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!
In anticipation of the 36 states and 3 U.S. territories that are holding gubernatorial elections this year, RepresentWomen released a report: “Gender Balanced Cabinets: Where We Stand and Why It Matters” and a brief on the “Best Practices for Promoting Gender Balanced Appointments.”
This policy bundle is intended to provide an overview of women’s representation in these important offices and a roadmap for ensuring more women hold these offices in 2023 and beyond.
More than one hundred years after women gained full citizenship rights through the 19th Amendment, women are still underrepresented in government. While it is widely known that no woman has become president, it is not only the highest executive offices where women have not had access: Women also face barriers at the state level.
Even in 2022, the vast majority of state cabinets are dominated by men. Cabinet members hold a vital position of power: running state agencies and serving as trusted advisors to the governor, helping them make important decisions. In nearly all states, most, if not all, cabinet members are appointed by the governor.
Cabinet members run departments and agencies ranging from law enforcement to the state’s education system, to social services. From the DMV to the water out of the tap, cabinet members touch citizens’ lives in countless ways everyday. States need the best and the brightest to tackle these issues, and cutting women out of the equation severely limits the candidate pool. In addition to the impressive qualifications many women bring to the table, they also bring a unique perspective shaped by their lived experiences as diverse women in those states. It is essential that women have a role in shaping these services from thelowest to the highest levels.
Furthermore, appointed positions are an important and viable pathway to party leadership and elected positions. Thus, the impact of increasing gender diversity in the cabinet not only increases women’s representation in cabinets right now, but can increase gender balance in an even wider scope for decades to come.
Black Woman Appointed to be Connecticut’s Public Defender
HISTORY: TaShun Bowden-Lewis has been appointed as Connecticut’s chief public defender. The first time a Black Woman has held the job. pic.twitter.com/mpPDTShVs9— Alexa Farrell (@AlexaNFarrell) July 5, 2022
Given RepresentWomen’s focus on the importance of appointing women to executive offices I was glad to read that TaShun Bowden-Lewis has been appointed as Connecticut’s chief public defender. She is the first Black woman to hold this office according to this piece in the Hartford Courant:
Bowden-Lewis said she understands the importance of being the first Black woman in this role for the Division of Public Defender Services, along with how having that perspective will help her execute her role differently than her predecessors. DPDS, which is an independent division of state government, represents more than 100,000 criminal, child protection, delinquency defense, and family support cases annually
“Representation matters. The statistics are very clear, (that) the majority of people in the criminal justice system are Black and brown,” she said. “We represent everybody, but to have a chief of defense who’s a … proud Black female, and a true litigator. I’ve been doing this for almost 25 years. I’ve been in the trenches. I’ve done many, many trials.
“It’s important for everyone to see that Connecticut is stepping into the 21st century and that hard work, integrity, perseverance and determination pay off. It’s important not only for people of color to understand and see that it can happen, (and) don’t ever give up, but also for everyone to understand that true merit-based situations of victories or awards still exist.”
Feminists Celebrate 50 Years of Title IX
Celebrating 50 Years of Title IX with these luminaries! We need all the feminist love we can muster right now. #TitleIX #RespectHerGame @MSMU @RepresentPledge @MSMU_LA @MsmuVp @JenSiebelNewsom @HollyJMitchell @doitinpublic @kamily @AngeMarieH pic.twitter.com/rIh0VqKhnW— Dr. Caroline Heldman (@carolineheldman) July 1, 2022
California’s first partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, joined women leaders to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX—the event was hosted by Mount Saint Mary’s University and the Representation Project:
Mount Saint Mary’s University in Los Angeles, in partnership with The Representation Project, hosted a special event on Wednesday, June 29, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark legislation that prohibits sex-based discrimination at educational institutions that receive federal funding.
An inspiring and energizing panel discussion featuring First Partner of California Jennifer Siebel Newsom, LA County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell and other thought leaders commemorated half a century of progress for gender justice in an intimate setting at the Doheny Campus of Mount Saint Mary’s.
The panelists discussed how the passage of Title IX 50 years ago created transformational opportunities in education and athletics for women across the country, and they shared how their own experiences influenced their advocacy work to advance gender equity.
“Title IX has been a catalyst for women in sports and a vital tool for addressing campus sexual violence,” said Siebel Newsom, an award-winning filmmaker and an influential thought leader on gender equality. “We still have a long way to go to achieve gender parity, but I’m hopeful that events like this and more women using their voice will help shift culture and policy in the right direction.”
Siebel Newsom founded The Representation Project in 2011, a global gender justice nonprofit organization that challenges harmful gender norms and stereotypes through films, education, research and activism. Siebel Newsom explained that sports had a great impact in her own life growing up. She played varsity tennis, basketball and soccer in high school and went on to play soccer on the under-23 national team, as well as at Stanford University. “Sports gave me so much confidence to develop my own voice. It gave me the courage and conviction to believe that I deserve to have a seat at the table like any other man.”
