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!
RepresentWomen’s 10th Annual Gender Parity Index
This week the RepresentWomen team released the 2023 Gender Parity Index, an annual report outlining the status of women’s representation in the 50 states. Using data from local, state and national office, the GPI reveals that progress toward a gender-balanced democracy remains slow and uneven across geography, ideology and race. The United States is only halfway to gender parity, with an average state parity score of 27. At this rate, the nation will not see a gender-balanced democracy for at least another 118 years.
During a press conference for the 2023 Gender Parity Index, we asked attendees what they predicted would be the highest-ranking state. Attendees were asked to rank their predictions from what state was most likely and least likely to take the number 1 spot. The most chosen guess was New Mexico. In reality, the top spot went to Maine!
The findings of the 2023 GPI provide ample support for both pipeline initiatives and systems-level strategies that have been proven to increase women’s representation. Implementing reforms such as ranked-choice voting makes it possible to achieve gender balance, in politics, in our lifetimes.
The rankings of the GPI change every year; what stays the same is the tireless efforts of RepresentWomen researchers. Thank you to our research director, Courtney Lamendola, and our research associates, Steph Scgalia and Marvelous Maeze, for bringing our most extensive body of research to life.
Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer Broke Barriers as a Woman in Politics. Here’s Why She Is Leaving Office
In an interview for North Jersey, Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer explains why she is leaving office. Jaffer was the first Muslim woman to serve as mayor in the United States and the first of two Muslims elected to the New Jersey state legislature. As a woman of color breaking barriers in politics, her decision to not seek re-election speaks to an essential discussion on the mental, emotional and sometimes physical trauma of serving in public office that puts many women leaders at a significant safety risk.
Jaffer’s experience underscores a larger problem of harassment and bigotry that Muslim women in the public eye often face. The Assemblywoman, in her interview, talks about ways to make the journey easier for other women as they run for and serve in office.
Why did you decide to not seek re-election?
Every campaign is a commitment. It is a sacrifice for family. I just decided this was best in terms of being able to focus on my daughter and, you know, not having to subject myself and my family, including my daughter, to the type of harassment I get as a Muslim official, as a woman of color running for office.
How can we continue to encourage and support women from diverse backgrounds to enter politics?
We do need to keep encouraging women to run. We know they win at same level as men They just don’t run as often. We need to focus on sustaining that engagement and understand the pressure women from diverse backgrounds face, the types of harassment they face and make sure they have support they need.
We know they are going to get harassment. So maybe there could be team that go through social media and report things and document them so people like myself don’t have to do that, and the toll that it takes on us. Maybe have responses ready for attacks that are based someone’s ethic or religious background, provide that support system. This is something I am really dedicated to working on.I still share the same goals the same passions I’ve always had. It’s just a matter of doing it in a different space and a different role for the time being.
What are your next steps?
I’ve become chair of my local Democratic Party helping local candidates run. I want to be a part of that solution and make sure people from diverse backgrounds don’t get burnt out and have the support they need.
New Jersey has a part-time legislature, so I’ve been continuing my academic work. I teach and conduct research in South Asian studies at Princeton University. I plan to continue to focus on that work and my students.”
Kalamazoo, Mich., Approves Ranked-Choice Voting for City Commissioner and Mayoral Elections
An article by Katie Sergent reports on a ranked-choice voting (RCV) initiative in Michigan. Kalamazoo has adopted a resolution to implement RCV for mayoral and city commissioner elections. A citizen petition initiated the change, which will be executed once Michigan’s election law is amended and appropriate voting equipment is obtained.
Michigan ranks 3rd in our 2023 Gender Parity Index. Five municipalities in Michigan have shown interest in ranked-choice voting—Kalamazoo will be the first to adopt RCV in the state. RepresentWomen’s research has found that RCV helps elect more women, and we will be watching how this impacts women’s representation in the 2024 GPI:
“It’s been complicated by a couple things, because what helps people trust elections…when it’s simple, you understand it. You voted for them, that person won, you can just see that,” Mayor Anderson added.
For commissioner positions, voters would rank their candidates in order of preference, but the number of votes needed for commissioner candidates differs from those needed for mayoral candidates, officials said.
