Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Attacks on Women in Elected Office Ramp Up; Why’d Equal Pay Day Come a Week Early This Year?

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,

The inaugural Democracy Solutions Summit hosted by RepresentWomen last week was a big success with 45 amazing women speakers, over 300 participants registered for each day, and over 17,000 views of the landing page for the Summit! 

If you missed the proceedings, you can read the full transcript and listen to the recordings for:

  • Day One: Fair Elections – Upgrading How We Vote & Finance Campaigns
  • Day Two: Fair Access: The Electoral College, Voting Rights & the Legacy of Lani Guinier 
  • Day Three: Fair Representation: House Expansion, Redistricting, Ranked Choice Voting, & the Fair Representation Act 

Our friends at FairVote captured some of the great content in this piece:

The final panel was moderated by Reflect Us Coalition CEO Tiffany Gardner, and featured Stephanie Houghton, the organizing director at FairVote Washington; Jaqueline Castaneda, the communications director of the DC Latino Caucus and advisory board member at More Voice DC; Jessica Lieberman, the program officer for American Democracy, Political and Voting Reform at the American Academy of Arts and Scien

ces; Sarah Higginbotham, the managing director of United America; and Maria Perez, co-director of Democracy Rising.  

Sarah Higginbotham spoke about her roots as an organizer and her hope and optimism for the future of reforms like RCV.

“We’re at this incredibly compelling inflection point for the work around ranked choice voting and other structural reforms, and what’s probably most compelling to me sort of strategically and politically, is how much progress we’ve made across a broad range of states.” – Sarah Higginbotham

Jessica Lieberman talked about her work creating the Our Common Purpose report, which details recommendations for building a stronger democracy. She advocated for expanding the House of Representatives by 150 members to increase representation and accountability. 

“By bringing 150 new seats into Congress, we would create a lot of opportunities to bring new faces and voices into Congress. As we have talked about earlier today, incumbency advantage is a huge barrier to electing more women and diverse voices to Congress… It also would ensure that we’re not losing progress going forward.” – Jessica Lieberman

Stephanie Houghton discussed how her role at FairVote Washington has helped her to hone her messaging surrounding RCV and its benefits, and how she handles conversations with those who disagree. 

“It can be a tough conversation, and I think anyone on this call who has tried to have a conversation with a legislator about ranked choice voting has probably come up against the same pushback and it comes from a place where in the back of their minds oftentimes, they are thinking, ‘I’m a really great representative, I don’t think I want to change the way that I got here’ … And that’s a really sensitive conversation. So, the unsolicited advice I give is, just give space for that and say this isn’t something where we’re not going to have democracy. It’s still an election, it’s just a way for your voters to actually tell you more about what they’re feeling… So, I think that there is actually a place for our legislators current and future to learn more from ranked choice voting and to really take a lesson from that.” – Stephanie Houghton

When asked about grappling with the daunting task of fixing so many issues, Maria Perez spoke about the need for grassroots organizing and the constant practice of democracy. 

“We need to become a country where everyday citizens and residents are practicing democracy every day. It’s kind of like going to the gym, you can’t ask people just to show up for election day or run a half marathon without training. We’re training every week, every day you put in your little of whatever your practices are. That is the way that we get the masses to whatever it is. It’s that civic engagement on a long, sustainable multi-generational term.” – Maria Perez 

Finally, Jaqueline Casteneda talked about grassroots operations and the difficulties of navigating voting reforms in Washington, DC.

“Education has really been a key part of that. We know that we have a lot of supporters for ranked choice voting, but we still know that we have a lot of conversations to have with others who are still not on board with thinking about how ranked choice voting will look like in DC, and that’s okay. Conversations are a great way to start discussions and I love teaching. I love learning as well, so I am ready for that fight and with the Latino Caucus, that’s what we’re doing.” – Jaqueline Casteneda

This was an amazing panel discussion preceded by two days of enlightening and inspiring conversations. We at FairVote thank RepresentWomen for organizing this summit and for facilitating dialogues about concrete steps we can take to strengthen our democracy. The women who spoke are all working to create positive and equitable change in our country, and we look forward to working with them on the solutions they discussed. 


The Women’s March in D.C. on Oct. 2. (Courtesy of the Women’s March / Kisha Bari)

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the Brennan Center’s inaugural women and democracy fellow, wrote this sobering piece on the extent to which women’s rights and a healthy democracy are linked—inextricably:

Last fall, the United States was included for the first time on the annual list of back­slid­ing demo­cra­cies published by the Inter­na­tional Insti­tute for Demo­cracy and Elect­oral Assist­ance. Broadly defined as those exhib­it­ing “gradual but signi­fic­ant weak­en­ing of checks on govern­ment and civil liber­ties, ” back­slid­ing demo­cra­cies are meas­ured by categor­ies includ­ing repres­ent­at­ive govern­ment, impar­tial admin­is­tra­tion, and parti­cip­at­ory engage­ment. The European think tank repor­ted that the United States shows signi­fic­ant lapses in effect­ive legis­lat­ive bodies and freedoms of expres­sion and assembly.

