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!
If I close my eyes I can almost conjure up the smell of fresh croissants and Chestnut trees that line the Tuileries and imagine the determined crowd of women’s equality advocates who have gathered in Paris this week for the Generation Equality Forum convened by U.N. Women. While I can’t be there in person, it’s been great to read articles about the serious commitments being made to advance women’s representation and equality around the globe.
The Generation Equality Forum, at a summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, aims to fast-track the road to gender equality and mobilise millions of dollars to achieve the long-sought goal quickly.
“Women who simply wanted to be free to drive, who simply want not to wear a veil or to have an abortion, are threatened,” noted the French president in front of an audience of political leaders, activists and representatives of civil society.
Women deprived of freedom of speech or the freedom to vote should fight for their rights and know that the United States stands beside them.
US Vice President Kamala Harris told the forum that gender equality was paramount to strengthening democracy.
“If we want to strengthen democracy, we must fight for gender equality. Because here is the truth: Democracy is strongest when everyone participates and it is weaker when people are left out,” Harris told the summit by video link.
Two months after entering office, Harris said President Joe Biden’s administration would revitalise Washington’s partnership with UN Women, a UN body dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Melinda Gates said the Gates Foundation would direct $2.1 billion in new money to strengthening gender equality. More than half would go to sexual health and reproductive rights while $100 million would be spent on helping get women into positions of power in government and the workplace.
“Women should not only have a seat at the table, they should be in every single room where policy and decisions are being made,” Gates said.
The fight still has to continue.— Phumzile Mlambo (@phumzileunwomen) June 30, 2021
What we are doing today is to take a step forward.
We are extending the number of people who participate in gender equality.
My remarks at the Opening Ceremony of the #GenerationEquality Forum in Paris, France:https://t.co/3hIiIVgROt pic.twitter.com/EcHX36fPFo
The executive director of U.N. Women, Phumzile Miambo-Ngcuka, was among a number of powerful women’s equality advocates who spoke at the forum, according to this article by Alisha Haridasani Gupta and Emma Goldberg in The New York Times:
World leaders don’t often gather with the sole purpose of investing money in women’s advancement. They don’t even typically gather for major discussions on the issue; it seems to happen only about once every quarter-century.
The last time was in 1995 for the Beijing World Conference on Women. That was when Hillary Clinton, the first lady at the time, delivered her now-iconic “women’s rights are human rights” speech, considered so audacious back then that officials at home had advised her to soften it. China even cut off airing her speech in the convention center as she was speaking.
By the end of that summit, almost every country in the world had committed to the “full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.” It was considered groundbreaking even though activists saw the commitment as toothless.
More than two decades later — and after a pandemic that reversed many advances in gender equality — world leaders gathered in Paris on Wednesday with a heightened sense of urgency, committing to a host of new ambitious goals on gender equality. And this time, with significant financial commitments on the table.
At the Generation Equality Forum convened by U.N. Women, political leaders, corporate executives and activists unveiled a total of $40 billion to advance gender equality — most likely the largest dollar amount ever dedicated to the issue. The funding will go toward instituting hundreds of new gender-focused policy proposals on issues including gender-based violence, which spiked globally during the coronavirus pandemic, economic empowerment and access to reproductive health services.
“Women are just one-quarter of those who are managers, they are one-quarter of parliamentarians around the world, they are one-quarter of those who negotiate climate change, less than one-quarter of those who negotiate peace agreements,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of U.N. Women, said at the opening ceremony. “One-quarter isn’t equality. Equality is one-half.”
Mrs. Clinton returned to the stage and urged world leaders and activists to “continue the progress that was started and spread throughout the world 26 years ago.”
“Looking back, I believe we have made progress — not near enough — and we have to recommit ourselves to going even further,” she said.
President Emmanuel Macron of France noted that Covid-19 turned out to be “an anti-feminist virus” that pushed more women around the world into poverty, nudged more girls out of school and locked women in with their abusers.
Significant nongovernmental pledges were also announced on Wednesday. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it would put $2.1 billion toward gender equality work over five years, one of the organization’s largest-ever single commitments. The announcement cemented Ms. French Gates’s longtime focus on gender equality, which she has noted remains an underfunded area in philanthropy. The Ford Foundation committed $420 million over the next five years, with $159 million devoted to addressing gender-based violence.
The flurry of commitments announced in Paris are considered all the more remarkable because U.N. forums tend to be better known for photo opportunities, handshakes and lofty declarations, not broad-scale, catalytic action. The platform agreed to in Beijing had no real financial backing, and it involved neither the private sector nor civil society in the negotiations or the writing of the overarching priorities.
