Are Bias and Racism Behind Attacks on Fani Willis?

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 is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting Black women’s critical role in ensuring a balanced democracy. We’re excited to share our new brief, “Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates,” which dives into their unique challenges and proposes solutions for a more level playing field.

This week, we learn about the alarming vulnerabilities Black women face within our democracy, including the historically dark reality exposed by Fani Willis’ election interference case, the global importance of achieving parity in women’s representation, recognizing its worldwide impact, and the inspiring successes of Black women candidates in Kentucky, who are making history even amidst societal barriers.

Fani Willis’ Case Points to Long Dark History

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis stands in the courtroom during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on Feb. 15, 2024 in Atlanta. (Alyssa Pointer-Pool / Getty Images)

Matt Brown of the AP covers the Fani Willis election interference case and how it highlights a troubling reality in this country. The fact is that Black women in leadership roles are berated and often condemned for doing their jobs.

Currently embroiled in the trial to be removed from the Donald Trump election interference case in Georgia, Fani Willis finds her integrity under scrutiny due to a disclosed personal relationship with Nathan Wade, a colleague involved in the case. Despite Donald Trump facing trials in four other cities, he has specifically chosen to contest against Willis, a Black woman serving as the district attorney, displaying a continued pattern of targeted bias and racism.

He has been indicted four times in the last year, accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C., of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, in Florida of hoarding classified documents, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid to porn actor Stormy Daniels on his behalf. Trump has railed against individual prosecutors, judges, and the legal system as a whole. But he reserves special, often coded rhetoric for his attacks on women and people of color.

“Donald Trump knows that he can make an easy target for his base out of a Black woman,” said Brittany Packnett Cunningham, a racial equality activist and podcast host. “What we should recognize is that across many indictments, this particular attack to disqualify through her personal activities is uniquely pointed. Of all the prosecutions that he has endured, this is not the approach he has taken. But he took that in particular with a Black woman.”

As highlighted in the article, District Attorney Willis has had to answer personal questions(why she carries cash and how long she lived at a residence, to name a few) that her white male counterparts likely would never have to answer.

“We’re not talking about the things that actually matter, which include, but are not limited to, bringing this country at least a tiny step back from the brink of fascism. No, instead, we’re evaluating a Black woman’s looks, character, and professionalism when all she did was do her job,” Cunningham said.

“The standards by which they are judged, with their actions scrutinized at every turn, just seem to be a little different, not a little, a lot different than what I see of our male counterparts,” Bradford-Grey said. “I wish there would be a day that women stand together and say we want the same bar of treatment that men get.”

You may also like: The latest episode of On the Issues With Michele Goodwin’s Fifteen Minutes of Feminism: “The Trump Indictments: What’s Happening in Georgia?” with guest Anthony Michael Kreis.

Listen below or check out the episode landing page for a full transcript, background reading and more.

Black Women Breaking Barriers in Politics

RepresentWomen’s “Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates,” February 2024.

Steven Hill of Democracy SOS highlights RepresentWomen’s new brief, “Breaking Barriers for Black Women Candidates,” released last week. Steven covers how Black women are underrepresented in political spaces and prove to be the most vulnerable in our democracy. Signaling their underrepresentation by harrowing numbers, Hill uses our brief to showcase the barriers Black women face when running for public office and how these barriers impact their ability to sit at the political table. Hill points out that to properly assess why Black women are underrepresented in the political arena, it’s essential to understand the barriers they continuously face when seeking political representation.

The report explores several key factors inherent to the systemic barriers Black women candidates face: the inadequacy of candidate recruitment by the political parties, the insidiousness of racially inequitable campaign funding, and the toxic impact of the winner-take-all electoral system in negatively shaping the political landscape which denies to Black women the sufficient opportunities needed to run successful campaigns.

The report makes a strong case that “the U.S. political system has built its foundations on white patriarchy, which inherently fails to account for the challenges faced by Black women who want to participate in politics. Although a record-breaking number of Black women ran and won in recent elections, they remain underrepresented at all levels of government, showing a need to understand the specific barriers they face.”

Hill celebrates women’s organizations, prioritizing ensuring Black women have an equal opportunity to run and serve in office.

Groups like RepresentWomen have recommended that parties address the biases in candidate selection processes by introducing such recruitment targets and quotas. Parties could also do a much better job acting as connectors by creating opportunities for Black women candidates to network with influential donors, recruit volunteers, and promote their campaigns.

Achieving Gender Parity Is Crucial Across the Globe

An article written by Quadri Adejumo in BNN Breaking delves into the political landscape for women worldwide. Though strides have been made, significant work must be done to achieve parity at every level of government. Close to thirty women serve as Heads of State across twenty-six countries, signaling that the other countries are ahead of the U.S. in electing women to executive government positions.

Despite these inspiring figures, the sobering reality emerges that achieving gender parity in executive government roles remains a distant goal, predicted to be over a century away. The underrepresentation extends to national parliaments, where women constitute a mere 26.5% of parliamentarians globally. However, there are glimmers of hope, as evidenced by Rwanda’s remarkable 61.3% female representation in its parliament, leading the world in this aspect, with Cuba and New Zealand also making notable strides forward.

