Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Katie Porter’s Single Parenting and Politicking; Black Women’s Leadership in Early Primary States

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!

Women Shaping U.S. Democracy

While I have deep respect and admiration for many democracy reform advocates, I believe the movement must expand to include the voices of more women to build a truly resilient and reflective democracy. Frustrated by the mostly-male panels at democracy conferences, we created the Women Experts in Democracy Directory and launched the Democracy Solutions Summit to enable more women to share their expertise.

Now in its third year, the Democracy Solutions Summit is the only democracy summit featuring all-women speakers. We are proud to create a platform where women’s voices and perspectives guide crucial conversations about our democracy. We invite everyone to join us, March 5-7, for this essential exchange of ideas and insights. Click here to register for this virtual (and free!) event.

This week, explore captivating stories about women’s representation in Pakistan’s elections, a look at ranked-choice voting wins in 2023, Black women leading the way in primaries, women candidates balancing motherhood and politics, and despite some progress, gender quotas in Burundi are still producing limited results.

If you are in Washington, D.C., next week, I would love to see you at Politics and Prose, on Saturday, Feb. 17 at 5 p.m., for an event with Donna Brazile who will be speaking with author Keisha Blain about her new book, Wake Up America: Black Women on the Future of Democracy, along with other panelists Senator Laphonza Butler and Atima Omara.

Women Defy Norms in Pakistan Elections


Pakistan’s recent elections saw women candidates from diverse backgrounds campaigning and defying traditional gender roles.

On the campaign trail, Dr. Saveera Prakash aimed to tackle gender and religious biases by contesting for a general seat with the Pakistan People’s Party. Samar Haroon Bilour became Peshawar’s first woman provincial MP after her husband’s assassination, and YouTuber Zeba Waqar advocated for women’s empowerment and anti-harassment laws in Lahore’s NA-122 constituency.

While there has been progress, reserved seats for women only make up a small percentage of the candidates fielded by major political parties. Overall, continued efforts are needed to combat the remaining low representation of women in government positions.

Saumya Joshi from One India reports:

With just a day remaining until the Pakistan elections scheduled for 8 February, candidates from various backgrounds, regardless of gender, religion, or party affiliation, are vigorously campaigning to leave their mark on the polls.

Among the thousands of candidates competing for a seat in this election, a few hundred are notable for being women who have chosen to defy conventional roles.

Women’s participation in the country’s electoral process is dismal, with data indicating that out of the 17,000 candidates contesting the 8 February polls, only 839 are women, constituting a mere 4.7 percent. A closer look is taken at three women candidates and their objectives for these elections.

New Report from FairVote: Ranked-Choice Voting in 2023


This week, our partners at FairVote released a new comprehensive report covering the state of ranked-choice voting (RCV) in 2023. Written by Deb Otis, the report showcases significant progress across critical areas. These include:

  • Ballot Measure Victories- RCV gained significant traction as voters in seven nationwide cities approved using RCV at the ballot box.
  • Widespread Adoption– RCV was used in municipal elections across 24 cities and counties, representing diverse voters.
  • Diverse Support– Political voices from across the spectrum support RCV and its growing potential to improve representation.

Our research has shown that ranked-choice voting helps women get elected. The new adoptions and ballot measures are a glowing step toward achieving gender balance.

As 2024 begins, there’s no doubt that RCV is on the move. It remains the fastest-growing nonpartisan election reform in the nation, sustained by the work of our partners, tireless volunteers, and our staff.

2024 offers unprecedented opportunities for our movement’s continued growth – from historic first uses of RCV to statewide ballot measures to its use in the presidential election to our shared work lifting up RCV as an obvious solution to some of the election cycle’s most glaring problems. Better elections with RCV are possible, and 2024 will be a critical year for turning that possibility into reality.

Black Women Lead Democratic Parties in Early Primary States

South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Christale Spain at a campaign event for President Joe Biden at Emanuel AME Church on Jan. 8, 2024, in Charleston. The church was the site of a 2015 massacre perpetrated by a white supremacist. Christale Spain became the first Black woman to chair the South Carolina Democratic Party in April 2023. (Sean Rayford / Getty Images)

In their article for the 19th, Candice Norwood and Grace Panetta discuss the power of Black women’s leadership. Black women are emerging as prominent figures in Democratic leadership in early primary states, a significant milestone in the party’s history. Despite President Joe Biden’s efforts to appoint more Black women to leadership positions, some Black voters still feel critical issues are not being addressed. Led by Black women, party chairs prioritize year-round organizing and open dialogue to address these issues and bridge the gap among voters, particularly those in rural areas.

Black women are an essential part of our electorate, and their contributions to politics are immeasurable. Yet, they are still underrepresented in government. Be sure to check out RepresentWomen’s upcoming brief “Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates” when it’s released later this month.

Spain, who became the first Black woman to chair the South Carolina Democratic Party in April, said it’s “extremely important” for Black women who have long been “showing up” as voters and organizers to be in positions of leadership.

“It’s just very important that we make our voices heard, because if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Spain said. “And so the way I see it is keeping Black folks off the menu.”

Even as their electoral and organizing contributions have been lauded, Black women have often felt overlooked when it comes to policymaking and support for their political campaigns as more Black women seek public office.

“Black women are resilient. We just have the ingenuity to make things happen and to make it look easy,” Nadia Brown, a professor of government and director of women’s and gender studies at Georgetown University, told The 19th last year. “Black women can make $1 out of 15 cents, and the Democratic Party knows that. So there is little incentive for the party to put the investment in when they know that Black women will still turn out.”

Rep. Katie Porter’s Senate Bid Spotlights Balancing the Act of Single Motherhood and Politics

In the LA TimesBenjamin Oreskes explores Rep. Katie Porter’s distinctive political approach. A single mother and outspoken Democrat, Rep. Katie Porter is running, along with Rep Barbara Lee, for the open U.S. Senate in California, and faces the delicate balance of a family life and political career. Porter’s candidacy highlights the glaring intersection of her role as a congresswoman and a single parent.

For deeper insights into the challenges mothers face when running for public office, check out the fantastic work of our allies, Vote Mama.

Porter’s three terms as an outspoken Democratic member of Congress holding down a competitive Orange County district have been defined by her blunt demeanor, professorial intellect and sometimes polarizing behavior. Those traits tend to stir things up inside both the U.S. Capitol and her four-bedroom home in Irvine, which she shares with a college student who helps take care of the children while Porter is away. Her decision to run for the U.S. Senate has put all of it on full display.

Porter’s three kids sit in the foreground of her campaign against fellow Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland and Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, as well as Republican and former Dodger Steve Garvey, in California’s 2024 Senate race. Her fundraising appeals and stump speeches are peppered with recipes for the frozen dinners she makes them and mentions of her 2010 Toyota Sienna minivan and their family vacations to national parks.

“What I’ve never been able to pull apart is how much of what’s hard about my life is because I’m in Congress, and in competitive races, and how much of my life is hard because I’m a single parent,” Porter, 50, told The Times. “Those things are absolutely wedded together in a way that I can’t always tell which it is.”

Gender Quotas Accelerate Progress in Burundi, But Not Without Limitations


Researchers Reginas NdayiragijePetra Meier, and Stef Vandeginste examine the impact of gender quotas in Burundi in a new article in The East African. While gender quotas have resulted in more women holding cabinet positions over time, women are still limited to only typical feminine positions such as health and education. Gender quotas have not yet extended to influential roles beyond those already mandated, so female representation in CEO positions or provincial governorships is still rather low.

This article reaffirms our “Golden Year Analysis” finding that gender quotas do not guarantee better outcomes for women unless adequately enforced.

We found that gender quotas have gradually resulted in women being assigned to prominent ministerial portfolios. The impact of this, however, has been mixed.

Women have remained confined to typically “feminine”, care-giving ministerial portfolios, such as health and education, over nearly two decades. They have been excluded from portfolios such as defence, security, and foreign affairs. Their representation as senior advisers to the president or as CEOs of parastatals has remained marginal.

Our research illustrates that embedding gender quotas in the constitution can fast-track representation. But it doesn’t necessarily spiral beyond the targeted positions and institutions. This implies that any policy targeting an increase in women’s representation needs to take into account the broader political setting.

