Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: One-Third of State Legislators Are Women; Black Women Struggle Most With Student Loan Payments

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!

A new article from Quartz by Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza discusses the feminist outcomes of a four-day workweek. As the concept enters mainstream white-collar jobs, more people have been reporting on the benefits they feel. The

RepresentWomen staff is three weeks into our Summer Fridays pilot program. Four-day weeks have been used to provide flexibility to our team. While efforts to alleviate gender inequality such as four-day workweeks exist, progress remains slow. With student loan payments resuming, a new U.N. report, and an article from the UVA Center for Politics, it’s clear that gender equality and fair representation are still far from reach. 

New Gender Balance Progress Still Not Enough to Bridge Gaps

RepresentWomen’s Gender Parity Index documents and analyzes women’s representation in all 50 states and
the U.S.

A new article from the UVA Center for Politics by Carah Ong Whaley analyzes recent trends in state legislatures concerning women. The article has a series of interactive graphs that illustrate women’s representation in state legislatures over time.

The percentage of women in state legislatures has steadily increased, but the gender gap is far from being bridged. There are also regional patterns to women’s representation in state legislatures. Progress has largely been made in Northeastern and Western states rather than in Midwestern and Southern states.

RepresentWomen’s Gender Parity Index analyzes the gender makeup of the local, state and national levels of government in the U.S. Read the full 2022 report here—and stay tuned to our website for our 2023 report coming out later this summer.

Although it didn’t receive much national news media attention, women scored big in the 2022 elections for state legislative seats. As of this year, almost one-third of state legislators are women, and there is a record number of women serving in state legislatures. Maps 1 and 2 below are shaded by the percentage of women’s representation in upper and lower chambers for each state as of 2023. As Map 1 shows, Nevada has the highest percentage of women serving (61.9%) in lower legislative chambers, while Mississippi has the lowest (11%). Map 2 shows that Nevada also has the highest percentage of women in upper chambers (61.9%), while South Carolina has the lowest (10.9%).

While the increase in representation is a positive sign, there is still a significant gender gap in most states. Women have reached parity in representation in just 3 lower state legislative chambers (Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada) and in just 3 upper chambers (Arizona, New Hampshire, and Nevada). Compare that to the fact that women make up about 50.7% of the population nationally, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Women also have higher reported voter registration and voting rates than men for every federal election since 1984, according to data from the Current Population Survey.

Vice President Kamala Harris Rallies Black Voters as President Biden Calls Racism ‘Still Too Powerful’ During Juneteenth Concert at White House

This week the Biden administration celebrated Juneteenth by hosting a concert on the grounds of the White House. The show celebrated Black culture and music. The event featured performances by women singers Jennifer Hudson, Audra McDonald and Ledisi, among others.

Juneteenth, now celebrated annually on June 19, is the newest federal holiday in the United States. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans. 

Vice President Kamala Harris—the first woman, first Black person and first Asian American person, to serve in this federal executive role—opened the event and introduced 96-year-old Opal Lee, whose unwavering advocacy helped turn Juneteenth into a national holiday.

President Biden also made impassioned remarks denouncing racism during the historic event. 

Learn more about Juneteenth here.

“To me, making Juneteenth a federal holiday wasn’t just a symbolic gesture. It was a statement of fact for this country to acknowledge the origin of the original sin of slavery, to understand the war was never fought over it, it wasn’t just about a union, but it was most fundamentally about the country and freedom.”

Vice President Kamala Harris said Juneteenth is an occasion to “honor Black excellence, culture and community.”

“America is a promise — a promise of freedom, liberty and justice,” Harris said. “The story of Juneteenth as we celebrate it is a story of our ongoing fight to realize that promise. Not for some, but all.”

Student Loan Payments’ Disproportionate Impact on Black Women

Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner speaks near the U.S. Department of Education in D.C. on April 4, 2022, as organizers demand full student debt cancellation. (Leigh Vogel / Getty Images for MoveOn & Debt Collective)

As a result of the debt ceiling fiasco and resulting deal, Biden can no longer extend the pause on federal student loan payments. This disproportionately affects women generally, but Black women face even more disparities

These disparities are not for lack of qualifications, but because of deeply entrenched systemic and structural barriers, once again showing why we need to reform our political system.

[Jade Magnus] Ogunnaike, of Color of Change, points out the disproportionate burden of student loans in a 2021 poll the organization conducted. It showed that “if the Black people did not have student loan debt, 73% would have the opportunity to save for retirement, 53% will buy a home, 48% would leave a job where they’re facing discrimination, and 30% would start their own small business,” she explains. “In many ways, student loan debt is a true albatross on the ankles of young Black women and young, low-income people everywhere.”

…Black women, as a demographic, are highly educated, among the most educated in the nation. But more degrees often mean more loans, too…

“When we specifically talk about how Black women experience student loan debt, you cannot have this conversation without addressing the racial wage gap, and the racial wealth gap,” said Brittani Williams, a senior policy analyst at The Education Trust who has studied disparities in student debt

The racial wage gap refers to pay disparities: Once Black women graduate, they’re likely to make less than their white counterparts. The median wage for Black women in the U.S. is $36,303 per year, compared to $57,005 annually for white, non-Hispanic men.