Feminism: From Wollstonecraft to Roe and Beyond
Rebecca Solnit wrote a thoughtful piece in The Guardian about feminism, which dates to the seminal work of Mary Wollstonecraft in the 1700s, and its impact on women’s equality around the globe:
As it happened, I was in Edinburgh the day Roe v. Wade was overturned, and the next day I caught a train back to London and did what I usually do when I get anywhere near King’s Cross station. I took the short walk to the old St Pancras churchyard to visit the tombstone of the great feminist ancestor Mary Wollstonecraft, author of that first great feminist manifesto A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. To be there that day was to remember that feminism did not start recently – Wollstonecraft died in 1797 – and it did not stop on 24 June.
Women in the US gained this right less than half a century ago – a short time when the view is from Wollstonecraft’s memorial. I have regularly heard the opinions in recent decades that feminism failed or achieved nothing or is over, which seems ignorant of how utterly different the world (or most of it) is now for women than it was that half century ago and more. I say world, because it’s important to remember that feminism is a global movement and Roe v Wade and its reversal were only national decisions.
Ireland in 2018, Argentina in 2020, Mexico in 2021 and Colombia in 2022 have all legalized abortion. So many things have changed in the last half century for women in so many countries that it would be hard to itemize them all; suffice to say that the status of women has been radically altered for the better, overall, in this span of time. Feminism is a human rights movement that endeavors to change things that are not just centuries, but in many cases millennia old, and that it is far from done and faces setbacks and resistance is neither shocking nor reason to stop.
Wollstonecraft did not even dream of votes for women – most men in the Britain of her time didn’t have voting rights either – or of many other rights we now consider ordinary, but you don’t have to go back to the eighteenth century to encounter radical inequality on the basis of gender. It was everywhere in large and small ways into recent decades – and culturally still persists in the widespread attempts to control and contain women and the prejudices women still encounter about their intellectual competence, sexuality, and equality.
New Report Tracks Women’s Representation in Cambodia
A new report from civil society organizations in Cambodia—which ranks 110th worldwide for women’s representation—shows a slight increase in the number of women candidates running for elected office, according to this article in the Phnom Penh Post:
Sonket Sereyleak, education and gender coordinator of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL), said at a June 30 press conference that despite the increases, CSOs remain concerned about the large gap between female and male candidates. Gender inequality in politics remains an issue which needs to be addressed by all stakeholders, she added.
She said the issue persists due to the lack of political will of the parties. There are no written gender equality policies within the parties, meaning there are no specific provisions which support and provide opportunities for women to participate equally with men in politics, especially in running for office.
“Cultural and social norms which attach a negative mindset to promoting women’s leadership are at the root of the problem. They create barriers to the participation of female politicians. The lack of a system that supports women does not encourage them to participate in politics,” she said.
Parliamentarians in Wales Consider Electoral Reforms
NEW: Welsh Labour backs a stronger voice for Wales.— Welsh Labour (@WelshLabour) July 2, 2022
At our recall conference in Cardiff, Welsh Labour delegates have just voted to reform our Senedd, and strengthen Welsh democracy.
Read on to find out what this means for you. pic.twitter.com/9IdqfXYdGl
Women’s representation advocates and parliamentarians in Wales are pushing for reforms to the electoral system—similar to the Fair Representation Act—that will increase the number of women serving in Parliament:
Welsh Labour have voted overwhelmingly to back a larger Senedd and reform how elections take place.
75.64% voted for the changes and 24.36% against at a special conference.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “I am delighted that Welsh Labour delegates have today decided to support Senedd reform.
“Today’s vote will strengthen Wales’ democracy, secure the future of our Senedd and ensure people across Wales are better represented – reflecting the modern Wales in which we live.”…
The Welsh parliament voted last month to rubber-stamp the reforms which will see the number of members expanded from 60 to 96.
The 32 Westminster new constituencies will be paired to create 16 large constituencies, electing six Senedd members each.
Senedd elections will also use closed proportional lists with integrated statutory gender quotas, in practice giving parties full control over their list of candidates.
‘How Long Before Science Is Gender Neutral?’
Finally, there was a very interesting podcast on the prospects for reaching gender parity in science that I think relates directly to our work to reach gender balance in politics:
And I think when we look at the numbers, and that’s why it’s so important to do so, it really gets to questions of fairness. And I think a lot of people would have a gut reaction of, well, we can’t do that. I think the point where we start to impact the position of men is the point where some people may feel very uncomfortable with some of the gender equality initiatives. But I think that really gets to the question of how do we think about fairness and advantage and who deserves a seat at the table? So I think the closer that we can look at the position of men and gender equality, that deserves some attention to get us toward more realistic solutions. And it may be that the field is sufficiently uncomfortable in reducing the number of men that we need to be looking at some of these alternative scenarios. But how do we think about additional resources? How do we think about restructuring power? These are conversations, I think, we really need to be having if the numbers are going to make people uncomfortable.
FairVote Celebrates 30 Years of Work Toward a Representative Democracy
As many of you know, my husband Rob Richie directs FairVote which he and I and many others helped to found 30 years ago! If you are in Washington, D.C., on July 25, I hope you will join us to celebrate our work to build a more perfect union and to toast the work ahead. Please use this link to RSVP—I hope to see you there!
Remember to check out this week’s suggested reading on strategies for reaching gender balance in appointed & executive office: