By Cynthia Richie Terrell on March 13, 2013
Achieving gender parity will require a shift in perspective and innovative strategies. Training and exhortation are needed, but we also must take on structural and institutional barriers to women’s representation.
Women have more success in elections with multi-seat legislative districts in which several people are elected rather than only one. Multi-seat districts create incentives for parties to recruit women candidates and for individual women to run. Internationally, the 19 countries with the highest percentage of women elected in free elections to their national legislature use multi-seat district elections with fair voting forms of proportional representation.
In the United States, six of the ten state legislatures with the highest percentage of women use multi-seat districts. We expect more states will join them in the coming years as we turn to fair voting systems in multi-seat districts as the best means to put a permanent end to gerrymandering, partisan distortions and entrenched incumbency.
In the short term, political parties can take action to enhance women’s representation through party rules to promote gender parity in government. In Sweden, for example, party rules have led directly to women holding 45 percent of the seats in its national legislature. Most of its parties promote gender parity through measures like requiring men and women to be alternated on their party lists for legislative seats.
Before assuming that such requirements would never gain support in the United States, consider that both the Democratic National Convention (DNC) and Republican National Convention (RNC) have adopted party rules to promote gender parity in selection of their leaders. Since the 1970s, the RNC has reserved one position for a man and one for a woman from every state and territory and require women to hold several key executive positions. The DNC also mandates gender parity for all leadership positions within the party’s committees and associations.
Building on that foundation, our parties should adopt rules promoting gender parity in nominating candidates for elected office. As an example, national parties could create incentives for recruiting women candidates by awarding Gender Parity grants to state parties if at least a third of that state’s primary candidates were women. State parties should form committees to recruit and train women candidates, funded in part by local party arms that fail to recruit a certain percentage of women candidates. More boldly, parties could mandate a certain number of women nominees.
Let’s come together to overcome barriers to equitable representation. Abigail Adams famously reminded her husband John Adams to “Remember the Ladies.” We still need that reminder today.
Hart and Terrell run FairVote’s Representation 2020 campaign, Representation2020.com.