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!
Dear fans of gender balance in politics,
While women’s representation has increased slightly in state houses in Virginia and New Jersey, according to data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics, the United States continues to lag behind nearly all established democracies in the percentage of women elected to office. As of January 2022, the U.S. is tied at 72nd with Egypt and the Philippines and ranked just ahead of El Salvador and Kazakhstan.
Contrary to what one might think, countries ranked above the United States are not necessarily more liberal and they don’t focus on programs that prepare individual women to run for office. Higher ranked countries have embraced systems strategies like gender quotas and proportional voting systems that are the most efficient way to create more opportunities for women to run and win as this NPR story on success for women in Mexico explains:
Mexico is known for its macho culture, and the country has now become one of the world’s leaders in gender political equality. Half of all members of Mexico’s Congress are now women, as are seven of the country’s 32 governors. But while Mexico’s glass ceiling is clearly cracking, it’s unclear whether 2021’s parity will translate into real power. NPR’s Carrie Kahn reports….
KAHN: “I’m going to be the first woman to be governor of Baja California, as well as the state’s youngest governor,” she said. Avila is also the northern border state’s first pregnant leader.
AVILA OLMEDA: (Through interpreter) I promise I will show what we women can do to break glass ceilings to participate in public life as our grandmothers and our mothers dreamed of doing.
KAHN: Avila’s political rise in the state across the border from California has been fast. She won her first election as a federal congresswoman just four years ago, then was elected mayor of the state capital and now governor. She doesn’t hesitate at all when asked if Mexico’s reliance on political gender quotas helped get her into office.KAHN: “Of course,” she says. “They helped a lot. Without them, the political parties would have never run female candidates,” says Avila in an interview with NPR. But she also quickly adds…
AVILA OLMEDA: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: “They aren’t just giving it away to us either,” she says. Avila, who holds two master’s degrees, says a long line of suffragists fought to get us where we are today. That struggle began in earnest about three decades ago.
Women hold 34 percent of seats in Parliament in both the United Kingdom and Dominica, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s ranking—the two countries are tied for 45th place globally. Both countries use the same winner-take-all voting system deemed so modern and innovative 235 years ago that the feisty framers used it as a model for the American electoral system.
Since then, most newer democracies have adopted proportional voting systems that elect higher percentages of women to office. As the chart above illustrates, Wales and Scotland both elect more women to office and both use mixed-member proportional voting. Women face many additional barriers to serving in office in the UK according to The Fawcett Society and this article in The Big Issue:
The House of Commons is currently 34 per cent female, with women making up 52 per cent of Labour MPs, and 24 percent of conservative MPs.
The Scottish government, on the other hand, has made “swift progress” with women’s representation getting closer to parity, achieving 45 per cent female representation. Unlike Westminster, the Scottish parliament uses all women shortlists which allows only women to stand in particular constituencies for particular political parties.
“I think what’s needed is almost positive discrimination. I think when women’s representation is so lacking, we need to take those clear and focused approaches to address imbalance,” Catherine Marren, co-author of the Sex & Power report, told the Big Issue.
When it comes to working in Westminster or local government, there are “lots of issues around long working hours, a split week partly in London and partly in constituencies, we need to think about accessible childcare as well,” she continued.
“And we need to address those barriers and make it a more attractive place for women to work… There’s no reason at all why we can’t do the same for our government in London.”
Gender quotas and other intentional actions are having an impact on electoral outcomes for women in Ireland, according to this story in thejournal.ie:
Although gender quotas were not in place for the last local elections, Adrian Kavanagh said the general election quotas had a knock-on impact on local selection processes as parties needed to ensure they would have enough viable, well-known female candidates for the next national election.
He said the new 40% quota for general elections from 2023 will be a big jump for the larger parties and they will need to ensure they increase their female candidates significantly ahead of that in the next local election.
“It won’t just be an issue for Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael, Sinn Féin were a few short of the 40% in the last election too and they will all be conscious of getting new female candidates involved so they have people to choose from for the 2025 election,” he said.
Gender quotas and intentional measures to advance women’s leadership were the subject of a terrific editorial in The Washington Post:
The Securities and Exchange Commission last summer approved a proposal by Nasdaq to require that most boards of directors among the exchange’s approximately 3,000 companies include at least one woman as well as at least one person of color or one LGBTQ person.
Despite howls from conservatives, somehow the world has survived.
Nasdaq’s initiative, which takes effect starting this year, was groundbreaking for a U.S. securities exchange. It is not very novel in other contexts. California already had laws mandating that public companies headquartered in the state have women and, by 2023, members of underrepresented communities on their boards. Many European countries, including Britain, Germany and Norway, where capitalism thrives, require more gender diversity than Nasdaq envisions…
…At least a dozen states, including California, have adopted or are considering laws that would set quotas to diversify corporate boards or set disclosure requirements, a means of forcing corporations that drag their feet to explain their recalcitrance. Last year, nearly 60 percent of S&P 500 firms disclosed their board members’ ethnic and racial background, more than double the rate a year earlier.
Nasdaq firms that do not comply with the new guidelines will be required to explain why — a form of naming and shaming. More progress is needed. Luckily, there are plenty of incentives for firms to make strides, and not just political and public pressure. An exhaustive study by the management consultancy McKinsey & Co. shows that companies whose boards feature more gender and ethnic diversity are more profitable than those dominated by White males.
