Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Michigan Leads the Way to Gender-Balanced Democracy; Wins for Native Women

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!

It’s almost the weekend, which means it’s time for our Weekend Reading series—so pour yourself a glass of wine, curl up under that blanket, and catch up on the latest in women’s representation in the U.S. and abroad.

This week we bring you good news out of Michigan and Utah, a delightful story about women park rangers in Indonesia, a celebration of Native women’s representation, and good news for the electoral reform movement in the United States. Cheers to a hope-inducing November!

Michigan Continues to Lead the Way to a Gender-Balanced Democracy

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Adam Schultz)

In 2018, Michigan elected an all-women state executive slate (Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson), and reelected these women in 2022. As of the recent November 2023 elections, Michigan’s state legislature is roughly 40 percent women, and ranked-choice voting (RCV) passed in three Michigan cities—all of them including proportional representation provisions. 

Laura Gibbons of Bridge Detroit breaks down what this could mean for women’s representation in 2024, and the role of candidate groups like our friends at Vote Run LeadThe Ascend Fund, and EMILY’s List:

It would take 17 more women for a majority-female Legislature, a number advocates say is within reach…

Women officeholders don’t just provide parity — they bring new perspectives and push for different types of legislation than their male counterparts, advocates say.

In Nevada, lawmakers and observers told The 19th News that a majority-women legislature has changed the political agenda, with lawmakers taking up policies to implement paid sick leave, expand abortion access and protections for pregnant workers, assist domestic violence and sexual assault victims and approve the Equal Rights Amendment… 

This month, Vote Run Lead Action, an offshoot of Vote Run Lead, hosted 150 women from around the country in Detroit for a three-day training program in what it takes to run a political campaign…

“It’s demystifying some of that process, and really letting them know that they have so many transferable skills from other areas…and then surrounding them with a community of other women who will be able to fill in the gaps and maybe hold their hand and drive resources,” Vilardi said.


Representative Celeste Maloy Is the Fifth Woman in History to Represent Utah in U.S. Congress

Rep. Celeste Maloy (R-Utah) with Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.).

Although women’s representation in politics is on the rise, gains have not been equally distributed across political parties. While Democrats have experienced significant progress towards gender parity, Republican women are trailing far behind. 

On Nov. 21, however, Utah’s Second Congressional District held a special election to replace Rep. Chris Steward, who resigned earlier this year. Despite being a relatively unknown candidate, Republican Rep. Celeste Maloy won this seat, becoming the fifth female congressional representative in Utah’s history and the first since 2019.

In an article published by The Associated PressMead Gruver and Jesse Bedayn shared that Maloy is hoping to help unite Congress and mitigate infighting over federal spending.

Republican Celeste Maloy won a Utah special election Tuesday to replace her former boss, U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, in a race that will put a woman back among Utah’s five-member congressional delegation for the first time since 2019.

Maloy beat state Sen. Kathleen Riebe, who as minority whip is the Utah Senate’s second-ranking Democrat…

Maloy will be only the fifth woman in history to represent Utah in the U.S. House. The most recent was Mia Love, who served from 2015-2019 and was the state’s first Black congresswoman. Utah has never had a woman in the U.S. Senate…

Maloy will enter a U.S. House of Representatives controlled by Republicans who in recent months have been roiled by infighting over government spending.

“I know Congress is a bit of a mess right now and I feel like I can go and be helpful, and be a good solid member who is even keeled and low drama,” Maloy said after her victory.

While she thinks the heated debates over spending are good, she said she’s hoping she can be “a uniter in the conference.”


Female Rangers ‘Don’t Go All Alpha Like the Men’ to Protect a Forest

At RepresentWomen, we know that one key reason that representation matters is that women lead differently. Electing more women to government is not only about seeing more women in the seats, it’s about shifting the paradigm of what political leadership looks, acts, and sounds like. 

We loved this piece from Muktita Suhartono in The New York Times this week that tells the story of women rangers in a tropical forest in Indonesia and how they approach challenges in new and effective ways.

…in Indonesia, where patriarchal culture is deeply rooted, women’s roles are habitually diminished, and women are often overlooked in many fields of work. Being a ranger is considered a man’s job and thus taboo for women in Aceh, where Islam is the dominant religion and which is the only Indonesian province to have implemented Shariah law.

“Even though, most often, women are the ones who feel the direct impact from environmental loss and climate change, there was a lot of resistance when we brought up the idea of creating a women ranger team,” said Rubama, a community conservation officer for the Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh Foundation, which funds the ranger initiative…

When they do come across people encroaching on the forest — whether would-be farmers or loggers — it is the women rangers who first engage and look to de-escalate the situation.

