Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation; Rest in Power, Lani Guinier; NY Gov Kathy Hochul Is Shaking Things Up for Women; Black Women Are Just 6% of U.S. House

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!

Kathy Hochul is sworn in as 57th governor of New York. (New York Senate)

Dear fans of gender balance in politics,

Barbara Rodriguez wrote this interesting piece in The 19th about New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed term limit legislation that could well provide more women the chance to run and win—especially in conjunction with targeted recruitment and other reforms:

In New York City, where the new 51-member city council is women-majority for the first time ever, organizations like 21 in ‘21 intentionally focused their attention on races without incumbents. More than 30 council seats were open because of term limits.

“Open seats were the only places that we chose to play, because those were the places that we knew there was tremendous opportunity,” said Jessica Haller, executive director for the group.

Sophie Nir is executive director of Eleanor’s Legacy, which helps elect Democratic women in New York who support abortion. She applauded Hochul’s efforts, though noted in the end it will impact just a handful of offices, since term limits on legislative seats are not part of Hochul’s proposal. But Nir sees another potential benefit — a change away from what she described as “ego driven power hoarding” in statewide office in New York. That ultimately could make behind-the-scenes government work more welcoming to women.

“That will allow opportunities for a real shift in the culture of Albany,” she said. “The cultural shift is what will empower women.”

NY Governor Kathy Hochul painted by Melanie Humble.

This week Governor Hochul also announced that she is launching an Equity Agenda. Here are some of the components:

Create a Council on Gender Equity: In 2017, New York launched the Council on Women and Girls to help state policies advance women’s rights and equality. Governor Hochul will propose to transform that group into the Council on Gender Equity, expanding its scope and impact. Composed of Cabinet members and community leaders from across the state, the new Council will serve as an advisory body to the Governor, working to meet a vision of true gender equity in New York. The Council will take an intersectional approach to elevate the needs of women, girls, and transgender and gender nonconforming individuals, focusing on underserved populations and communities of color.

Protect Reproductive Access for All: Building on her ongoing commitment to protect reproductive health and rights for all New Yorkers, Governor Hochul will take additional action to ensure anyone seeking reproductive care in New York has the access they need by expanding the family planning grant program, supporting safety-net providers, and codifying insurance coverage for abortion.

Pass an Equal Rights Amendment This Session: Given the enduring inequalities that women, people of color, and other marginalized communities continue to face in employment, political representation, and economic opportunity, among other areas, New York must demonstrate its commitment to equality for all New Yorkers. Governor Hochul will work with the Legislature to pass an Equal Rights Amendment this session.

Andrea Jenkins has been elected president of the Minneapolis City Council, making her the first out transgender person to hold such a post in the U.S. (Facebook)

Writing in The Lily, Anne Branigin interviewed Andrea Jenkins about her new role as Minneapolis City Council president—the first openly trans city council president in the nation. Minneapolis used ranked-choice voting for the first time in November 2009 and as a result has elected city leaders who reflect the community over the last decade:

In a unanimous vote on Jan. 10, Jenkins was chosen by her colleagues to lead the council at a pivotal moment. She also made history, becoming the first openly transgender official in the country to lead a city council.

Minneapolis is still trying to piece itself together after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, on top of confronting the challenges facing other major American cities: the ongoing pandemic, housing shortages and increased political polarization.

The council itself has changed in recent months, becoming more racially diverse as well as more politically moderate than it was at the time of Floyd’s death.

Recognizing their shared challenges, Jenkins struck a forceful and hopeful note in her acceptance speech.

“We will reimagine, reconcile and repair the harms of the past,” Jenkins said, reading from a poem she had written for the occasion. “We are stronger than we know.”

“We will heal. We will heal. We will heal.”

Debora Juarez is the president of the Seattle City Council. (Twitter)

Sarah Grace Taylor reports in The Seattle Times that Seattle Councilmember Debora Juarez has been elected president of the Seattle City Council—becoming the first Indigenous person to hold this position:

Councilmember Debora Juarez was elected president of the Seattle City Council on Tuesday, making her the first Indigenous president in the council’s history.

The nine-person council voted unanimously at the top of their first meeting of 2022 to elect Juarez, a member of the Blackfeet Nation.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who was at one point vying for the position against Juarez, co-nominated Juarez as president, “stepping aside” to support Juarez as council president for 2022 and 2023.

“When discussing the council presidency with Councilmember Juarez, she told me about the Blackfoot Confederacy model of kinship, and acknowledgment of our humanity and the source of our power to thrive together,” Herbold said, calling for her colleagues to support Juarez.

Juarez kept her remarks brief, but thanked the council for their support, specifically praising Herbold for being “gracious and kind.”

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick. (Screenshot from CBS Miami)

Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick was elected this week to fill the seat left vacant after the death of voting system reform champion Alcee Hastings. Though she won the primary by the barest of margins, her election brings the total number of women in the House to 121 and the percentage of Black women in the U.S. House of Representatives to 6 percent—a record. Dave Weigel wrote about the race in The Washington Post:

Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick won Tuesday’s election to fill Florida’s vacant 20th Congressional District, returning her party to the 222-seat majority it held after the 2020 elections.

