Weekend Reading on Women's Representation March 30, 2018

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on March 30, 2018

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There was a fascinating story in Civil Georgia about the defeat of proposed gender quota legislation in Georgia which had the support of the prime minister, many members of parliament and civil society groups. I will include the entire article because I think it's so important to appreciate how much more advanced the conversation about parity is outside of our borders:

The Parliament of Georgia has voted down today the legislative proposal which was to set mandatory quotas for women to help increase their representation in the Parliament and Sakrebulos (municipality councils).
The bill, which was elaborated by a coalition of local and international organizations, and submitted to the Parliament with 37 000 signatures, was endorsed by three parliamentary committees last autumn. The initiative was also supported by civil society groups, as well as foreign diplomats accredited in Tbilisi.

The proposal was endorsed by Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili as well. In his statement yesterday, PM Kvirikashvili said the quotas bill would be “an important measure” for increasing women’s political engagement, and would “significantly improve the political processes and the quality of democracy in Georgia.”

Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze spoke in favor of the bill at today’s plenary sitting, saying more women in the Parliament would mean “stronger Parliament, stronger constitutional system, and stronger democracy.” 

Some ruling party lawmakers were not convinced, however. MP Dimitri Khundadze, for instance, said today that “reserved seats” would be “an insult for ladies, since they have all the resources to enter the Parliament when they are politically ready.” “I think, the primary criteria for the Parliament should be intelligence and experience,” he added.

Another ruling party lawmaker, Gedevan Popkhadze, echoed Dimitri Khundadze’s sentiments, saying the Parliament needed more “qualified” professionals, “irrespective of whether they are men or women.” “The list should not be divided into men’s and women’s; such an approach is not right as it may never end,” Popkhadze said.

As a result, the bill obtained 66 votes, falling ten votes short of the required 76. Fourteen ruling party lawmakers voted against the bill. MPs from the European Georgia and the Alliance of Patriots did not attend the voting. Two of the six United National Movement legislators (four were absent) voted in favor of the bill.

Speaking after the voting procedure, Parliament Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze said the ruling party lawmakers had “failed to reach consensus,” citing “differences on certain details.” The Speaker, however, noted that these differences would be talked out, and an amended text would be resubmitted to the Parliament the following week. “The principle will remain the same – to ensure at least 25% representation in the next convocation, and 1/3 in 2024.”

The bill envisaged the introduction of the so called “zipper” system, where male and female candidates would appear alternately on party lists of candidates for parliamentary and municipal elections, increasing the number of women legislators to at least 38 in the next Parliament. According to the same bill, if a parliamentarian’s or Sakrebulo member’s mandate was terminated earlier than the end of his/her term, the next candidate of the same sex would take a seat in replacement. 
And from another corner of the world comes this story about the drive to extend the quota system used in Zimbabwe that doubled the number of women in office in 5 short years from 15% in 2008 to 32% in 2013. Female parliamentarians, like those in Georgia, reveal a stunningly more sophisticated understanding of what is necessary to win parity than their counterparts in the United States - unfortunately I cannot copy and paste the text but here is one choice quote:
Research shows that no country in the world has managed to achieve at least 30 percent of female decision makers without effecting a legislative quota system policy.
Meanwhile, in the US, West Virginia eliminated the use of multi-seat districts for the state legislature which is likely to have a negative impact on the number of women elected. Under the system legislators just dismantled multi-seat districts were twice as likely to be represented by a woman than single seat districts. This is a real blow for women's representation in West Virginia which is already among the lowest ranked states in the US for female elected officials.
And in New York City, bold new strategies that include recruitment targets and ranked choice voting will be necessary to increase the percentage of women on the city council - this piece, however, in the Gotham Gazette reports that council members are hiring a staffer to solve the problem. 
In Maryland, eight of the 12 tickets for governor are gender balanced and one has two women running, Krish Vignarajah & Sharon Blake- Krish has made a campaign commercial which includes her breastfeeding her daughter - according to this story from DailyEdge - an Irish news source:

WHEN WE TALK about women in politics, we often forget about some of the real obstacles that they face to get themselves there. Obstacles like a lack of maternity leave for example. Or being a working mother.

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah is the latest to shed light on the issue with her campaign video showing her breastfeeding her daughter Alana.