To avoid repeating that mistake, the organizers of this year’s forum devised a new system. All participants — whether U.N. member states or grass-roots activist organizations — would be required to submit clear, measurable proposals that fell under any of the six main policy areas: eliminating gender-based violence, advancing women’s economic empowerment, enhancing access to sexual and reproductive health care, increasing gender parity in private and political spheres, investing in gender-focused climate change solutions and narrowing the gender digital divide.
“We recognize that everybody’s not starting from the same starting point but everybody can make an effort based on their national capacity, and so it’s for countries to define in which areas they want to be committed,” said Delphine O, secretary general for U.N. Women’s Global Forum.
In addition to the commitment of $40 billion from governments and corporations, Melinda Gates has pledged $2.1 billion toward policies and programs to advance women’s equality over the next five years. Gates writes about the Generation Equality Forum and her commitment to investing in women:
Last year, the word “shecession” was coined to describe what was happening to the global economy. Women were nearly twice as likely as men to lose their jobs. Now, new data from the International Labor Organization (ILO) show that, based on current trends, the recovery is sexist, too. Men as a group have already regained all the jobs they lost, but women are still losing theirs. In fact, 2 million more women are expected to leave the workforce this year, adding to the 13 million in 2020.
Our foundation has been working with data partners to understand how the pandemic has affected women specifically. The upshot is this: gender equality is an economic necessity. One of the main reasons economies were so fragile in the first place was that women were marginalized. And those economies will never bounce back if their leaders continue to marginalize women.
In 1995, at the Beijing Conference on Women, thousands of activists who’d been working tirelessly for equality came together to declare unequivocally that “women’s rights are human rights.” At that conference, world leaders pledged to “take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.” But they didn’t follow up with nearly enough money or new policies, so progress has been incremental at best, and here we are again, 26 years later.
The recession and the early trends of the recovery make the case for action perfectly clear: women face structural barriers that have made them more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impacts – and eliminating these barriers will jumpstart the recovery.
For example, jobs that women tend to do more than men—restaurant server, flight attendant, hotel worker—were squeezed particularly hard by social distancing. Women already did about three quarters of the cleaning, cooking, child-rearing—the unpaid work that, according to economists, makes all paid work possible—and with schools closed and everyone staying closer to home, there’s more demand for caregiving than ever. At the same time, disruptions to health systems put important services like family planning and prenatal care out of reach for millions of women. Add it all up, and you see how various effects of the pandemic have conspired to rob women and girls of opportunity.
If the recovery is to give that opportunity back—and, just as important, create new opportunities—then we must put gender at the center. This means passing policies that specifically address key barriers: increasing women’s employment, opportunities for entrepreneurship, child and family care, and women’s health services. The impact of these policies would be massive. Implementing cash transfer programs that deliver directly to women could lift 100 million out of poverty. Providing access to childcare for women who don’t have it could mean a $3 trillion increase in global GDP. Overall, according to McKinsey, centering women in recovery efforts would grow global GDP by an estimated $13 trillion, or 16%, by 2030 – because when women thrive, so do their families and communities.
To help accelerate progress toward gender equality, our foundation will donate 2.1 billion dollars over the next five years to promote women’s economic empowerment, strengthen women and girls’ health and family planning, and support women’s leadership.
We think about economic empowerment in terms of three priorities: cash, care, and data. Cash means making sure that recovery, stimulus, and social protection money gets directly into women’s hands. Care means helping families raise children and care for sick relatives—for example, by subsidizing child care centers or offering paid family and medical leave—instead of just expecting women to do it all, unpaid. And data means making the invisible visible so that leaders and policymakers can pinpoint the needs of women and girls, develop evidence-based reforms, and monitor progress.
President and CEO of Vital Voices, Alyse Nelson, writes this week about her experience at the Generation Equality Forum and the planned opening of the Global Headquarters for Women’s Leadership scheduled for March 8, 2022:
This week I am in Paris for Generation Equality, originally planned for 2020 to commemorate the 25 year anniversary of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women. Vital Voices was established as an outcome of that historic gathering — where 189 nations and 55,000 women leaders and advocates gathered to sign the most progressive document for gender equality that the world has ever seen.
I firmly believe that equality is the greatest unfinished business of the 21st century. If we expect to solve the world’s greatest challenges — from the climate crisis to gender based violence and economic inequity — women don’t just need rights, we also need the power and voice to lead lasting change.
It’s no secret that this past year has hit women and marginalized communities the hardest. The World Economic Forum predicts that women have lost a generation of hard fought gains. But at the same time, we have seen women rise up — leading countries, communities and families forward with resilience and strength. I am deeply inspired by this rising generation of girls and young women activists who are unabashedly demanding action and accountability.