Cherfilus-McCormick, a 42-year old health-care company CEO, easily defeated Republican nominee Jason Mariner in a seat drawn to be safe for Democrats. She will replace the late Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D), whom she had challenged in the 2018 and 2020 primaries.

Hastings died last April after a bout of pancreatic cancer. Local Democrats have been frustrated over the 280-day gap between his passing and the special election called by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — timing that left the House majority one seat down most of the year.

The outcome, projected by the Associated Press shortly after the polls closed, was not a surprise: After early voting concluded on Sunday, registered Democrats had cast more than 38,000 of about 50,000 total early ballots. The 20th district, which connects majority-Black parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, went for President Biden by 3 to 1 in 2020. Both major parties saw the November Democratic primary — which Cherfilus-McCormick won by just five votes, after a recount — as the decisive battle for the seat.

Xiomara Castro. (Instagram)

I learned a lot about the incoming woman president of Honduras, Xiomara Castro, from this piece by Suyapa Portillo Villeda in nacla:

Women have been at the forefront of struggle in Honduras throughout its history, from fighting dictatorships to challenging political corruption to seeking civil improvements such as gender parity in politics and education. The recent presidential election of Xiomara Castro Sarmiento Zelaya of the Libertad and Refundación (Libre) party has exhilarated women from various sectors and in the diaspora. In a country battered by 12 years of impunity, corruption, and aggressive neoliberalism in the wake of the 2009 U.S.-backed coup, Castro’s victory—and her pledge to convene a National Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution—is at once a vindication and ray of hope for women’s rights and other hard-fought social struggles.

Speaking with the women in my family about this momentous win, a flurry of stories emerged. My grandmother, for instance, was a Liberal Party activist who opposed the Nationalist Party and served as a poll worker in 1954, a volunteer job that could have resulted in jail time or even death. During this time, treatment of Liberal Party members was akin to the persecution and harassment of members of Communist parties.

Former RepresentWomen intern Nazla Dakad wrote this very timely blog on women and the climate crisis on Medium:

Though it is common knowledge that low-income individuals and island-nations are significantly harmed by climate change, one large group is often overlooked: women. The reality is that women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die or be injured due to a climate disaster. Not only are their lives, belongings, and education upended by unpredictable climate disasters, rates of gender-based violence often go up following disasters. As we move forward from the Conference of Parties 26 (COP26) that just took place in Rome earlier this month, delegates must look beyond largely apolitical climate change topics like renewable energies and focus on women.

Although climate change solution research groups like Drawdown have pointed to the immense potential of increasing women’s education and access to health services to combat the climate crisis, these “women’s issues” are often put on the back burner due to their political nature. Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), a leading organization on the intersection of gender and climate, reported only 64 of the 190 National Climate Plans they analyzed even referenced gender in 2016. It is time for nations to act on two critical elements of combatting the climate crisis: the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women and the potential of women to lead on climate solutions.

…so women should drive decisions around solutions.

Join director of the Ascend FundAbbie Hodgson, on Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 12 p.m. EST for an intimate discussion among leaders of organizations working to increase women’s representation on how we can utilize Rebecca Sive’s latest book, Make Herstory Your Story, to mobilize women to run for office.” Click here to register.

Lani Guinier and Cynthia Terrell in 2018. (Courtesy)

As many of you have read by now, voting rights champion Lani Guinier died on Jan. 7—here is a snippet of a post about my relationship with Lani:

I first met Lani Guinier 40 years ago when I was in high school but I really got to know her and her seminal work on democracy in 1993 when her nomination to be assistant attorney general for civil rights was withdrawn. FairVote was a year old in 1993, and my husband Rob Richie and I were part of a very small group of reformers who advocated for the proportional voting systems that Lani supported.

Our mutual admiration grew over the years as conversations about voting system reform entered the mainstream and jurisdictions across the country adopted various forms of ranked-choice voting. Lani’s legacy is evident in the many organizations across the country now working for election reform to build a 21st century Democracy including the organization I founded RepresentWomen.

Lani’s thinking laid the groundwork for the Fair Representation Act—currently pending in Congress—that would establish ranked-choice voting in districts that elect three to five members and ensure that the House of Representatives reflects all of us. Lani was a true champion of democracy. 

Lani Guinier, painted by Melanie Humble.

