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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation February 17th, 2023

Dear Readers,

As RepresentWomen reflects on the Beyond Winner Take All Conference (hosted by the Ash Center) a week later, we remember that progress in women's representation is slow going. This week's Weekend Reading highlights the importance of women in politics, and why our democracy falls short when we let them down.

The First Black Woman to Run for President 

This article from KCRA news channel 3 highlights Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to become a member of U.S. Congress and to run for president. She was a fearless leader who broke barriers throughout her career. In 1946 she graduated from Brooklyn College and began a career in teaching. She had a passion for helping others, which inspired her to run for political office. She survived three assassination attempts during her presidential run, yet she did not let that stop her. "Unbought and unbossed" was her motto. 

Shirley Chisholm had a spirit unlike any other. She was a woman of many firsts: the first Black woman to be elected into Congress and the first Black woman to run for president.”

“Chisholm said in a previous interview Barbados was where she gained the ‘spirit and spunk’ to challenge the status quo – characteristics she would carry for the rest of her life...

In 1972, Chisholm announced she was running for president – becoming the first woman and African American to seek a major party’s nomination...

In a previous interview, one reporter questioned whether she believed America was ready for a president that was both Black and a woman...

I think what is even more important than whether or not America is ready for me as a president is to begin to prepare America for the fact that it is time that other people in America besides white males run for the highest office of this flag," Chisholm said. "It’s a preparation for the atmosphere to bring about the realization that someday Blacks will lead this country…that someday women will lead this country. That’s what this is all about."

Nikki Haley is Running for President

In her first campaign advertisement, Haley stared directly into the camera to say, "You should know this about me: I don't put up with bullies, and when you kick back it hurts them more if you're wearing heels."

Trump has his first challenger for 2024. Former Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley has tossed her name into the race for President of the United States. The American politician will be competing for the Republican nomination. No stranger to national service, Haley, who is of Indian decent, served as the U.S. Ambassador the United Nations under the Trump Administration. Her candidacy signifies another giant leap forward for women of color. 

On paper, Nikki Haley should be a top-tier contender in the 2024 Republican primary. She’s a successful former governor from an important, early primary state. She has an impressive personal backstory, solid foreign policy chops, and great candidate skills, too. This used to be an extremely attractive package for GOP primary voters.

Used to be.

But not anymore.

Instead, Haley’s candidacy represents the best of the “meh” middle tier of 2024 candidates, which for now includes the notional campaigns of Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, and Chris Christie. No one is really asking any of those guys to run.

A recent poll published by The Bulwark and conducted by GOP polling firm North Star Opinion Research found similar results. Haley had a decent favorability/unfavorability rating–47 percent fav and only 9 percent unfav among likely Republican primary voters.

But on a 10-way ballot test, Haley only got 4 percent of the vote compared to DeSantis’s 39 percent and Trump’s 28 percent. It’s not that at least half of the respondents didn’t like her—they did.

The problem is they didn’t like her enough to cast their vote for her.

Teenage Girls Are Overwhelmed With Violence and Trauma

Young people are in crisis. According to CDC research, across the country, teenage girls are increasingly "engulfed in a growing wave of violence and trauma." 

According to experts, a multitude of factors are at play, but what remains evident is that across the spectrum, teenage girls are suffering. Importantly, those girls which are a part of minority groups are bearing the brunt of these struggles. 

Nearly 1 in 3 high school girls reported in 2021 that they seriously considered suicide — up nearly 60 percent from a decade ago — according to new findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Almost 15 percent of teen girls said they were forced to have sex, an increase of 27 percent over two years and the first increase since the CDC began tracking it...

Sharon Hoover, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine and co-director of the National Center for School Mental Health, said she was struck by “the magnitude of the increases and the gender difference...”

Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist and senior lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, said there is probably not a single cause to explain the data but rather interacting causes that vary by race, ethnicity, class, culture and access to mental health resources.

Senator Diane Feinstein Officially Announces Retirement

From left to right: Senators Murray, Moseley Braun, Mikulski, Feinstein, and Boxer.

On Tuesday, Senator Feinstein made her official announcement that she will not seek reelection in 2024. Senator Feinstein was among the women first elected in the 1992 "Year of the Woman," an arguably problematic phrase that RepresentWomen's Communications Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw elaborates on in her article in DemocracySOS. With Representative Pelosi stepping down as speaker along with the official news of Senator Feinstein's retirement, Annie Karni's piece in The New York Times reminds us of the importance of continuing women's leadership.

