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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation December 15th 2023

Dear Readers,

The festive melodies are in the air, and the holiday spirit is settling in, but at RepresentWomen, there's no pause in the pursuit of progress toward building women's political power. Despite the approaching holidays, things are still in full swing!

To kick us off this week, I’d like to share a bit about new research from the team. On Tuesday, we released our Oceania Brief, which reports on the 14 countries of the Oceania region and how they’re doing on women’s representation. It turns out the status of women’s representation varies drastically across the region, from under 2% in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea to New Zealand, which has successfully achieved gender balance. We did find that the countries that use proportional representation voting systems and gender quotas have the highest levels of women’s representation, emphasizing that voting systems matter for ensuring women's equal political representation.

Here’s a brief excerpt from the executive summary of the Oceania Brief:

In short, we find that: 

  • Countries with proportional voting systems (PR) have the highest levels of women’s representation; PR creates opportunities, removes barriers for women to enter politics, and ensures representation for multiple minority constituencies in the same election. 
  • Gender quotas are most effective when combined with PR voting systems. Countries that have quotas but use winner-take-all systems have significantly lower levels of women’s representation. New Zealand, which has reached political parity across all levels of government, shows this. 
  • Strategies that advance women’s representation in the legislature have a ripple effect on other branches of government. Countries that use proportional voting systems have gender quotas, or combine the two see the highest levels of women’s cabinet representation. This is shown in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Samoa.

Now let’s get into what else happened this week in the world of women in politics.

Calls for a Feminist Perspective Grow During Climate Change Discussions at The 28th Conference of Parties

Credit: Climate Clock

An article for Devex by Helen Morgan illustrates the need for a feminist perspective in discussions around climate change. During the first week of COP 28 (28th meeting of the Conference of Parties), concerns arose regarding the insufficient gender diversity in climate change negotiations, echoing similar issues from COP 27 and COP 26.

Climate Clock’s Gender Parity Lifeline tracks the average number of women in national parliaments around the globe and, “emphasizes the need to fast-track gender parity as a climate solution.” With just 6 years left on the clock, the issue is becoming more pressing by the day. Implementing system strategies can accelerate gender parity progress and eventually reduce the adverse effects of climate change. 

During the first week of the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP 28, concerns were raised about the lack of gender diversity in the negotiations. The same concerns were also raised following COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2022. And about COP 26 in Glasgow.

In fact, in the last 10 years, women’s representation in the COP negotiations has increased only marginally, from 30% to 35%, according to Jemimah Njuki, chief of economic empowerment at UN Women.

“Women must be represented. Climate solutions are not going to be effective if they do not include the voices of those that are most affected,” Njuki told the audience at the Devex Climate + event in Dubai.

She called for gender-equal outcomes for women and girls, as part of what she dubbed “feminist climate justice.” Representation is just one of the “Four Rs” of feminist climate justice — the other three are recognition, redistribution, and reparation, she said…

Highlighting the pledges made to the loss and damage fund on the first day of COP 28, she said “We must ask … how much of that is going to women?”

Center for American Progress: “Is Alaska the Secret to Saving American Democracy?”

From left to right, Research Director Courtney Lamendola, Research Manager Steph Scaglia, and Outreach Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw

On Tuesday, RepresentWomen’s Research Director Courtney Lamendola, Research Manager Steph Scaglia, and Outreach Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw attended an event at the Center for American Progress right here in Washington D.C.! This panel covered the impact of Alaska’s implementation of top-four primaries and ranked choice voting generals and featured three Alaska state legislators: state Senate Majority Leader Cathy Giessel (R), state House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, and state Rep. Genevieve Mina (D).

RCV and open primaries “helped break the extremism that was happening in the closed Republican primary,” said Representative Mina; it “changed the vibe of the legislature.” 

Senator Giessel spoke to the impact RCV has on both candidates and voters, saying, “We’re empowering the citizens and requiring candidates to be much more authentic.” By enabling voters to voice their hearts, they don’t risk not having their voice heard, she emphasized. 

This event and the words of the legislators reinforced what our research finds time and time again: RCV benefits both voters and electeds, RCV levels the playing field for nontraditional candidates, and RCV encourages compassion and collaboration throughout the political process. 

Our terrific allies at Unite America gathered data on the impact of reform in Alaska and found that:

While it is too early to know the full extent of the Alaska system's impact on representation, more women and people of color ran for the state legislature in 2022, and they performed better than in 2020. 

  • Women were far more likely to seek office under the new election system: 19 women ran for statewide office in 2022, more than all five previous election cycles combined. Further, female candidates were victorious in a majority of open seats.
  • This includes Mary Peltola, who became the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress, and the first woman to hold Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House.
  • Alaska’s current state legislature is more diverse than ever before: 14 people of color, representing 23% of the legislature, are currently serving after winning office in 2022.
  • Voters of color also felt better represented under the new system: Exit polling found that 54% of Alaska Native voters and 47% of other voters of color felt that their vote mattered more than in previous years, while just 20% and 18%, respectively, felt it mattered less.