Hats off to Matt Schudel at The Washington Post for writing this thoughtful obituary and to former RepresentWomen staff member Maura Reilly who wrote this terrific piece for The Fulcrum last summer on Lani Guinier’s legacy and Kristen Clarke who was confirmed as assistant attorney general for civil rights:

In Guinier’s Michigan Law Review article, “The Triumph of Tokenism: The Voting Rights Act and the Theory of Black Electoral Success,” she criticized the U.S. reliance on racially gerrymandered single-member districts and the resulting tokenistic political representation for the Black community, and she spotlighted proportional voting systems to enable all voters to be able to elect representatives of their choice. Guinier wrote, “A fair system of political representation would ensure that disadvantaged and stigmatized minority groups also provide mechanisms to have a fair chance to have their policy preferences satisfied” especially if the number of racial majority representatives continues to dwarf the minority. Additionally, Guinier criticized excessive reliance on race-conscious single-member districts that gave incentive for “residential racial separatism” and failed to accurately represent the multi-racial characteristic of many districts.

Rather than being “breathtakingly radical,” “looney,” or “anti-democratic,” Guinier’s writings simply illustrate the widely recognizable pitfalls of the single-member, winner-take-all electoral system used in the United States that continues to overrepresent cis, white men. Although Clinton withdrew her nomination in June 1993, Guinier did not go quietly. She spoke out in her own defense and earned national acclaim, saying, “I am a democratic idealist who believes that politics need not be forever seen as ‘I win, you lose,’ a dynamic in which some people are permanent monopoly winners and others are permanently excluded losers.”

Lucretia Mott, painted by Melanie Humble.

Happy belated birthday to Lucretia Mott—who was born on January 3, 1793, and died November 11, 1880. She was a Quaker abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

Alice Paul, painted by Melanie Humble.

Alice Paul—who authored and proposed the Equal Rights Amendment almost 100 years ago—was born Jan. 11, 1885, and died on July 9, 1977. She was a Quaker suffragist and author of the heartbreaking essay, “Women Will Be Real Equals in 2023.”

The Washington Post featured three new books about women who were pioneers including Shirley Chisholm, Octavia Butler and Kathlyn Kirkwood:

The new year brings three books about women who pushed against society’s old ways of doing things. One was a pioneering politician who fought for policies that are still in the news today, such as minimum-wage laws and environmental protection. Another was a writer of diverse characters and extraordinary stories. The last is a self-described “foot soldier” inspired by the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior.

Martin Luther King, painted by Melanie Humble.

Martin Luther King Jr. day is this Monday, marking King’s birthday on January 15, 1929. He died April 4, 1968.

Coretta Scott King attends a ceremony in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington on Aug. 23, 2003. (Allison Silberberg / Getty Images)

The article below by Beverly Guy-Sheftall was originally published in the Spring 2006 issue of Ms.—a few months after Coretta Scott King’s death on January 30, 2006.

While Coretta Scott King has been celebrated as a civil rights icon, her vision of “the beloved community” was bolder and more revolutionary than her husband Martin’s.

Deeply committed to racial and economic justice, as well as nonviolent social change, she was also an outspoken advocate for women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, trade unions, affirmative action, world peace, universal health care, gun control, nuclear disarmament, the enfranchisement of convicted felons, HIV/AIDS education/prevention/treatment and a broad range of other social issues that situated her outside the mainstream of American politics and the civil rights establishment. …

When we retell the story of radical African American activism in the 20th century, we can finally embrace Coretta Scott King as the truly revolutionary figure she was.

Women’s March in New York City in January 2017. (astoller / Flickr)

I read a fascinating piece on the gender gap by Thomas Edsall in The New York Times:

In “Feminist and Anti-Feminist Identification in the 21st Century United States,” Laurel Elder, Steven Greene and Mary-Kate Lizotte, political scientists at Hartwick College, North Carolina State University and Augusta University, analyzed the responses of those who identified themselves as feminists or anti-feminists in 1992 and 2016.Based on surveys conducted by American National Election Studies, Elder, Greene and Lizotte found that the total number of voters saying that they were feminists grew from 28 percent to 34 percent over that period. The growth was larger among women, 29 percent to 50 percent, than among men, 18 percent to 25 percent.Some of the biggest gains were among the young, 18-to-24-year-olds, doubling from 21 percent to 42 percent. Most striking is the data revealing the antithetical trends between women with college degrees, whose self-identification as feminist rose from 34 percent to 61 percent, in contrast to men with college degrees, whose self-identification as feminist fell from 37 percent to 35 percent.

Maya Angelou, painted by Melanie Humble.

Maya Angelou will be the first Black woman to be depicted on a quarter—the first in a series of American women to be featured—according to this article in The New York Times:

The writer and poet Maya Angelou has become the first Black woman to have her likeness depicted on the quarter, the first in a series of coins commemorating pioneering American women that began shipping this week, the U.S. Mint announced Monday.

“It is my honor to present our nation’s first circulating coins dedicated to celebrating American women and their contributions to American history,” Ventris C. Gibson, the deputy director of the Mint, said in a statement. “Maya Angelou,” she added, “used words to inspire and uplift.”

Ms. Angelou’s landmark 1969 memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” documented her childhood in the Jim Crow South and was among the first autobiographies by a 20th-century Black woman to reach a wide general readership.

In it, she writes, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Check out this week’s suggested reading from the team at RepresentWomen:

That’s all for this week my friends, 

Up next:


Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.