Around the same time, a sweep­ing abor­tion ban went into effect in Texas and inquir­ies about its correl­a­tion to our back­slid­ing demo­cracy were raised. The New York Times was among several news organ­iz­a­tions report­ing that such a descent is precisely when “curbs on women’s rights tend to accel­er­ate.”

However, there has been notably little discourse about the converse of this propos­i­tion: that Amer­ica’s long­stand­ing and abysmal record on myriad gender equity mark­ers has been the true harbinger for our down­graded status. Accord­ing to a United Nations report, the traject­ory of “de-demo­crat­iz­a­tion” is rarely analyzed initially through the distinct lens of gender equity and there are insuf­fi­cient efforts to system­at­ic­ally exam­ine the current implic­a­tions.

To be sure, the United States is in fact exper­i­en­cing an increase in women’s repres­ent­a­tion. Twenty-seven percent of members of Congress are now women, up 50 percent from a decade ago. On the Supreme Court, women will likely soon account for four out of nine justices, two of whom are women of color. Vice Pres­id­ent Kamala Harris is the first woman (and person of color) to serve in the role. At the state level, more than 30 percent of elec­ted exec­ut­ives are women, along with 31 percent of legis­lat­ors.  

But these raw numbers alone are an insuf­fi­cient meas­ure. Women’s lead­er­ship in the United States still lags relat­ive to much of the world. And the figures are a far cry from robust and mean­ing­ful repres­ent­a­tion, espe­cially for women of color. Today there are zero Black women in the Senate, and a Black woman has never served as state governor.


Michelle Wu, 36, is the first woman and first person of color to serve in Boston’s top office. (Twitter)

As political violence increases in the United States, women election administrators are facing daily threats while attacks on women in elected office are becoming all too frequent—this piece in AP by Sara Burnett discusses some recent examples:

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was one of the more high-profile targets of political violence when prosecutors say a group of men who were angry about restrictions imposed because of the pandemic plotted to kidnap the Democrat and hold a “trial” accusing her of what they called treason.

But the case didn’t surprise many women lawmakers or people who track such attacks. They say online and in-person abuse is a daily occurrence for female public officials and candidates, and it happens to women — especially women of color — at a far greater rate than it does men. In recent years, it has seemed to intensify.

Here’s a look at some of the incidents:

BOSTON MAYOR MICHELLE WU

Wu, who has Taiwanese heritage, has faced what the city’s elected officials of color condemned as “relentless threats of violence and hateful attacks” since she took office in November. Protests have been held almost daily outside her home, some starting in the early morning hours, with drums and bullhorns, and what fellow lawmakers described as “openly racist, anti-Asian and sexist rhetoric.”


The latest data shows women are paid just 83 cents for every dollar paid to men for the exact same work. (U.N. Women / Ryan Brown)

While all women, and women of color in particular, continue to face wage inequality, Equal Pay Day for women fell more than a week earlier than last year according to this story on NPR:

Equal Pay Day in the U.S. lands on a different day every year, and this year it turns out on average, women “only” had to work 74 extra days into 2022 to catch up to what men earned in 2021.

That day is March 15, the earliest the occasion has ever been marked.

It’s an incremental achievement – falling eight days earlier than last year – that was noted on Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, who appeared alongside players of the U.S. national women’s soccer team, which recently won a yearslong legal battle for equal working conditions and fair compensation.

“Obviously, you all have been champions in terms of your skill and your dominance in terms of women’s soccer but we are here today because you also have been leaders on an issue that affects most women and have affected most women in the workforce, and it’s the issue of pay equity,” Harris said kicking off the panel.

The soccer team reached a $24 million settlement in its class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation last month.


A clever British couple developed the @PayGapApp to highlight the gender pay gap at companies that were posting on Twitter about their commitment to equality on International Women’s Day according to this article in The Washington Post:

When Francesca Lawson and Ali Fensome, both 27, woke up in their Manchester, England, home on Tuesday morning — International Women’s Day — their Twitter account @PayGapApp had just over 2,000 followers, they said.

The pair, who are a couple, created the account last year to use government data on British companies’ gender pay gaps to call out companies tweeting about International Women’s Day.

Fensome, a software developer, built the account as a bot, writing code that leads it to perform the function listed in its Twitter bio: “Employers, if you tweet about International Women’s Day, I’ll retweet your gender pay gap,” it warns.

By the end of the day on Tuesday, @PayGapApp had gone viral, with more than 120,000 followers. It had also sent out hundreds of tweets calling out companies with information about their hourly median gender pay gaps.


President-elect of South Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, has pledged to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF) which is a reminder that such an agency exists in what many would say is a fairly traditional society. The country’s Democratic Party has mobilized against this move in the week’s since the election – gaining 39,000 new members, 72 percent of whom are women. This article in Hankyoreh describes the growing pro-woman movement:

In its objections to President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s repeated declarations of plans to abolish the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MOGEF), the Democratic Party has focused on signaling a clear emphasis on gender equality in its policy.

Its message is being read as an attempt to regroup in the wake of its election defeat, while representing the sentiments of younger women who have recently joined the party.