We cannot commemorate this milestone with the same old ideas and empty rhetoric — it is time for bold ideas, bold action and new voices. To that end, Vital Voices Co-Founder Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton joined women philanthropists and leaders, Diane von Furstenberg, Melinda French Gates, Sara Blakely, Kate James and many more, to formally announce our forthcoming Global Headquarters for Women’s Leadership and Digital Twin —a place where women and our allies will come together, in person and virtually, to tackle the world’s greatest challenges. This “global embassy for women” will be an epicenter of activity and innovation. Opening on International Women’s Day — March 8, 2022 — it will be a place for all women who dream about changing the world for the better to find allies, gain training, support and amplification, and we want you to be a part of it.
Serious barriers for women in politics continue in China, according to this story in Al Jazeera:
Women occupy just 9.33 percent of county-level posts as head of government or party secretary, falling to 5.29 percent in cities and 3.23 percent at the provincial level.
“As a woman, you just don’t have the resources to do other things outside of home,” Tan said. “On the demand side, those in power just don’t want women to get higher political leadership because that would threaten the status quo and the patriarchy.”
Despite the party’s “revolutionary” rhetoric, which has historically included tales of model female workers, feminism has always been subordinate to the organisation’s political and economic ambitions, explains Linda Jaivin, author of The Shortest History of China.
“From the start, the party was promoting the idea that women are strong and must be given certain rights so that they can, like men, be part of the communist project,” Jaivin said.
Indeed, one of the quotes most frequently attributed to founding father of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong – “Women hold up half the sky” – was not an inspired call for women’s rights but triggered by a collective farm that in 1953 increased its productivity threefold after giving women the same “work points” as men.
While Chinese women were given a “nominal egalitarianism” from the beginning of the Mao era, beneath the surface older practices including gender-based violence and later the preference for male children under the one-child policy persisted. China today has 34.9 million more men than women, according to its latest census report.
As China pivoted towards market reforms in the 1980s and opened its economy, practices that were thought to have been largely wiped out including concubinage, or “mistress culture”, and prostitution returned.
Today, discussions about feminism and sexual harassment are censored online while the party has also made it more difficult to divorce – with a new mandatory “cooling-off period” even in cases of domestic violence. Other problems, like unequal pay, persist as well.
Women’s representation in Algeria dropped significantly after elections held on June 12 according to this piece in Open Democracy:
On Saturday 12 June Algerians went to the polls to vote for a new parliament. This was the first election since President Bouteflika stepped down in 2019, following the mass protests referred to as the Hirak movement.
The election saw significant boycotts from much of the opposition and scepticism among large parts of the population as to the likelihood of any meaningful change. Turnout was the country’s lowest ever, confirmed to be just 23% by the National Independent Electoral Authority (ANIE), which was created in the aftermath of the 2019 protests. The low turnout damages the standing of those elected and far greater efforts will be needed to include Algerians into the political institutions in their country.
More than 20,000 candidates stood for 407 seats, representing 58 electoral regions. Just over 10,400 of these candidates came from 28 political parties, which stood with 646 lists, but an even greater number (12,086) were independents, which stood with an unprecedented 837 lists.
In certain regions polling stations were shut down due to clashes between protesters and the authorities, according to journalists.
The head of the ANIE, Mohamed Chorfi, announced results on Tuesday 15 June and the president of the Constitutional Court Kamel Fenniche confirmed and updated the results a week later on Wednesday 24 June.
The traditional nationalist parties, the National Liberation Front (FLN) and the aligned Democratic National Rally (RND), which have dominated the political scene in Algeria since its independence, took a significant hit. Though the FLN still won overall, it lost 57 seats, going from 155 to 98. Independent candidates, including many young people with no political affiliation, came in second with 84 seats. The moderate Islamist party, the Movement for a Peaceful Society (MSP), increased its voteshare to take third place, followed by the RND.
One significant change is the drop in female deputies from 35% to 8% of parliament, despite women candidates representing half of all those who stood. This may be explained by the highly patriarchal political atmosphere that accompanied the electoral campaign. Equally, officials from the ANIE pointed out to us that the candidate-selection process allowed derogations if gender quotas could not be respected. An informal directive signed by the ANIE asks delegates not to be too strict on the issue of quotas for women, instead, it seems, prioritising new quotas for young candidates.The boycott also clearly influenced the outcome, and highlighted the entrenched lack of trust between the people and political parties.
RepresentWomen partners with Inclusive America that’s doing terrific work to increase the number of women serving in cabinet-level positions and other appointed offices in Washington, D.C.
It was great to read this story in El Dia about the new legislation just introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that would require the executive branch personnel office to track and publish the demographics of political appointees. It is great to be in such good company with other organizations which support this legislation:
On June 28, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced a new bill that would require the White House office of Presidential Personnel to publish a summary of demographic information on political appointees available to the public.