Women Still Face Gender-Based Discrimination In Serbia’s Elections

Creator: Bojan Slavkovic Credit: REUTERS

Euractiv published an important article written by Milena Antonijević about challenges faced by women politicians seeking elected office in Serbia. Women have raised concerns about unequal media coverage during the election, which uses a Proportional/List PR voting system. Despite being ranked second regionally for women’s representation, the country’s current political climate amplifies ongoing worries about the lack of gender balance in Serbia’s National Assembly.

Check out RepresentWomen’s Report on International Women’s Representation to find out more about gender balance across the globe and RepresentWomen’s International Snapshot to learn more about where Serbia ranks globally for gender balance.

From 2014 to 2023, Serbia’s National Assembly has seen limited progress regarding gender parity, with the share of women working in the legislative house currently hovering at around 35%. Speaking to Euractiv, the Academy of Women’s leadership noted that despite the progress, including within major parties – and even the government – women are often merely viewed as numbers.

“They are subservient to the rule of authoritarian leaders of political parties. So, in both the parliament and the government, they essentially work according to the orders of male state and party leaders. Only in some opposition parties do we have authentic female politicians who have both political influence and the professional strength they bring into politics,” activists from the Academy explained…

“The media report on violence against women; however, they rarely place the problem in the context of the pre-election campaign. Some campaign participants problematise femicide and propose systemic changes that could contribute to reducing gender-based violence,” they also said.

“Female politicians are rarely present on the front pages of daily newspapers, but even when they appear, the presentation is problematic.”

Alissa Bombardier Shaw Interviews Las Cruces City Councilmember Johana Bencomo on The Essential Role of Women in Decision-Making

RepresentWomen’s Outreach Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw interviewed newly reelected Las Cruces city councilmember Johana Bencomo for a piece published in the Fulcrum. Their interview dove into her experience as one of the only women on the Utilities Board and highlighted the need for resources like our Women Experts in Democracy Directory to ensure women are being given a seat at every table, panel, and podium.

“Being the only one of anything is heavy, you feel pressure and out of place. ... When I'm in those spaces, I think, 'How is no one saying it's only men or only white people? And why does no one notice that something is off?'”...

The goal of this directory is to make it easier to include women on panels and at conferences, to speak at events, to contribute to research projects, and so much more. As Tyler Fisher, Unite America’s senior director of policy and partnerships, said, “The Women Experts in Democracy Directory should be a bookmarked resource by any leader of any serious election reform campaign. Thanks to RepresentWomen's work, there is no longer an excuse for not having female representation on our boards, panels, or committees.”

Our directory is a publicly available resource that includes women like Bencomo, along with Danielle Allen, former director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University; North Carolina Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls; OpenSecrets Executive Director Sheila Krumholz; national elections expert Amber McReynolds; Ann Ravel, formerly a commissioner on the Federal Elections Commission; and many more. With over 80 women and counting, this directory allows you to refine your search based on area of expertise, occupation, geographic location, and languages spoken…

As a community, it’s pivotal that we commit to increasing diversity and prioritizing inclusion in every aspect of our work, and this directory helps us do this. In the insightful words of Bencomo, “In order to change the system, we need people who are directly impacted in every space. We need these people to shake things up and bring better, bolder solutions to the table.”

Nicole Rogers Becomes First Black Women to Serve on Albuquerque City Council 

Nicole Rogers, Headshot

Earlier this week, Nicole Rogers was announced as the winner of the Albuquerque City Council District 6 runoff election, becoming the first Black woman ever to hold a seat on the city council. In a piece published on KUNM public radio station, Nash Jones highlights Rogers’ political journey and acknowledges her unique qualifications to serve as city councilor. As a Black and Hispanic single mother who had to navigate complex social systems, it is clear that Rogers deeply understands the struggles and needs of the District 6 constituency. 

Although Roger’s victory is certainly a milestone worth celebrating, Black women remain severely underrepresented at every level of government. It is unacceptable that there has never been a Black woman serving on the Albuquerque City Council in its over 50-year history. In fact, Rogers said herself, “We shouldn’t be talking about firsts in 2023.” 

To achieve progress toward gender-balanced governance, we must dismantle the structural barriers that prevent women, specifically women of color, from running for political office. Through system-level solutions, we can ensure that Black women’s political victories are no longer described as ‘groundbreaking’ but rather are a routine and expected outcome. 

Rogers ran in part on her lived experience as a Black and Hispanic woman and single mom who has had to navigate social support systems. She said having that history prepared her to serve her constituents in the International District, who are the District 6 residents most in need of resources and advocacy.

“You are a better representative when you have the same lived experience of the people you are trying to represent,” she told KUNM ahead of the election...