While mayoral candidates need to reach a 50% plus one margin, the number of votes required for a commissioner candidate to win would be determined based on an “election threshold.”
Any candidate whose total votes surpass the threshold would be hailed the winner, and the second-ranked choice of the winning candidate’s surplus votes beyond the threshold would be redistributed to the rest of the candidates, officials said.
Nikki Haley Fights to Stay Competitive in Crowded Republican Primary
Nikki Haley, former governor of South Carolina, entered the Republican presidential primary in February 2023. She is currently the only Republican woman running for the highest elected office. If elected, Haley would become the first woman to serve as president of the United States. While Haley’s election would be historic, her path to victory is narrow. Haley has struggled to gain public support in a crowded Republican field despite a recent advertising pledge of $13 million from a super PAC. Polls suggest that her campaign may continue to face an uphill battle:
Yet as Ms. Haley tries to occupy a lonely realm between the moderate and far-right wings of her party, her attempts to gain national traction — talking openly about her positions on abortion, taking a hard stance against transgender girls playing in girls’ sports, attacking Vice President Kamala Harris — appear to be falling flat with the Republican base at large.
Polls show Ms. Haley stuck in the low single digits in Iowa and New Hampshire and trailing Mr. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in her home state, South Carolina. Nationally, the first New York Times/Siena College poll of the 2024 campaign showed Mr. Trump carrying the support of 54 percent of likely Republican primary voters. Ms. Haley sat in a distant third, tied at 3 percent with former Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.
At an event at a vineyard in Hollis, N.H., later that day, with attendees shielded under umbrellas as rain poured from the sky, Ms. Haley expressed optimism, promising to outwork her rivals.
“Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president — that is nothing to be proud of,” she said. “We need a new generational leader.”
Ohio’s Rejection of Issue 1 is a Win for Ballot Measures, Including Ranked-Choice Voting
The politicians behind #Issue1 were trying to stop our grassroots movement for #RankedChoiceVoting. And they still are. #RCV would simply raise Ohio’s standards by requiring a MAJORITY to win an #InstantRunoff. Show Ohioans want more choice and more voice: https://t.co/bWgSt2JP1F pic.twitter.com/KEUUSGCiY8— Rank the Vote Ohio (@RankTheVoteOhio) August 9, 2023
It’s been a great week watching our allies at Rank the Vote OH celebrate the defeat of Issue 1. Although the majority of media coverage on the #SayNoToIssue1 effort focused on abortion rights, the provision on ballot measures would have an impact on the ranked-choice voting movement in Ohio as well. In a recap, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports four takeaways:
FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich noted that Republicans in several states in recent years have tried to increase the thresholds to pass ballot measures in the face of popular ballot measures pushed by the left.
Raising the threshold to 60 percent failed last year in both Arkansas (where it got 41 percent of the vote) and South Dakota (where it got just 33 percent). Raising it to 55 percent also failed in South Dakota back in 2018.
There is one state that successfully raised its threshold recently: Arizona in 2022. But the measure was narrowly about ballot measures that raised taxes. And even that seemingly much more attractive idea — who likes raising taxes? — received only 51 percent of the vote.
Perhaps voters don’t like having power taken out of their hands.
The U.S. Paradox: Leading and Lagging in Global Progress and Gender Parity
Errin Haines’ article for the 19th News delves deep into America’s standing in global gender equality, pointing out that despite significant strides at home, the U.S. ranks 21st in the Women’s Empowerment Index. There are global implications of U.S. decisions, such as the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case.
VP Kamala Harris consistently emphasizes these ties between democracy and women’s empowerment domestically and abroad. Additionally, while President Biden has enacted measures such as establishing a Gender Policy Council, this piece questions progress toward gender equality in the United States:
These moments[social wins for women] are on a continuum in the fight for gender equality, stretching back to Alice Paul’s fight for the ERA, which began just three years after she’d helped win passage of the 19th Amendment. While the law secured the right for women, the Black women who fought alongside them for their access to the franchise were largely locked out under Jim Crow America. They, along with Latinas, Asian Americans, and Native women, would have to fight for several more decades to secure the ballot.
Women were excluded from our founding documents, but the push for gender equality has been taken up by successive generations of women — and momentum is building again.
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.