Women will hold a majority of Cabinet posts in Chile—which ranks 35th among countries for women’s representation—according to this news roundup in The Week:
Gabriel Boric, president-elect of Chile, has announced a cabinet with women in majority. Of the 24 cabinet posts in total, he has given 14 to women.
Boric—who at the age of 35 is the youngest person to become Chile’s president—has chosen a young, inclusive and progressive team. The average age of the cabinet is 49.
Boric has made Salvador Allende’s granddaughter, Maya Fernandez Allende, defence minister. This is the best way of paying tribute to the leftist president who was overthrown by the rightist military in 1973. This is poetic justice. She will initiate reforms in the Chilean military, which has been enjoying sweetheart deals and privileges inherited from the dictatorship era. Maya Fernandez’s family lived in exile in Cuba after the Chilean military coup and she returned to Chile in 1990. Her father was a Cuban diplomat.
European Parliament President, Roberta Metsola is anti-abortion; Tanzania's Samia Hassan made sexist remarks… Why, by virtue of their gender, do we expect these individuals to further equality?— Eliza Anyangwe (@ElizaTalks) January 21, 2022
Even feminism has historically not advocated for all women https://t.co/hCYqnzkx9d
Eliza Anyangwe wrote a thought provoking piece for CNN on the appointment of Roberta Metsola as president of the European Parliament:
The appointment of a woman into a position long-held by men is often believed to be a sign; a harbinger of good things to come for other women and in the fight for gender equality. But is it ever?
On Tuesday, Roberta Metsola became the new President of the European Parliament, the youngest person ever to hold the position and just the third woman since the Parliament was established in 1952.
The ink had hardly dried on the appointment, the first 24 hours barely passed before the Maltese center-right politician was already being “grilled” about her stance on abortion rights.
It would be naïve to think Metsola wouldn’t have seen this coming. Her anti-abortion voting history made her a controversial candidate. But why do her views on sexual and reproductive health and rights matter, and not those, say, of the men who occupied the post before her?
All leaders should face public scrutiny for their views and values. But the attention Metsola is receiving — both positive (celebrating her appointment on the basis of her gender) and negative (critiquing her suitability on the basis of her position on gender issues) — reveals two assumptions: The first is that one woman breaking a glass ceiling is evidence of inevitable, imminent progress for all women. Second, that only women can or should take up feminist causes.
It is because of the first assumption that the public (or maybe just the media?) expresses shock every time a woman in the public eye upholds some patriarchal policy, or says or does something that is anti-feminist.
Here’s what “qualified” looks like. pic.twitter.com/xc8hjnZaA1— Maya Wiley (@mayawiley) January 27, 2022
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s decision to retire in June prompted former NY mayoral candidate Maya Wiley to post about the Black women who are qualified to fill the vacancy while Erin Loos Cutraro CEO of She Should Run wrote:
Today’s news that Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer will retire when its current term ends in June 2022 presents a very clear opportunity for the U.S. to inch one step closer to a future that will benefit every American. President Biden made a campaign commitment to nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and doing so would have an enormous impact on the future of equal representation.
Women make up more than half of our population yet hold just 30% of all public offices. For certain demographics, the numbers are even worse. Black women remain severely underrepresented as officeholders at the statewide executive level, holding just 1.9% of these positions.
This very obvious inequality is present even within the highest court in the federal judiciary of the United States. Of the 115 Supreme Court justices in U.S. history, 108 have been White men. Only five women have served since the Supreme Court was established in 1789. As our highest level of government overseeing the increasingly critical issues we face today, the need for more representation is crucial.
I am a huge fan of Alison Bechdel so I was excited to read this piece from Movieweb about women’s representation in cinema and the movies that pass the all-important Bechdel test:
Think of movies that have at least two named women characters who have at least one conversation together that is not about a man. Coming up with examples that have these characteristics should be relatively simple, due to the basic nature of the criteria. Yet there are approximately 45% of movies that fail this minor test. Indeed, these criteria are part of the Bechdel Test, which is used to assess gender gaps in film and evaluate the stories that are told, how they are told, and what roles women occupy in them. Popularized by cartoonist Alison Bechdel in a 1985 strip called Dykes to Watch Out For and inspired by Virginia Woolf, the test measures the representation of women in film, television, books, video games, and other forms of attention-getting storytelling. In order to pass, it is necessary to meet all three of the aforementioned criteria. However, it is important to note that passing the Bechdel test is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of women’s representation; it simply indicates the active presence of women in media as a whole, which serves as a quantifiable metric of gender equality in representation.
It is surprising to think that iconic films like Taxi Driver, the entire The Lord of the Rings saga, and even romantic films like When Harry Met Sally, La La Land or A Star is Born and many more fail the Bechdel Test. Although women are successfully conquering more and more spaces nowadays, there is still a need for greater and better representation. Therefore, in this article, let’s have a look at seven films that pass the Bechdel Test and challenge people to rethink the role of women in movies.
Save the date for RepresentWomen’s Solutions Summit to Build a 21st Century Democracy that will be held March 8–10 from 3–5 p.m.—virtually! Next week I will share links to register and more information on speakers!
Don’t forget to check out RepresentWomen’s suggested reading for this week:
That’s all for this week,