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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation October 27th 2023

Dear Readers,

This week, the RepresentWomen team released a new brief titled “Proportional Ranked Choice Voting (PRCV): Promoting Fair Elections and Removing Barriers for Women in U.S. Politics,” as well as a Timeline outlining the history of PRCV and women’s representation in government. This brief outlines why winner-take-all voting systems negatively impact women, the history of PRCV in the U.S., and why PRCV is the best proportional voting system to advance women’s political representation in the U.S. 

Empowering Women in American Politics by Creating a Gender-Balanced Democracy: New Research on Proportional Ranked Choice Voting 

Here is an excerpt from the executive summary that covers some of the toplines from this brief:  

RepresentWomen’s research shows that progress toward political parity is slow and uneven in the United States. Our research also shows that our current WTA voting system is partially to blame for the underrepresentation of women in politics because it rewards gatekeeping behaviors that prevent women from running for office. By removing the barriers women face, system strategies such as PRCV facilitate candidate entry, increase competition, drive deeper candidate-constituent relationships, decrease polarization, and yield more representative outcomes.

Based on the available evidence, we have found that PRCV mitigates the threat of majority tyranny and places power back in the hands of voters, paving the way toward a gender-balanced and representative democracy. 

  • PRCV creates opportunities for women candidates to enter politics by eliminating fears of vote splitting, decreasing campaign costs, reducing incumbency advantage, and encouraging candidate recruitment. 
  • PRCV enables multiple constituencies to elect candidates of choice. Because PRCV elections are multi-winner, multiple interest groups can be represented within the same district, allowing for diverse governing coalitions in terms of gender, race, and ideology. 
  • Women played a critical role in advancing PRCV within the United States. Not only does PRCV have a deep history of use within the United States, but women have been a part of this movement from the beginning. 
  • PRCV resulted in the election of the first women on several city councils, including in Cleveland, OH; New York, NY; Hamilton, OH; and Cambridge, MA. 

PRCV is the only form of PR compatible with all United States elections – both partisan and nonpartisan. The majority of local elections are nonpartisan, and PRCV is the only PR system that has been tried in the U.S. Women In Iceland Honor Tradition By Striking To Protest Gender Pay Gap And Gender-Based Violence

On Tuesday, October 24, 2023, Iceland held "kvennafrí"a day when women collectively refused to work. Senior Journalist Ido Vock wrote a fantastic article for BBC News detailing this strike's motivations and historical significance. Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is among the tens of thousands of women opting out of work to draw attention to the gender pay gap and gender-based violence. 

A women-led strike of this magnitude has not occurred in Iceland since 1975, when 90% of Icelandic women refused to work at their places of employment or do housework, forcing Iceland to shut down. The outcomes of that strike, led by a woman’s group called the “red stockings,” significantly reduced the gender pay gap in Iceland, introduced constitutional protections for women, and increased women’s representation in Parliament. These results positioned Iceland as one of the world’s most equitable developed countries for nearly 50 years. 

Check out this video for a  more in-depth look at the 1975 Icelandic women’s strike:

Iceland's new generation of women hopes to move closer to gender parity and create a safer, more equitable country for women. You can learn more about the political status of women worldwide in RepresentWomen’s Report on International Women’s Representation

Katrín Jakobsdóttir said her government was looking into how female-dominated professions are valued in comparison to fields traditionally dominated by men...

Speaking to BBC Newshour, strike organiser Kristín Ástgeirsdóttir said violence against women remains a problem in Iceland despite high levels of gender equality.

"The theory was that the more gender equality, the less violence. That unfortunately does not seem to be the case," she said, adding: "Violence against women is deeply rooted in our culture…"

"We're seeking to bring attention to the fact that we're called an equality paradise, but there are still gender disparities and urgent need for action," said Freyja Steingrimsdottir, one of the strike organisers, in quotes cited by Reuters news agency…

Former Icelandic president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir told the BBC in 2015 that the 1975 strike was "the first step for women's emancipation in Iceland," which paved the way for her to become the first woman to be democratically elected head of state in the world in 1980.

New Op-Ed Sheds Light on Global Gender Parity Progress 

Our communications Intern, Nora Weiss, wrote an excellent op-ed on RepresentWomen’s Golden Year Analysis for Ms. Magazine. The piece highlights the crucial role of election rules and voting systems in shaping women's representation and the frustratingly slow progress the United States has made.

While the U.S. is making slow progress toward political parity, other countries are making more significant gains over time. The Golden Year Analysis emphasizes the role that systems-level factors, such as voting systems and election rules, play in improving women’s representation in government. By analyzing global trends in women’s representation, this report sheds light on the most promising pathways to progress. 

Of all systems-level reforms, gender quotas are among the most effective in facilitating rapid and impressive gains for women in politics.