It’s interesting because what are you going to be more shocked about? A woman breastfeeding her child on camera in 2018 or that Maryland has never had a female governor? Or the fact that nearly half of American states (22) have never had a female governor?

It’s a simple video which is challenging the over-sexualised image of breasts and showing that they’re not sexual organs but instead functioning parts of a human body. It’s showing us a real

Of course you could say that Vignarajah is just using the breastfeeding to get attention but hey, would you be paying attention to the Governor race in Maryland otherwise? It’s a conversation point which leads into a conversation about something a bit deeper.

What’s interesting is that this shouldn’t be groundbreaking in 2018. However, every time a female candidate does it, it makes headlines...

 

There was a terrific piece about how ranked choice voting helps to elect more women from our friends at Voter Choice Massachusetts - if you are in MA or nearby please contact them to see how you can support legislative proposals for voting system reform!
There was a piece in The American Prospect by Sonya Michel asking if this is the dawn of a new awakening - with no mention of any structural obstacles or systems reforms:

Across the country, women are dramatically underrepresented in the 500,000 elected offices that exist at all levels. The proportion of women in Congress has never exceeded 20 percent; in state legislatures, they’ve managed to reach 25 percent, but fewer than 19 percent of the mayors of large cities are female. And when it comes to voting for their sisters, certain groups of women fall woefully short. In 2016, white college-educated women—the demographic pundits assumed would be most enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton—gave her only a six-point margin over Donald Trump—51 percent to 45 percent. Black women were much more supportive: Those who were non-college educated gave Clinton 95 percent of their votes, those with college degrees, 91 percent. For Hispanics, the numbers were also enthusiastically pro-Hillary—70 percent and 65 percent, respectively. The weakest support for Clinton came from non-college-educated white women: only 34 percent.

Whether Clinton failed to ignite women voters because of her unique baggage and misjudgments or because of a profound degree of misogyny in American culture remains an open question. Whatever the case, Clinton’s defeat has generated a range of political responses by women—not only the local networks that Putnam and Skocpol describe, but also many new and newly reawakened organizations focused specifically on getting more women into office. One immediate result is that, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, more than 430 women have declared or are considering declaring their candidacy for the U.S. House, and another 50 for the Senate.



There was a terrific article in the Washington Post by Rosa O'Hara about the ranked voting system used in Australia and its potential to fix the spoiler problem, create open seats - where women can run, and fair voting systems - that enable women to compete on a level playing field:
FREMANTLE, Australia — Earlier this year, Bruno Mars won album of the year at the Grammys, leaving the Internet baffled. Rap and hip-hop fans argued their votes had been split between three nominations: Jay-Z, Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino, paving the way for Mars’s supporters to out-vote them, even though the combined rap and hip-hop fan base was much bigger.

Sure, the Grammys result didn’t threaten democracy — the free world isn’t now ruled by a fedora-wearing tenor singer with a penchant for wearing sunglasses indoors — but what happened at the 2018 Grammys is indicative of a larger problem in the U.S.: the spoiler effect.

The spoiler effect occurs when political candidates capture a certain voting niche, siphoning off votes from another candidate. This paves the way for another candidate to win, even if the combined voting base of the other candidates is larger. Remember Ralph Nader and the 2000 U.S. election? The tens of thousands of votes cast in Florida for Nader, who didn’t even come close to winning, could’ve really helped Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, defeat George W. Bush, who won there by the skin of his teeth. 
 
Australia — where I’m from — adapted pretty early to the problem of split votes when the government introduced compulsory preferential voting a century ago. Preferential voting is a system where voters rank their choices, and votes are then counted in rounds. In some places, it’s known as instant runoff voting or ranked-choice voting. The premise is simple. Voters’ first choices are counted, and if no candidate won more than 50 percent, the loser is knocked out. If you voted for the candidate who’s now out, your second choice is counted instead. And so on. It’s a process of elimination. The first candidate to reach more than half the vote wins. Basically, this system identifies whom people don’t want elected. It also means smaller parties can gain traction.
Women are winning at twice the rate in cities with ranked choice voting in the US:


So many good international stories this week - this one from Canada further illustrates my point that people in other countries are engaging in high level thinking, conversation, and action on strategies to win gender parity:

The barriers facing women entering politics are well-established. For example, because women earn lower wages than men on average, and are disproportionately responsible for caring for their families, there are significant obstacles due to campaign financial requirements, the need for flexible work schedules and lack of access to child care.

