Public Versus Private Realms: Women’s Empowerment in Rwanda

By Representation2020 on July 17, 2017



In the context of electoral gender parity, Rwanda is a fascinating case study. Women currently hold 55.7 percent of parliamentary seats in Rwanda, the highest percentage of women in national parliaments globally, and women also constitute half of the country’s 14-member supreme court.


The catalyst for the country’s progress was the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.  After the genocide, President Paul Kagame had to face the challenge of rebuilding a broken country with little remaining infrastructure and shattered political structures. Only 20 of Rwanda’s 785 judges survived the genocide, and none of the members of the post-genocide Transitional National Assembly had served in the previous government.


In addition to the destruction of these institutions, a large portion of the men in Rwanda had been slaughtered, arrested, or forced to leave the country by the end of the genocide. The result was a country where women made up 70 percent of the population. It was clear that in order for the country to become functional again, women would have to take an active role in rebuilding it. In a patriarchal society where women had always been expected to stay at home and serve their husbands, they now took up a variety of active roles in public life. Specifically, women became very involved in the Rwandan government.

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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation July 14, 2017

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on July 14, 2017


Happy Bastille Day!

There was a fascinating story from Malta Today about the proposal there to use separate ballots to triple the number of female MPs - a great example of party leaders engaging with the challenge of how to increase women's representation meaningfully. Malta and Ireland share the distinction of being the two countries in the world that use the single transferable vote (STV) to elect their national legislature - gender quotas are a natural complement to this ranked voting system - STV is used in Cambridge, MA as well.

Aaron Farrugia suggested that, as a stopgap measure, women candidates should be able to contest on two separate ballot sheets – the current district-based sheet and a new national sheet specifically for women candidates. From this latter list, ten women candidates will be elected to Parliament, based both on their individual votes obtained and as a proportional representation of the parties’ shares of votes in the election.

They will be elected over and above the 65 constitutionally elected MPs, meaning that Malta’s Parliament will rise to 75 MPs so long as this measure is in place.

Farrugia insisted that this proposal should only be introduced as a stopgap measure until the root causes of the shortage of female election candidates are addressed – such as by introducing the concept of full-time MPs, and by encouraging political parties to urge their women mayors, councilors and activists to run for election with as much zest as they do to their “star candidates”. 


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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation July 7, 2017

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on July 07, 2017


It's easy to count the number of female heads of state at the G20 Summit - just 4 of 36...
Dear allies and friends,

If you only have to skim this email I hope you will read the prose below from an interview with Sir Martin Donnelly, outgoing secretary at the Department for International Trade in the UK, by Jess Bowie in Civil Service World:
I used to encourage my daughters when they were small by telling them that on the whole girls were smarter and lived longer than boys – both true. When their mother died and I had a stint as a lone parent I began to realise that being carer of last resort was different to sharing the job, and that for a lot of women they were expected to be the family safety net, with their careers seen as secondary.

Then when I became gender diversity champion in the FCO I saw the effects of a traditional culture which – nearly 15 years ago now – often expected women to behave like men, and single men at that. I heard a lot of anger and frustration expressed behind closed doors about sexist attitudes and realised that change had to start with specific improvements, like guaranteed flexible working after maternity leave, improved mentoring and keeping in effective touch during career breaks.

Over time, I saw men become less embarrassed at leaving an early evening meeting in order to pick up children before the nursery closed; and we changed our ways of working to be more family-friendly. Morale and efficiency both improved. In BIS, our leadership team committed to going further, and we did – again by changing the culture to build trust and openness around people’s personal circumstances and then by doing things that helped them feel a valued part of our organisation, whatever their working patterns.

I have seen firsthand that real gender equality delivers high performing organisations where people want to work. And, more importantly, it is the way to treat everyone fairly and with respect. I don’t know if that makes me a feminist, but I don’t object to the term!

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Where in the World are the Women Leaders?

By Katie Shewfelt on July 07, 2017

Taken the morning of July 7, this photo captures a pivotal gathering of the G20 leaders, the key drivers of the international economy. This is, of course, a noteworthy image, but not just because of the striking concentration of global power and authority in a single frame. There is something amiss in this group - and it is revealed in the sea of suits, ties, and balding heads that compose this photograph.