“Whenever we come face-to-face with encroachers, the men will tell us to take the lead and talk to them,” Asmia said.

Often, the trespassers are from the area and known to at least some of the rangers. Instead of confronting them, the female rangers ask the intruders to sit with them and start a conversation.

“When we meet them, we start with small chitchat while offering some snacks and coffee,” said Lia. “We don’t go all alpha like the men, thus the situation never heightens…”

Despite the hard work, and even the occasional online bullying, the female rangers say they are proud of, and committed to, their efforts.

“If not us, then who? Let them talk,” said Lia. “We will stay strong.” She added, “You have to really love mother nature to commit to do this.”


Native Women Are Shattering Barriers for Indigenous Peoples in Politics

Did you know that, long before women’s suffrage and centuries before European nations stumbled across America, women’s equality and leadership thrived among many Native American nations? In fact, William Penn drew inspiration from the Haudenosaunee tribe to develop a governance framework that would respond to the people, accommodate dissent, and evolve with the changing times, and used this framework to found the Providence of Pennsylvania in 1681.

This Native American Heritage Month, we are pleased to celebrate wins for Native women across the country. Anathea Chino, Co-founder and Executive Director of Advance Native Political Leadership, reports in this piece in Gender on the Ballot:

2018 was a year of incredible firsts for Native women in politics. Voters elected the first two Native women to Congress in our history. Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo, Jemez Pueblo) was elected to represent New Mexico’s first congressional district, and Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) was elected to represent KS-03, also becoming the first openly LGBTQ+ congressperson from Kansas. Haaland went on to become the first Native cabinet secretary in history when President Biden appointed her U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

That same year, Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Band of Ojibwe) was elected Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, becoming the highest-ranking Native woman in state executive office. Flanagan is only the second Native woman in history to win a statewide election to an executive office, following Denise Juneau (Mandan, Hidatsa, Blackfeet), who was elected Superintendent of Public Instruction in Montana in 2008.

These leaders have shown that Native women can not only win competitive elections, but that they can be powerful advocates for Native communities…

Native candidates face daunting challenges when running for office, like not having access to networks that provide mentorship, technical expertise, and fundraising support. Candidates also face racism, sexism, and harassment on the campaign trail. Despite this, Native women and non-binary candidates have shown tremendous resilience in continuing to fight for representation for their communities.


Americans Are Interested in Electoral Reform

Our allies over at Protect Democracy published a great piece on Americans’ views of our current electoral system and the best ways to talk about voting reform, citing data from a recent poll created by Citizen Data (an organization led by the terrific Mindy Finn). Sohini Desai, a Communications staff member at Protect Democracy, highlighted the need for changes like proportional ranked-choice voting, that the poll reinforces. 

According to the poll, two-thirds wish they had more political parties to choose from. Less than half feel closely represented by their congressperson, and two-thirds don’t feel represented by Congress as a whole. These results hold true across the ideological spectrum — a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents feel under-represented…

The poll also reveals that Americans are quick to understand that the way we elect our representatives results in under-representation, and are therefore open to changing our electoral system…

Though it’s true that American voters are unsatisfied with the outcomes of our current system, most (in this poll, 59%) have never even heard of proportional representation. To gauge potential support, Citizen Data explained proportional representation in two different ways to two different test groups…

Protect Democracy has long used the Thanksgiving dinner metaphor to explain proportional representation — but this is the first time we actually put it to a national test. The poll asked voters to select their favorite Thanksgiving dish. To simulate a winner-take-all election, we split respondents into single-member-districts by census region and “elected” the most popular dish in each district. Every single district voted in favor of either turkey or stuffing — a perfect emulation of the confines of our two-party system. 

In a second simulation, each district was allowed to elect any dish that reached a 5% threshold of support. This proportional representation round was undeniably more tasty — in addition to turkey and stuffing, favorites like pumpkin pie, mac and cheese, and mashed potatoes were added to the menu. 

Winner-take-all — where each district has only one winner — is the only paradigm most Americans have ever known. Even imagining alternatives is difficult. But when paired with an evocative metaphor, the unfamiliar mechanics of proportional representation become more accessible and even persuasive. And that’s without engaging in informational messaging that frames electoral system design as an urgent democracy issue — a connection that has proven to be an effective tool of persuasion in recent elections.


America Ferrera: ‘We Are Still Just Fighting to Be Visible’

Did you catch this great video of America Ferrera keeping it real with the BBC for a solid three minutes?

“I have a proposal that we take all the money people spend on doing diversity panels, and just use all that money to, like, hire women to make things.”

What a great idea, America!

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.

About

RepresentWomen’s mission is to strengthen our 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 US and abroad, understand the underlying reasons women are underrepresented, and find evidence-based solutions to mitigate the problem.