Though there has been success in countries like Canada, which has elected its first Minister for Women and Gender Equality, there has also been significant progress locally in states like Utah, where they recognize political leadership embracing diversity directly impacts the people of their state.

The narrative extends to the United States, where Utah presents its own unique story of female political representation. A detailed overview of the current status of women in Utah’s political arena reveals a landscape peppered with challenges and opportunities. Despite the hurdles women face in running for public office, the importance of diversifying voices in political leadership for the benefit of all Utahns is increasingly recognized. Such insights into the challenges and triumphs of women in politics across different geographies emphasize the need for concerted efforts to expand women’s participation in political leadership, thereby fostering more inclusive and effective decision-making processes.

RepresentWomen did a deep dive into voting systems in our interactive International Voting Systems Dashboard to assess why more women are voted to executive levels of government globally.

Black Women Make History in Kentucky

Provided to LEX 18

Shayla Lynch and Katrisha Waldridge are celebrated in an article by Christiana Ford for making history during a month dedicated to the successes of pioneers in Black History.

  • Katrisha Waldridge is the first Black woman to be elected as a commissioner in Frankfort, Ky.
  • Shayla Lynch was elected to a city council, which was the most diverse in the city’s history.

Both women attribute their upbringing and the need for Black women’s representation in political spaces as inspiration for their running for office.

Lynch says seeing the example of people who looked like her pushing for change and prioritizing public service throughout history was vital.

“We’ve come a long way, and it’s important that we continue to strive and push the envelope and do things differently,” said Lynch.

Her cultural experiences and the experiences of those she represents are also why she feels her blackness is her unique strength.

“My race, my color, my ethnicity is a part of who I am, so I don’t take that off when I walk through these government center doors. It comes in with me, and I govern in that way intentionally,” said Lynch.

Both politicians agree that their work isn’t always easy. Yet, they understand the significance of their representation.

“If we don’t put ourselves out there in this position, we don’t get elected. You can’t,” said Waldridge.

Though this is historic progress in the state, our GPI Parity Index reports Kentucky received a “D” gender parity score, ranking 48th in the nation.

The state has yet to send a woman to the U.S. Senate, and only two women have been elected to the House. Women occupy only 30 percent of the seats in the state legislature, marking progress from 5 perent four decades ago.

Join Our Democracy Solutions Summit: March 5-7

These stories motivate RepresentWomen to fight for gender balance in politics. Women experts must be recognized and included in the reform conversation to achieve this. This is why I created a platform for women to share their perspectives and expertise as we discuss barriers women face in politics. The first of its kind, the Democracy Solutions Summit is the only summit to feature all women experts. The DSS grew out of a need for women to join and lead the discussion on our American democracy and how we can improve it. This year’s summit will focus on how we can fix the issues in our voting system, what we need to do to finally elect our first woman president, and what impactful innovations women are leading to strengthen democracy worldwide. This three-day virtual event is free for all to attend. We hope to see you there!

Future Hindsight Podcast

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Mila Atmos on the Future Hindsight podcast earlier this month about strategies to level the playing field for women candidates – I would be glad to know what you think! Here is a teaser from the interview that you can also find on Spotify:

We saw in the 2022 Midterm elections, even though there were many challenger candidates who registered and filed to run in elections, and we spent somewhere between $8 and $9 billion on congressional races in the midterms, we went from 123 women in the U.S. House to 124 women in the U.S. House, and just one challenger won. 

We, as human beings, I think, tend to do what we’ve done before. And we think, well, we just need to spend more money on these races, or we need better-trained candidates. But what we see from that stat of the 2022 midterms is that it’s just not feasible that we’re going to see a change in the composition of the U.S. House until we make districts more competitive and we figure out ways for women to run in primaries without splitting the vote through reforms like ranked choice voting…

I think what makes me the most helpful is when I see people coming together, coming out of their box or their silo or whatever construct we may exist in to reach outside of that and build relationships with people with whom they may differ politically or geographically. I’m part of a number of groups that are talking about how to do this better, whether that’s folks from the voting rights community, the veterans movement, or the climate movement, young people, or just groups that are really coming together to innovate differently. And I think it’s that kind of relationship-building at its core. Maybe that’s just the most fundamental truth about everything, is that the outcome is only as good as the relationships that we can build. And so, building authentic relationships that are built on listening and on trust is core to everything.

Ranked-Choice Voting at the Oscars

On Feb. 29, FairVote is hosting a free webinar about ranked-choice voting and its implementation at the Oscars. This event highlights the significance of RCV at the Academy Awards, emphasizing its relevance not only for the Oscars but also as a crucial reform for public elections. The webinar is on Thursday, February 29th, at 4pm EST. Working with the Academy for over 16 years, Tom Oyer, who has collaborated with the Academy for over 16 years, will share insights into his experience working with the diverse voting systems used by the Academy.

RSVP here!

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.