Yoon’s plans for abolishing the MOGEF were denounced as being “rooted in exclusion and discrimination toward women” during a meeting of Democratic Party legislators held at the National Assembly Monday for “enacting legislation for livelihoods and reform.”

Lawmaker Park Kwang-on, who heads the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee, said that Yoon had “cast aside the fundamentals of state management with his attempt to abolish the MOGEF and his statement that he does not intend to consider quotas for women on his transition committee.”

“Respect and consideration for women are a means to unite the public by establishing balance in our society and doing away with deeply rooted discrimination,” he said.


As Nigeria prepares for elections in 2023, there is renewed energy to advance women candidates and support for systemic strategies including proportional voting and gender quotas that help elect more women, as this piece reports:

For Nigeria to meet its deepest aspirations in the race to attain the Sustainable Development Goals targets, investment in women’s leadership is critical. UN Women remains resolute in our commitment to support Nigeria along this path.

“Presently, Nigeria lags behind African countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Tunisia, Senegal, Uganda and Cape Verde, which have adopted constitutions and other national laws that provide for equal rights and opportunities, including the Special Seats or Proportional Representation System.

In line with its standard-setting role as a leading democracy in Africa, it is time for Nigeria to heed the calls of half of its population and electorate, and to adopt similar measures that will ensure greater representation and participation of women in governance.


Prayer flags at a Buddhist Temple in Kathmandu, as seen on my trip to Nepal in 2019. (Cynthia Richie Terrell)

Three years ago this month I was fortunate to be part of an international summit on women’s representation in Nepal hosted by the Community Solutions Program of the U.S. State Department. During my weeks there I had the chance to meet with many women involved in politics and in elected office so I was glad to read this piece in the Kathmandu Times about increasing women’s political power in Nepal:

Sadhana Devi Pradhan made history as Nepal’s first democratically-elected local representative in 1953, two years after the end of the Rana dynasty. Since then, Nepali women have only seen very modest gains in Nepali politics. In 1992, only one in 200 elected representatives were women. More significant gains came in 1997 when women won 21 percent of local seats. In 2017, in Nepal’s first elections under the new federal constitution and largely due to reservation, women’s representation rose to almost 41 percent of local (municipal and ward level) representatives.

The upcoming 2022 local elections provide a vital opportunity to build on these gains. Women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions reflects a combination of the design of the quota system and party nomination behaviour. Averaging across parties, only 6 percent of mayoral candidates were female, and only 3.3 percent of candidates for ward chair were female in 2017. Can this change in 2022? A large number of female politicians now have substantial experience as deputy mayors and ward committee members and are eager to stand for higher positions. In a recent (December 2021) survey conducted by our research team, 63.1 percent of the 678 deputy mayors (out of all 753 deputy mayors in the country) we interviewed expressed their intention to run for mayor in the upcoming local elections.


President Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, was confirmed this week according to this story in The 19th by Mariel Padilla:

For the first time, a woman of color is the director of what President Joe Biden called “the nerve center of government.” The Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to confirm Shalanda Young’s position as the head of the Office of Management and Budget.

“As evidenced by the strong bipartisan confirmation vote she received, Shalanda Young is well known to many of us due to her years of experience on the House Appropriations Committee staff,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who supported Young’s confirmation. She added: “Shalanda is smart, fair, and knowledgeable. I look forward to working closely with her.”

The Biden administration is on track to be the most diverse as promised. In addition to Young, more than a dozen of Biden’s chosen leaders are the first in their community to hold a position, including Kamala Harris, Janet Yellen, Deb Haaland and Katherine Tai. On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order on advancing racial equity through the federal government and directed the head of OMB — the office Young now formally takes over — to coordinate these efforts in the budget and across agencies.

Young is familiar with the office: She began serving as acting director in March 2021. Her confirmation process began toward the end of last year and took about 110 days — longer than the average time it took previous administrations. It took the Senate 103 days on average to confirm a Biden nominee, 100 for Trump, 80 for Obama and 48 for Bush. Presidents are required to fill about 4,000 politically appointed positions, including more than 1,200 that require confirmation in the Senate. The process entails a formal nomination from the White House, a Senate committee hearing and then a full vote on the Senate floor to formally confirm the nomination. Young is one of nearly 300 positions that have been confirmed thus far, according to Partnership for Public Service’s tracker.


On Wednesday, March 30th, RepresentWomen is hosting a conversation about the impact of ranked choice voting in New York City with a terrific line up of experts including NY Attorney General Letitia James, MiRam Group VP Katharine Pichardo-Erskine, 21 in 21 CEO Jessica Haller, and councilmembers: Nantasha WilliamsAmanda FariasCarmen De La Rosa and Crystal Hudson.

Register for what I know will be a fascinating discussion!


As it’s Women’s History Month it’s of course a great time to celebrate some of the women in the Biden administration including: Marcia Fudge, Jennifer Granholm, Gina Raimondo, Kristen Clarke, Katherine Tai, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Avril Haines, Deb Haaland and Janet Yellen.


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


Flowering quince in my back garden.

That’s all for this week my friends,
Cynthia

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting our independent reporting and truth-telling for as little as $5 per month.

Up next:

About

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.