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 House of Representatives voted this week to remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2019, according to this story on NBC News:
The House passed a resolution Wednesday to remove the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment — just weeks after a federal judge ruled that time had already run out.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said the passage of her joint resolution by a vote of 222-204 made it clear that “there can be no expiration date on equality.”
A companion joint resolution in the Senate, which was introduced by Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Ben Cardin, D-Md., faces a steeper climb; at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats for it to pass. Only four Republicans voted for the measure in the House, including Tom Reed of New York, Speier’s co-sponsor.
The amendment says: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
Virginia became the 38th state to sign off on the amendment in January 2020 — the number needed to officially make it the 28th Amendment. Opponents of the measure, which was introduced in 1972, said the window to ratify the amendment closed almost 40 years ago, citing a seven-year limit on ratification in its preamble. The deadline was later extended by three years — meaning it expired in 1982.
While the Constitution doesn’t put a time limit on states’ ratifying an amendment — the 27th Amendment took more than 200 years to become a reality — U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras of Washington, D.C., ruled this month that the deadline set in the introduction of the ERA “is just as effective as one in the text of a proposed amendment.”
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has said he is weighing his legal options, including an appeal of Contreras’ order.
President Joe Biden applauded the House’s effort. “[I]t is long past time that we enshrine the principle of gender equality in our Constitution,” Biden said, adding that “no one’s rights should be denied on account of their sex.”
The ERA vote was one of two scheduled Wednesday in the House in honor of Women’s History Month.
The House also voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2019. The vote came a day after a mass shooting in Atlanta that authorities said targeted women working at spas who appeared to be Asian.
Katherine Tai was confirmed this week—with no opposition—as U.S. Trade Representative according to this story on CNN:
The Senate confirmed Katherine Tai to serve as US trade representative on Wednesday, giving her a key role to smooth supply chains shaken by the pandemic, implement a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada and address a multitude of challenges with China. Tai, the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan, is the first woman of color to be the top US trade negotiator. The vote was 98 to 0.
Deb Haaland was confirmed this week—the first Indigenous person to be a Cabinet member—as secretary of the interior, according to this story on NPR:
Deb Haaland, a member of New Mexico’s Laguna Pueblo, has become the first Native American Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.
The Senate voted 51-40 Monday to confirm the Democratic congresswoman to lead the Interior Department, an agency that will play a crucial role in the Biden administration’s ambitious efforts to combat climate change and conserve nature.
Her confirmation is as symbolic as it is historic. For much of its history, the Interior Department was used as a tool of oppression against America’s Indigenous peoples. In addition to managing the country’s public lands, endangered species and natural resources, the department is also responsible for the government-to-government relations between the U.S. and Native American tribes.
“Indian country has shouted from the valleys, from the mountaintops, that it’s time. It’s overdue,” Sandia Pueblo tribal member Stephine Poston told NPR after Haaland was nominated.
It’s not the first time Haaland has made history. In 2018, she became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Her nomination by President Biden to lead the Interior Department was celebrated by tribal groups, environmental organizations and lawmakers who called the action long overdue.
Listen to noted academic Karen Beckwith discuss women on the Biden–Harris Cabinet in this interview on Detroit’s WDET:
President Biden has nominated the most diverse Cabinet in U.S. history. Five women have already been confirmed by the Senate, breaking the previous record of four women set by George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Along with a female vice president of color, this Cabinet is a huge step forward for women’s representation in positions of power.
“The U.S. is the only country in North America that does not have a gender parity Cabinet.” —Karen Beckwith, Professor of Political Science at Case Western Reserve University
However, looking at the Cabinets of other countries, we’re reminded that the U.S. is still behind in gender parity. Spain, France, Canada and Mexico all have Cabinets with equal gender staffing. Five out of 15 positions filled by women in the U.S. is still nowhere near equal representation.
Beckwith says women nominated for Cabinet positions face scrutiny based on their qualifications, but there are actually very few formal rules about what’s required in terms of merit for an appointment.
“To be Secretary of Energy (for instance) you don’t have to have any particular degree. The attacks on the basis of merit are often directed toward women.”
Beckwith believes that gender parity within the Cabinet should be a priority in the U.S., especially with so many qualified women in power. “We certainly have enough women already to staff a full Cabinet.”
Protests this week in the U.K. and in Australia to call attention to the violence women face have also mobilized new energy to increase the number of women serving in government and in leadership positions.
Fiona Menzies wrote this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about the need for gender quotas and other strategies to get more women into Liberal Party seats in Australia—but her argument is universal:
The first thing it needs to do is acknowledge that it is desirable to have more women in our parliaments. Sadly, I think there is still some resistance within the Liberal Party to the notion that this is a desirable goal. We need to better articulate to the doubters (usually those who see it as a threat to their own entitlement) why this is a desirable goal. In simple terms, women are 50 per cent of the population and are entitled to be part of the decision-making that affects their lives. Further, if you exclude women, you are excluding 50 per cent of the talent in this world and surely it’s in all our interests to have the best and brightest helping to solve our country’s challenges.
Once acknowledged, the party needs to concede that, at least for a period of time (maybe a decade, maybe a bit longer) it needs to employ affirmative action to build up the representation of women. Yes, the dreaded quotas. The argument against quotas is always that parliamentary candidate preselection should be based on merit. I would counter that nobody is suggesting we put unsuitable women into parliament – quotas and merit are not mutually exclusive. And there is a wealth of talented women out there who would make a superb contribution, given the chance.
Once in the parliaments, women need to be championed, just like men are: given junior roles where they can prove their abilities that will put them in contention for promotions to the ministry. Men are talking up other men all the time, anointing those on the way up. All senior Liberal MPs (men and women) need to start identifying and championing women with potential and providing them with the opportunities to demonstrate it.
Once a critical mass of women in the parliamentary and ministerial ranks is achieved, women’s participation becomes normalised, not the exception or a novelty. It will simply better reflect the community in which we live.
The new data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union / U.N. Women and discussions about accelerating progress toward women’s equality at the U.N. is fueling substantive conversations about strategies to advance women’s representation and equality, reflected in this piece by Lusy Musonda in The Mast:
In many countries, the adoption of party quotas, either voluntarily or due to a legislative requirement, has become very popular in the last few decades. This enables them come out to the public and communicate effectively with them and consequently getting recognition from the public and taking up decision making position. The implementation of gender quotas, however, is not the only tool used by political parties to advance women in politics.
The creation of women’s wings helps promote women’s interests in party policy platforms and strengthens the demand for increasing women’s representation in party nomination lists and decision-making processes. A good example is the Women’s League of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. The advocacy efforts organised by the ANC Women’s League against all forms of discrimination and gender imbalance led to the ANC resolution that one third of its representatives in Parliament must be women, which had a far reaching effect in transforming the newly-elected democratic Parliament of South Africa. The Zambian political sphere should adopt this style to ensure that women are heard by the public, and voted into power.
In conclusion, in order to have a great percentage of women participation in politics, it is important for there to be laws that are placing so much emphasis on women participation in politics. Besides, women should come to the public through social media and firmly speak their goals and intentions for the State using all possible resources they may have. Most importantly, political parties should be very supportive to women and create room for them to occupy decision-making positions. It is therefore, the responsibility of not only the women, but also the legislative body and political parties to be supportive.
Substantive conversations about strategies to advance women’s representation like the one profiled above are of course happening in many if not most countries. I am continually impressed by the sophisticated understanding of the multiple barriers women face in politics and the institutional reforms to level the playing field for women in politics that appear to be thriving in “developing” democracies.
This piece by Taiwo Ojoye in The Punch Newspaper reflects the conversation in Nigeria about strategies to get more women in positions of power:
This year, the theme for the commemoration of the Women’s Day is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. In 2000, in an attempt to ensure gender parity, the Federal Government formulated a national gender policy on women sequel to the Beijing Declaration Platform for Action of 1995. In 2006, a finer policy was produced which was premised on certain principles aimed at entrenching affirmative actions by promoting gender equality as a globally accepted development factor with particular tilt to political empowerment for sustainable development. Nigeria as a member of the United Nations signed and ratified the various relevant international instruments, treaties and conventions without reservation. These instruments have always emphasised that member nations put in place all the necessary mechanisms needed to eliminate gender discrimination, ensure equality and human dignity to all genders.
This is an important milestone. The continuing movement for gender equality holds much to the history of suffrage and the brave women and few men who fought for a fairer world for women. Relatively, we have made great strides towards gender equality but just celebrating what has been achieved is not enough when we have so much more at hand to do. The World Economic Forum tells us that if the world keeps progressing at the same rate we are, the global political empowerment gender gap (measuring the presence of women across parliaments, ministries, heads of states across the world) will only close in another one century years while gender equality amongst Heads of Government may take as much as 130 years from now. This is simply too long to wait.
The level of abuse and threatening language levelled at high profile women in the public domain and on social media are a more recent but now ubiquitous problem which is both alarming and unacceptable. The statistics in respect of the membership of the National Assembly reveal a lopsided membership of the National Assembly in favour of men. No woman has ever become a president or a vice president in Nigeria. The only female governor in Nigeria, Dame Virgy Etiaba, only functioned as Anambra State governor for six months following the impeachment of her boss, Governor Peter Obi, in 2006.