Her election is historic in the city of Albuquerque. While Solomon Brown, a Black man, was appointed to the governing body for three months in 1977, no African-American has ever been elected to the council, and no Black woman has held a seat … 

“We shouldn’t be talking about firsts in 2023,” Rogers told KUNM. “So this means that hopefully somebody out there who looks like me is believing that they can do this. We can do this.”

Celebrating Women Philanthropists


In 2015 we released a report on the extent to which individual donors and PACs were supporting women candidates. And then in 2020 we released an updated brief that called for PACs & donors to set a target for the percentage of money they pledge to women candidates to ensure that women can run viable campaigns and to elevate the role of women in philanthropy.

Given our history of involvement in this work I have been pleased to see women philanthropists including Melinda Gates, McKenzie Scott, and many others who are making significant contributions to the movement. This thoughtful piece in Inside Philanthropy highlights the 50 most powerful women in philanthropy in the United States in 2023:

For far too long it’s been the case that philanthropy’s biggest funders and figureheads are men, typically white men, who control the lion’s share of philanthropic capital and take the credit for whatever philanthropic achievements are the talk of the day. Yet going all the way back to the original Gilded Age, it was often the proverbial “woman behind the man” who set the agenda, convened the meetings and actually got the money out the door.  

Lately, there have been significant advancements in terms of the real power and control harnessed by women in philanthropy. Today’s wealthiest apex donors include more women than ever before, and we finally see more gender inclusivity at the top levels of foundation leadership. 

This tracks with larger developments. Given widened wealth inequality in the U.S., there are simply more billionaires, hence more billionaire power couples with both spouses engaged in giving. And recently, through divorces or deaths, more incredibly powerful female philanthropists have emerged. In addition, more self-made women have turned to philanthropy, tapping significant fortunes. Another development is a general trend toward democratization in philanthropy, including internal DEI practices among grantmakers who now set explicit benchmarks for diversity in leadership.

Women Candidates Running to be President Deserve More Coverage

All In Together has been tracking the amount of attention that Nikki Haley is getting in her run for the Republican presidential nomination and has found that other candidates are getting more coverage - despite a lower standing in recent polls:

Research shows that candidate coverage has a meaningful impact on public support for and perceptions of those candidates. This research is the first part of a series we will be releasing throughout the 2024 election cycle looking at women candidates for President, Senate and Governor.  The research is conducted through a media cloud research interface and using natural language processing.

Part 1 of our study: Republican Presidential candidate Ambassador Nikki Haley

While she was widely seen as having won all three of the Republican primary debates and has been climbing to second place in many recent polling, Nikki Haley’s media coverage trails far behind her top two rivals Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. 

For more perspective on Haley's candidacy listen in to this great panel discussion on National Public Radio's WAMU affiliate that included fabulous RepresentWomen board member Rina Shah.

While a number of women ran for the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party in 2020 there is just one woman running for the nomination in 2024, Marianne Williamson, and she is getting very little coverage despite running ahead of Rep Dean Phillips in the majority of polls. As a case in point, here is an example of polling data from RealClear Politics from the last month that shows her leading Phillips in nearly every poll of likely voters.

I just Googled the Williamson candidacy to see when the last major story was written about her campaign and the most recent piece I found was this one from September 27th! I used the same language to search for stories on Phillips' campaign and found five stories -- from the last 24 hours! Even if there have been a flurry of stories on Williamson that my search engine missed, I think it's clear that the news media is not taking her candidacy as seriously as Phillips' campaign even though he is less popular with the voters. 

We can and must address the discrepancies in coverage, the debate process, and ballot access for candidates to ensure a level playing field, competitive elections, and a democracy that we can all put our faith in.

Keseb Event in Washington, DC

It was an honor to speak at Keseb's event on authoritarianism and feminism organized by the amazing Yordanos Eyoel - I look forward to participating in more such conversations in 2024!

I love this season of gift-giving - I have made many a trip to the post office with boxes of cookies and treats!

I've been in NYC this week and had a lovely lunch with Yale Campaign School director Patti Russo and another lunch with a FairVote board member who brought handmade gifts - which are always welcome this time of year.

Last week, we asked readers to rank what they thought was the most impactful system strategy regarding increasing women’s representation. You guys voted for ranked choice voting!  

The end of the year is approaching fast, and it's not a secret that a huge focus for many Americans in 2024 will be the presidential election. For this week’s ranked choice voting poll, let us know which issue you think will be at the forefront of political discussions next year!

Have a great weekend, all!

Cynthia Richie Terrell


From left to right, Outreach Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw, Research Manager Steph Scaglia, and Research Director Courtney Lamendola. 

On Wednesday, RepresentWomen’s Research Director Courtney Lamendola, Research Manager Steph Scaglia, and Outreach Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw attended a holiday party hosted by our fabulous partner, Running Start. The evening consisted of a celebration, Susannah Welford’s homemade cookies, and many inspiring conversations with young women dedicated to building women’s political power. Thank you to Running Start and Susannah for inviting us to join the festivities!



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