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Why You Don't Know Who Pauli Murray Is, and Why You Should

By Katie Shewfelt on July 03, 2017

pauli-murray-214111-1-402.jpgI have to preface this article with a confession: up until this month, I didn’t know who she was either. The first time I ever heard Pauli Murray’s name spoken, it came from the mouth of Professor Brittney Cooper amidst an impassioned speech on racial politics. As an enthusiastic feminist and a connoisseur of empowered women’s narratives, I was disappointed that I had no idea who Murray was until that moment. But I understood why I didn’t know – and why you probably don’t.


So, have you heard of Pauli Murray?


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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation June 30, 2017

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on June 30, 2017


I am thrilled to report that the Fair Representation Act (H.R. #3057) was introduced by Rep Don Beyer (D VA) on Monday. When passed (!), THe FairRepAct will eliminate gerrymandering, reduce polarization, elect more women & partisans everywhere, and encourage civility by establishing ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts. In the shorter term we hope its introduction will spur a deeper conversation about the root causes of our electoral crisis and the innovative reforms necessary for a voter-driven democracy. Here are some of the press hits from this week's launch:

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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation June 23, 2017

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on June 23, 2017


Happy 45th anniversary of Title IX!

I find Title IX inspiring because it established equitable educational and athletic opportunity for generations of girls and women in the United States but also because it provides a terrific model for the type of reform package we need to embrace to win gender parity for women in elected office - in our lifetimes! So let's all raise a glass tonight to toast this landmark legislation.

Tuti Scott, a woman I am thrilled to call a friend and colleague, wrote an excellent piece on HuffingtonPost on Title IX that is well worth reading. While another friend and colleague, Representation2020 intern Anna Sheibmeir wrote a great piece on how Title IX can inform this generation's call for political equality.

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Progress Towards Gender Parity in French Legislative Election

By Representation2020 on June 23, 2017



This past weekend marked significant progress toward gender parity in France. The final round of the French parliamentary elections was held on Sunday, June 18, when voters elected a record number of women to parliamentary seats. Out of the 577 seats, women now fill 223, beating the last election’s record of 115. This is a huge stride toward gender parity, as the French parliament is now 38.7 percent women. According to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the French parliament now ranks 17th in the world for women’s representation in parliaments, an impressive improvement from its previous 64th place finish. 

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Learning from Past Structural Reforms: 45th Anniversary of Title IX

By Anna Scheibmeir on June 23, 2017




“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”


This Friday, June 23, marks the 45th anniversary of Title IX. This landmark legislation, part of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, set out to ensure equal educational opportunities regardless of gender. This allowed for more women to attend college, earn scholarships, study STEM fields, and pursue advanced degrees. Title IX also became the basis for equality in athletics, which has helped increase the number of women who participate in high school sports by 900 percent. Today, Title IX provides protections against campus sexual harassment and assault – another example of its expansive reach.


The passage of Title IX meant young women in school could finally participate in sports at the same rate as their male counterparts. Without structural intervention, it could have taken decades or longer for women to reach equal participation organically. Today, the underrepresentation of women in elected office requires the same type of structural reform. Telling women to run for office is not enough alone – just as telling women to play more sports was not enough before 1972. The only way to catalyze progress toward gender parity is through innovative rules changes.

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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation June 16, 2017

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on June 16, 2017


Dear all,

All eyes are on France this weekend to see the results from the final round of legislative elections this Sunday - read this article to rekindle your appreciation for the role that quotas play in catapulting more women into elected office. I know everyone feels apprehensive about using that term - but if we truly want to win parity in our lifetimes we need to embrace serious gender targets with enforcement mechanisms and consequences for non-compliance.

At least 245 women candidates topped their legislative races in Sunday night’s first round. If every one of those leading ladies won election next Sunday, France’s lower-house National Assembly would reach a high-water mark for its own gender parity at more than 42 percent – still not proper parity, but a relative giant leap for womankind in this chamber. In 2012, French voters elected 155 female lawmakers to the National Assembly, or nearly 27 percent, already a record. Only 20 years ago, in 1997, women still made up just 10.9 percent of the country’s lower-house lawmakers -- in a country that did not give women the right to vote until 1944.

To be sure, women made up a little more than 42 percent of the 7,877 candidates contesting the 577 seats up for grabs in these legislative elections. But the ratio of women candidates on the ballot is not necessarily a strong indicator of how many will win lawmaker roles. Recall that, in 2002, when a law came into effect penalising parties financially for not presenting a gender-equitable slate of candidates, women represented 39 percent of those standing for the legislature, but ultimately only 12.31 percent of those elected.

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