Nine Out of 10 People Are Biased Against Women, Says ‘Alarming’ U.N. Report

An abortion rights demonstrator holds a sign near the U.S. Capitol during the annual Women’s March on Oct. 8, 2022, one month before the midterm elections. (Roberto Schmidt / AFP via Getty Images)

The Guardian reports on a new U.N. report which finds that bias against women is as entrenched as a decade ago, and gender equality progress has reversed. The results of this shocking report detail why it’s so important for us to address the barriers of gender inequality. Until we work to dismantle this bias, women’s quality of life will be disproportionately impacted. They will remain underrepresented in positions of authority, including elected and appointed seats worldwide.

Nine out of 10 people of all genders have a bias against women, found the Gender Social Norms Index, a figure unchanged from data collected more than a decade ago. Published by the UN development programme on Monday, it found that half of people in 80 countries believe men make better political leaders, 40% believe men are better business executives and a quarter believe it is justified for men to beat their wives. These figures, from data collected between 2017 and 2022, were largely unchanged from the previous GSNI report, published in 2020, which used data from 2005 to 2014.

“My expectation was that we would see some progress, because nine out of every 10, I mean, how can it get any worse?” said Pedro Conceição, head of UNDP’s human development report office. “And it was also a period in which we saw, for example, the #MeToo movement and a lot of visibility to the very shocking ways in which these bias norms affect women. “Unfortunately, doing this exercise has been an experience of shock after shock. The first time that we released it, I was shocked with the magnitude [of biases], and this time around I was shocked with the lack of progress.”

The biases result in barriers for women in politics, business, and work, as well as the stripping away of their rights and human rights violations, said the researchers. Despite women being more educated and skilled than ever before, there was a 39% salary gap with men, they added. “This is truly alarming and explains why the world is completely off-track in achieving gender equality by 2030,” said Anam Parvez, head of research at Oxfam GB. “In 2021, one in five women were married before they turn 18, 1.7 billion women and girls live on less than $5.50 a day, and women continue to take on three times as much unpaid care and domestic work as men around the world.

“At the current rate of progress, it will take 186 years to close gaps in legal protections. It also explains why, while there has been some progress on enacting laws that advance women’s rights, social norms continue to be deeply entrenched and pervasive.” Heidi Stöckl, a professor specialising in gender-based violence at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, said “a conscious effort and a strong commitment from all levels of society” were needed to overcome entrenched bias. But there are signs of progress, she said, with a surge in education rates in places such as Bangladesh and higher representation of women in politics and in the economy.

“We have experienced a serious backlash and rollback of women’s rights, most notably in Afghanistan but also in the western world with the election of Donald Trump or in South Korea, where an anti-feminist president was elected recently,” said Stöckl. “What makes me hopeful is that, in the majority, the younger part of the population clearly resents this backlash and is striving for an equal society.”

The UN report calls for women’s economic contributions to society to be better recognised, including unpaid work, for laws and measures that ensure political participation to be enacted, and for more action to fight stereotypes.

“These views persist because of social and cultural norms that devalue women and reinforce men’s power, control, and feelings of entitlement, as well as promoting beliefs that trivialise and normalise violence against women and even blame victims for their own abuse,” said Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition. “It is these attitudes that can drive violent acts and behaviours and we can only truly prevent this violence by shifting these attitudes.”

The Need to Build Women’s Political Power

Last week in Ms.Dr. Bonnie Stabile interviewed Dr. Maya Kornberg from our terrific ally, the Brennan Center, about the barriers women continue to face, despite record-breaking wins, along with some of the critical solutions to build women’s political power in Congress:

I spoke with her after the publication of her Newsweek op-ed earlier this year in which she elaborated on the fact that, since the 118th U.S. Congress convened in January, men named “Mike” now outnumber women two-to-one among committee chairs. The piece pushes past the truism that women are underrepresented in Congress to underscore the point that, once elected, they are even more significantly underpowered

Looking at committees in the United States and abroad, Kornberg has found a clear pattern: Even as women’s representation advances, their influence is blunted by persisting underrepresentation—not only in legislative bodies overall but in the paucity of key committee leadership roles they occupy once they hold congressional office relative to their numbers in the Chamber.

To wit, even with 29 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress, women currently have only 17 percent of committee leadership positions, considering both chairs and ranking members…

From a committee perspective, the assignments women get increasingly tell a story of how much money they can raise for their campaigns, making the finance angle tremendously important. And it is “not just how much money you’re raising for yourself,” says Kornberg, “it’s also how much money you’re raising for the party,” a facet of the issue that may be beyond what reform aimed at strengthening small donor public financing can tackle…

Addressing gender disparities in committee membership and leadership could be helped by “the institution of a requirement for more transparent and democratic processes when it comes to placing members on committees and assigning committee leadership,” said Kornberg, noting that, “along with party leadership, committee leadership is instrumental to members’ career advancement as a legislator.”

Amy Diehl and Leanne M. Dzubinski wrote a fascinating book on gender bias in the workplace. Glass Walls: Shattering the Six Gender Bias Barriers Still Holding Women Back at Work illuminates the pervasive yet invisible prejudices women face in the workplace. Check it out if you want to understand these hidden biases better!

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


RepresentWomen’s mission is to strengthen U.S. democracy by advancing reforms that break down barriers to ensure more women can run, win, serve and lead. The team engages in research to track the status of women’s representation in the U.S. and abroad, understand the underlying reasons women are underrepresented, and find evidence-based solutions to mitigate the problem.