Some California Democrats did not wait for Ms. Feinstein to announce her plans to start campaigning for her seat. Representative Katie Porter, who flipped a previously Republican district in Orange County in 2018 and has earned Democratic accolades for her sharp questioning of corporate executives in congressional hearings, was the first to announce her campaign last month. Representative Adam B. Schiff, a former leader of the House Intelligence Committee and the manager of President Donald J. Trump’s first impeachment trial, entered the race a couple of weeks later.

Representative Barbara Lee, a progressive stalwart from the Bay Area, is expected to announce her candidacy by the end of the month. Representative Ro Khanna is seen as another possible candidate.

The Republican field is less clear. In California, all candidates run on the same primary ballot regardless of party, and the top two advance to the general election, so two Democrats could potentially face each other in November 2024.

Ms. Feinstein said Tuesday she would hold off on issuing any endorsement in the race, at least for a few months.

Record Numbers of Republican Women Are Serving in Congress

An article from CNN explores the increase in Republican women in Congress. While the number of Republican women in Congress still lags significantly behind the number of Democratic women, recent election cycles have yielded gains for women on the right. It's interesting to examine how party leadership on both sides of the aisle can contribute to shifts in gender balance.

Still, GOP women are far from reaching parity with Democrats. Thirty-three of them will serve in the House alone this term, compared with 91 Democratic women. Though many women (and men who care about electing them) applaud a recent shift in attitude among GOP leadership and a segment of the donor class – for whom identity politics has often been anathema – long-term hurdles remain.

The article goes on to examine the GOP's use of the very strategies RepresentWomen has championed -- providing individual candidate support alongside changes in the systems that serve as barriers to women's political progress.

The GOP still has a lot of catching up to do. Even with leadership PACs and outside groups committed to boosting women in Republican primaries, the party lacks the firepower of a group like EMILY’s List, which has been helping elect Democratic women who support abortion rights since the mid-1980s.

Some of the outside groups backing GOP women have diverged in primaries, either not engaging in the same races or even backing different women in the same primaries.

To expand institutional support, McDaniel pointed to the example of programs such as League of Our Own, a campaign program she worked with in her home state of Michigan that has focused on training female candidates.

“We talked about things like, ‘How do you raise money? How do you pick a campaign manager?’” McDaniel said. “You’d see these women who were graduates, going on to be state reps or state senators. It’s really, really impactful to see how even just that little bit of campaign school and that little bit of help can go a long way in bringing women into the conversation.”

Women are Essential to a Peaceful and Stable Democracy 

In an article for the Chatham House, Margot Wallström perfectly articulates why there should be more women in politics. She suggests that including women in decision-making can lead to peaceful conflict resolutions by bringing a different, more feminist perspective. 

Gender balance in politics is a vision that RepresentWomen holds. Our work is dedicated to researching barriers and solutions for increasing women's representation worldwide. Visit our website to learn more. 

Perhaps we are too familiar with men’s dominance at these top-level meetings that we take the absence of women for granted and fail to recognize it. But when women are left out of the picture, constrained or silenced in any way, it poses a serious threat to democracy…

For policies to support women in a meaningful way, women need to be at the table…

The state of women’s rights around the world is bleak. In 104 countries, laws prevent women from performing certain types of work. Women lack the legal right to own land in many countries. Around 40 countries have no laws to protect women against violence in the home. In developing regions, 214 million women and girls lack access to contraceptives as conservative forces continue to try to limit and qualify their right to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives.

Nicola Sturgeon Steps Down

And lastly, Scotland's Leader Nicola Sturgeon will be stepping down, citing being worn down by the "brutality" of political life. This echoes Jacinda Ardern's reasons for stepping down as PM of New Zealand because of exhaustion. Here at RepresentWomen we'll be keeping our eyes peeled for who will replace her, especially since Scotland has been leading the UK on women's representation in parliament since 1999 when 48 of the 129 MPs elected were women (37.2%). In 2003 this climbed to 51 women (39.5%), and a record 58 women in 2021 (45%).


This week I attended a dinner hosted by FairVote to discuss the use of ranked choice voting in presidential nomination contests with Secretaries of State Jena Griswold (Colorado), Sarah Copeland Hanzas (Vermont), and Cheryl Myers (Deputy SOS, Oregon).

That's all for this week. Have a good weekend!


P.S. If you want to hear about solutions to women's underrepresentation, register for the 2023 Democracy Solutions Summit! You will hear from our expert speakers, who just happen to be women, on what actions we can take to strengthen our democracy. Register here.



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