These barriers can be exaggerated for racialized women, Indigenous women and women with disabilities. They face even larger pay inequities.

Another barrier is women’s social capital — the benefits that come through personal and professional networks — which is not as advantageous as men’s when it comes to accessing political power or drumming up campaign financing.

Structural issues, including our first-past-the-post electoral system that favours incumbent candidates, and a masculine political culture are also problematic, not to mention racism, heterosexism and the experiences of Indigenous women — who did not even have the right to vote federally until 1960 — with colonization.

My husband, Rob Richie, ever-helpful, offers a rundown of gubernatorial races:
2 women are out (Republicans in Oklahoma and New Mexico)
 
BEST CHANCE FOR GAINS (2 D's, 1 R)
* Tennessee, if Diane Black wins GOP nomination, she is heavily favored
* New Mexico, where Democratic woman is favored to win nomination and general
* Hawaii, where Democratic woman likely to defeat incumbent in primary and then be favored
 
TOSSUP CHANCES (D's in 6 states, R's in 3 states)
* Connecticut, which is wide open and has women candidates in the mix on Democratic side
* Michigan, where woman is positioned to be Democratic nominee and  then tossup race
* Florida, where woman has solid chance to be Democratic nominee and then win tossup race in open seats
* Colorado, where both parties have candidates who would win nomination then win tossup race
* Minnesota, where both parties have women candidates who would win their nomination in tossup race
* Maine, where both parties have women candidates
 
LONGER SHOT FOR GAINS (D's in 3 states, R's in 1 states)
* If Democratic woman wins nomination in Wisconsin and bests Scott Walker
* Woman emerging as a major party nominee in one or both parties and wining nomination in Ohio
* Democratic woman winning open seat in Georgia
* Democratic woman winning nomination and then winning open seat in Kansas
 
POTENTIAL LOSSES (2 R's, 2 D's)
* Alabama's Kay Ivey would be favored in general, but faces tough primary challenge
* Iowa's Kim Reynolds is in "lean republican" race to retain her seat
* Rhode Islands's Gina Raimondo is in tossup race
* Oregon's Kate Brown is in "lean Democratic: race


And this just in, Saskia Brechenmacher from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who wrote the long paper I keep referring to had a terrific piece in The Hill today which reflects the bold conversations being had around the world about how to elect more women to office. It's my intention to bring the sophistication and vision of women around the world to the movement for parity in the United States:
A record number of women are running in the 2018 midterms. This trend is encouraging, but without tackling the broader institutional barriers that disadvantage women and other marginalized groups, it won’t be enough to close the vast gender gap in U.S. politics. To accelerate the pace of change, the United States should learn from its allies across the Atlantic. Europe’s combination of institutional factors and political reforms has enabled much higher levels of women’s representation. There are four areas where U.S. reformers could borrow from European approaches.

First, the current U.S. electoral system is a major obstacle to women in politics. Across the world, female candidates do better in multimember districts with proportional representation rules than in “winner take all” systems. Under proportional representation rules, parties have incentives to run a more diverse slate of candidates that appeal to a wide range of voters, rather than maximize one individual’s chance of winning.

Reforming electoral systems is of course an enormous task, yet states have significant latitude in setting their own election rules for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures. Ongoing efforts to expand ranked-choice voting at the municipal and state levels represent one potential way forward. In these systems, voters rank candidates in order of preference, ensuring that only candidates with majority support can win. Ranked-choice voting is already used in 12 cities across the United States, and research suggests that it helps women as well as minority candidates succeed.

Second, both the Democrats and the Republicans could do more to encourage female candidates. Europe’s most effective tool to improve women’s representation has been party-level quotas. Parties in Sweden and Germany initially set voluntary targets that were strengthened over time, typically in response to mobilization by female party members and women’s organizations. Party leaders often agreed to these demands out of fear of losing women voters to left-wing challenger parties.

U.S. parties do not control the candidate selection process, but they could still set voluntary numerical targets to ensure the systematic recruitment of women for primary campaigns. To meet these targets, parties would need to invest more in women’s recruitment at the local, state and federal levels, beyond the relatively disparate initiatives that already exist, and take into account differences in how women and men respond to party recruitment.
I hope you find blossoms - both literal and metaphoric - in your neighborhood this weekend.

Cynthia

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