The Political Appointments Inclusion and Diversity (PAID) Act would require the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to coordinate with the office of Presidential Personnel to make the information easily accessible and available for interested parties, who want to know more about an appointee’s background.
According to the bill’s text, each report published shall include self-identified data on race, ethnicity, tribal affiliation, gender, disability, sexual orientation, veteran status, and whether the appointee is over the age of 40.
“To meet the needs of the American people, our political appointees need to reflect America. The Political Appointments Inclusion and Diversity Act would shine a light on who is at the table in our government and who is not,” Rep. AOC said in a statement, “By publicly reporting on the demographics of appointees we will see where efforts need to be improved to ensure that our policymakers are not only talented, but diverse and representative of everyone in our country.”
However, the bill would not go as far as to divulge the identification of individual appointees, and will only allow for users of the Office’s site to view the type of appointee by agency or component, along with the self-identified data.
There would also be an option not to specify with respect to any such category.
AOC’s bill has earned the support of 30 organizations, including Inclusive America, Women of Color Advancing Peace and Security, Mi Familia Vota, MANA – A National Latina Organization, AAPI Victory Fund & AAPI Victory Alliance, Diversity in National Security Network, RepresentWomen, and more.
At the end of last week, the New York City Democratic mayoral primary seemed set; it looked like Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams would be the winner. But something strange happened this week. When the ranked-choice ballots were counted (after the city remedied a weird flop in which it accidentally counted 135,000 “test ballots”), the results showed Adams’ lead was much narrower than predicted: With more than 124,000 absentee ballots left to be counted, he’s only beating former NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia by fewer than 16,000 votes.
For some observers getting their first taste of what ranked-choice elections look like, the flawed counting in New York this week might not have made the best impression. But to others, there is a success story here. After months of lamentations that New York City would never be ready for a woman mayor, it’s ranked-choice voting that has brought a woman so close to the top political office in the city.
Some advocates of ranked-choice voting say that’s not a coincidence. There is evidence to suggest that ranked-choice elections are easier for nontraditional candidates, including women and people of color, to win. According to one report by RepresentWomen, an organization that advocates for election reforms to achieve gender parity in politics: “Over the last decade, 19 cities and counties used ranked choice voting to select local-level officials. … Overall, women won 48% of the individual seats up for election.”
“That’s about 20 points higher than the norm in our cities,” Cynthia Richie Terrell, author of the report, told me.
Why does ranked-choice voting help women? Terrell pointed to a few reasons. She said women, and particularly newcomers, are more comfortable asking voters to make them their second or third choice, which could end up winning them a seat under the ranked-choice voting system. Terrell also said that, in traditional winner-take-all elections, gatekeepers sometimes discourage women and people of color from entering a race in which there is already a woman or candidate of color running, citing a fear that it would split the “women’s vote” or “Black vote” and hurt the women and Black candidates already running. Ranked-choice systems, she says, seem to avoid that issue and encourage a larger, more diverse field.
Campaigning also isn’t a zero-sum game in ranked-choice elections, so typically, there are fewer negative ads. That might be particularly attractive to women candidates, who may otherwise be discouraged by the kinds of attacks they can face on the trail. (Studies suggest that women also face a higher penalty for campaign attacks.)
Did this happen in the New York primary? “There were certainly stories about people campaigning together and organizations endorsing multiple candidates for office,” Terrell said. She pointed to 21 in ‘21, an organization that works to achieve gender parity in New York City politics and went all-out embracing ranked-choice voting. The group had members use ranked-choice ballots to decide which candidates to endorse, and then educated those candidates on best campaign practices under the new system. “That’s just a great example of a grassroots organization … providing educational materials … to the candidates about good strategies, and how it’s beneficial to find common ground with your opponents, essentially,” Terrell said.
There’s a bit of irony here. Earlier in the race, after several male candidates mentioned her name as a possible deputy and their second choice for mayor, Garcia called the recognition sexist. But under ranked-choice voting, being many voters’ number-two choice can actually help a candidate. And that’s a dynamic she thinks can help women in particular. Terrell said that women who win ranked-choice elections, such as San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Maine Governor Janet Mills, “seem to toggle back and forth between articulating their vision for the city or state and then saying, you know, ‘If you’re an Andrew Yang fan, I hope you’ll rank me second.’”
Another factor that might have worked for women and people of color in New York City’s Democratic primary this year? The turnout. It was the highest it’s been since 1989. “I suspect that more women and people of color are winning overall because you just have a higher portion of the electorate engaged and having their vote count toward representation,” Terrell said.
As always, check out this week’s suggested reading from the RW team:
That’s all for this week.
Happy Independence Day!