Ever since, the closest a woman has come in the corridors of power is deputy governorship. Targets and quotas are not working. The 35% Beijing affirmative policy on women quota or inclusion in political positions and appointments has largely been left unimplemented. The House of Representatives for instance consists of three per cent women translating to 11 in number out of 360 while 349 members are men amounting to 97%. In 1999, the number of women in the House of Representatives was 12, amounting to 3.3%. In 2003, it increased to 21, amounting to 5.8%, while in 2007, it increased to 23, representing 6.4%. In 2011, it was 26, representing 7.2%; in 2015, it reduced to 14, amounting to 3.9%. Political appointments and elective positions at the local government level remain 95% filled by men. This cannot be allowed to continue as these trends are outrageously dangerous. Delta State recently sworn in 25 persons as Chairmen of different local government areas but, only one is a woman.
In Nigeria, women constitute at least 49% of the population going by the 1991 census. That women have not been so represented leaves a lot to be desired. The discrimination is glaring especially for a country which has a gender equity inclusion policy and an Affirmative Action. Women representatives in executive cabinets at the federal and state levels are too little to be significant, the few who made the cabinets are still discriminated against. A certain state in eastern Nigeria once failed to appoint any woman into its cabinet until women staged protests and dragged the governor to a court of law. Nigeria must emulate a system that works.
Kaycie Goral, RepresentWomen’s communications fellow, had a piece in Ms.—the third in a four-part series—on the systems strategies necessary to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Kaycie writes about updates to legislative rules and practices that enable women to serve effectively once elected to office:
Even as the number of women in elected office grows, American political life has yet to shift from a ‘man’s world’ to a ‘woman’s and man’s world’—as predicted by Alice Paul nearly 100 years ago. The barriers women face do not end once elected, and sheer numeric increases in women’s representation are not enough to eliminate them. In order for women to serve effectively once in office, gender parity is not enough on its own; we must change legislative workplace culture and policy to welcome and retain women leaders.
City, state and national legislatures must advance their culture and norms, past the ‘old boys clubs’ that still dominate politics, as elected representatives become more diverse in terms of gender, race, ideology and age.
Structurally, women face challenges stemming from the antiquated legislation models as part-time, second jobs for influential, wealthy individuals. For many women, especially those with children or caring for other family members, the job’s financial and time burdens are too high to justify traveling long distances and being away from family.
Currently only one state, Alaska, offers state government employees child care services, which legislators must still pay for out of pocket. Despite the increasing use of proxy voting during the pandemic, policies are uneven across states and continue to impact women disproportionately, with Buffy Wicks, a member of the California Assembly, going viral earlier this year after being denied a proxy vote soon after giving birth.
Legislatures should take intentional steps to ensure women can serve effectively in their roles, adopting reforms such as:
Affordable on-site child care: Working parents, and especially mothers, face a double-burden of both child care and their paid jobs. By providing affordable and on-site child care ensures working parents can effectively serve.
Telecommuting and/or proxy voting opportunities: Especially important in the time of COVID-19 are established policies which allow elected officials to fully participate in the legislature from home if needed.
Family friendly schedules: Elected and appointed officials should not have to choose between doing their job to the best of their ability and spending time with their families. Legislatures should schedule votes, meetings and hearings with family obligations and schedules in mind.
Living wages: the annual salaries for many state and local legislators is not enough to live on, requiring elected officials to either have an additional job which allows for considerable time off, or be independently wealthy. Further research on the gender pay gap is currently being conducted by the National Conference of State Legislators.
Similar steps to ensure a fair and safe workplace for women legislators at the congressional level are already being considered by the Committee on House Administration and the director of oversight and modernization, Aubrey Neal.
At the local level, the city of Sacramento has made headlines by establishing an Office of Diversity and Equity for local government. The body has established strategic initiatives to achieve racial and gender equity in local government, including setting out a five year “Race and Gender Equity Plan” as a framework for all city departments and offices.
Our friends at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation are hosting a webinar on March 25 to discuss their new research, “Putting Sexism in Its Place on the Campaign Trail” which “unpacks voter opinions on how women candidates can respond to sexism. With more women than ever in elected office, more women are likely to face sexism on the campaign trail.”
You can register for this event here.
Kaycie Goral and RepresentWomen’s communications interns are working hard to produce videos that explain our strategies to address the structural barriers women face in politics—check out the Run video that describes the recruitment and funding targets that will help ensure more women are nominated to run.
Our House Expansion video explains why adding seats to the House of Representatives (for the 1st time in over 100 years) will create more open seats where women can run and winand will help to address the issues of money in politics and polarization that undermine our democracratic process. And in case you missed it, here is a video Kaycie made that explains how ranked choice voting helps to elect more women candidates.
Please feel encouraged to share these videos with your networks!
Don’t forget to check out this week’s suggested reading for feminists of all ages:
Quince is blooming in my yard, the daffodils are up, and my peas and spinach are growing! That’s all for this week.