  • In 2021, Mexico achieved gender balance in parliament due to a gender quota law implemented a few years prior.

Although voting systems and election rules are critical in achieving gender-balanced governance, social norms and cultural values are equally important. To create sustainable change, we must foster a culture that condemns gender-based discrimination and promotes equity in the context of politics and all aspects of society. Systems-level reforms can accelerate progress but must be supported by cultural narratives that empower women. 

Undoubtedly, golden years are noteworthy milestones in women’s global representation and deserve recognition. However, the fight for gender balance in politics is far from finished. While some countries are making significant progress toward political parity, many, such as the United States, have only experienced incremental gains.

Addressing Racism to Foster Women’s Leadership

Our partner She Should Run is hosting a webinar series about the issues women care about to hit home the message of why women’s voices are so important at the political decision-making table. So far, they have covered topics such as the economy, gun violence, and climate change. On Wednesday, RepresentWomen co-hosted the latest webinar in the series  titled Lifting as We Climb: How We Can Grow a Diverse Movement to Address Racism. Our National Partnerships Manager, Victoria Pelletier,  spoke about her experience running and serving as the second ever Black woman on the Portland, ME, city council.. She also shared actionable ways to address and counter racism as a candidate or in your community.

I would always counter people saying, “I didn't have experience,” with saying the words “opportunity” and “access.” What I would normally say is that I can't get experience without opportunity.I can't get opportunity without access; and I need both of these things from voters in order to get the experience that voters think I should have before I serve. I’m a Black woman; I'm a renter; I'm a young person. The system is not designed, especially in government, for me to waltz into city hall and win my seat. It's going to take consistent work of breaking down a lot of the racial and gender oppression that exists in our local and national government systems. It was really important for me to have that conversation at the doors with voters… 

In terms of feeling like I was qualified to run for office, I also realized that these issues that we’re facing in Portland are issues I’m living in real-time. I realized that my lived experience is experience. We have that lived experience of just being women, just being women of color. We know what it's like to be told “no,” or “wait your turn,” or “not yet…”

[When running for office] make sure you're taking care of your mental health. Take a break if you need to, but also, just remember who you are. Remember you are very, very qualified. Your experience, your regular life experience, is qualification enough for you to serve. The only thing that you need is to care about the city or state that you’re living in. As long as you care and you really want to make this space a better place, you are very much qualified to be in that room. If I am in this seat, you can absolutely be in this seat. 

Poland Makes Strides in Female Representation, Yet Falls Short of Europe’s Average: Challenges Persist in Breaking Structural Barriers

During the recent Polish Parliamentary election, women won almost 30% of the Sejm (Lower House) seats, which is the highest record of women elected in Poland. Notes of Poland released a multi faceted article detailing the impact of women on the elections, starting by attributing these strides for women's representation to parties aiming to increase women's voters via party programs that support women and increasing the numbers of women candidates.These changes led to the high turnout of women voters at 74%.

Even though the country achieved a higher women representation than the international average, Poland is still slacking behind the 33% European Union average on women members of parliament(MPs). Despite record breaking numbers of women elected in the lower house, women were still less likely to make it to the top of the party lists than men. You can learn more about International Women's representation from RepresentWomen’s Dashboard: International Voting Systems.

During the election campaign, the opposition, especially KO and The Left, sought to mobilise female voters, including by promoting their own female candidates and by putting forward programmes focused on women.

Those two parties also aimed for gender parity among their candidates, with women making up 47.8% of candidates on KO’s electoral lists and 49.6% on those of The Left.

This share was lower, however, among the number one candidates on each group’s electoral lists, who generally have the best chance of being elected: 41.5% for KP and 34.2% for The Left. Third Way had 41.2% of female candidates overall, and 20% among top candidates.

Meanwhile, 40.4% of PiS candidates were women, with only 24.4% top candidates being female. Confederation – a party whose main leaders are all men and which polls most strongly among male voters – had almost 40% female candidates but just 2.4% among top candidates.

The exit poll published after the close of voting on Sunday evening indicated that turnout among female votes, at 73.7%, was slightly higher than the 72% among male ones.

The exit poll also showed that women were likelier than men to vote for the three mainstream opposition parties but much less likely to vote for Confederation. PiS attracted similar support among both male and female voters.

Halloween is just around the corner! What candies are you most excited to eat? Rank them here!

That’s all for this week. Have a spectacularly spooky weekend!

-The RepresentWomen Team


Our incredible partners at Unite America recently released a report titled Alaska’s Election Model: How the top-four nonpartisan primary system improves participation, competition, and representation. The report analyzes election outcomes, synthesizes new research from scholars and practitioners in the field, and conducts original research to measure the impact of Alaska’s reform on participation, competition, representation, and polarization. We’re so grateful for our partnership with Unite America and their crucial work in the democracy reform sphere.

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