While formal mechanisms to enforce gender quotas in government and parliament in Burundi are in place, they are absent in other important and sought-after positions, such as parastatal CEO or provincial governor.

Denver Makes History with All-Women Senior Staff in Mayor’s Office

An article by Chris Walker for 5280 highlights a historic first in Denver, Colorado. Mayor Mike Johnston has hired an all-women team as his senior leadership staff. The hiring solidifies Denver as a leader in gender representation in local government. The new senior staff, including Jenn Ridder, Mayor Johnston’s Chief of Staff, aims to mentor future leaders and diversify leadership roles across the city. Other members of leadership, like Janel Forde, Mayor Johnston’s COO, said she pursued this position because she wanted to address critical issues such as homelessness and youth gun violence in the Denver area. 

Read RepresentWomen’s “Impact Analysis of NYC’s Woman Majority Council” to learn more about the potential impact of an all-women senior leadership team.

In addition to Forde, Jenn Ridder, one of the mayor’s former campaign strategists, became his chief of staff, and Nicole Doheny left international accounting firm Ernst & Young to become Denver’s chief financial officer. Kerry Tipper, the first Latina to serve as city attorney, stayed on from former Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration. Seven months into Johnston’s tenure, Forde has already spotted plenty of benefits: “I find less ego shows up when women are in leadership roles, which allows us to get to the actual work,” she says.

Still, the fact that Denver has never elected a female mayor isn’t lost on Ridder. While she believes Johnston, who beat Kelly Brough in a runoff election, was the best candidate, “It is disappointing we haven’t broken that glass ceiling,” she says. “[That] is why it’s so important that we as women leaders, and the mayor himself, work to build a pipeline of talented female leaders who can and will transform Denver.” Fostering potential is one reason Johnston prioritized hiring the most qualified and diverse candidates for his staff, Ridder says, and all four women plan to mentor promising leaders, one of whom could become Denver’s first female mayor. “When people see women, people of color, and folks who don’t traditionally have opportunities to serve in leadership roles be in said roles,” Forde says, “it changes the trajectory of folks who think, Oh, I can do that.”

Celebrating The Women in Our Lives and The Grammys

Last week, women won big at the Grammys! In anticipation of last week’s Grammys, we asked readers to vote in a ranked-choice voting poll for who they wanted to win Album of the Year. SZA came out as our winner! With hits like “Broken Clocks,” “Snooze” and “Kill Bill,” SZA weaves personal reflections into evocative music, resulting in songs that resonate deeply with listeners while maintaining a personal touch.

Galentine’s Day is next week! As one of our favorite holidays, we can’t wait to honor the day by indulging in self-love and spreading love to the incredible women around us. Let us know your favorite way to celebrate Galentine’s Day with this poll!

Honoring the Career of Journalist Linda Wertheimer

This week, legendary journalist Linda Wertheimer announced her retirement from National Public Radio after an incredible 53-year career. Known as NPR’s ‘Founding Mother’ along with Susan StambergNina Totenberg, and the late Cokie Roberts, Wertheimer started when NPR had not even made it to the airwaves. In her farewell letter, Wertheimer describes the early days of NPR: “I was one of the first hires on the news side,” she writes. “Our first staff meeting was held on the floor, without chairs or tables, but filled with eager people buzzing with plans. I was one of them.”

Throughout her storied career, Wertheimer covered dozens of presidential campaigns, becoming the first woman to host NPR’s coverage of a presidential nomination convention and of an election night in 1976.  From her political coverage to her countless news stories on “All Things Considered,” Linda left an indelible mark on public radio journalism. She embodied unwavering dedication to storytelling and a commitment to holding truth to power.

 Linda was once told by an executive that she should be a researcher instead of on-air talent. Instead of listening to this and any other barrage of critiques, she carved out her own path and became one of the most respected voices in broadcast journalism. Linda Wertheimer, thank you for defying expectations, proving that dreams matter, and gracing the airwaves with your insightful reporting and unwavering integrity. You truly made herstory.

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.


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.