert was an incredible person in many respects but I will remember especially her injunction to meet people where they are and to love generously. Those are words I aspire to live by.
Check out this week’s suggested reading that includes books by Katherine Gehl, Martha Burk and Elizabeth Rusch.