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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation January 19th, 2024

Dear Readers,

This week, our staff had the opportunity to work in person leading up to our Woman Mayors' Network Reception yesterday! In addition to prepping for the reception, we gathered to develop and strengthen our team. Amidst the remote structure of work, there's a refreshing joy in the occasional opportunity to see staff in person, fostering genuine connections beyond the digital realm and adding a human touch to the professional landscape.

The RepresentWomen team eating dinner together at Cynthia’s house Credit: RepresentWomen

While co-hosting the reception with the Mayors Innovation Project and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation for women mayors all across the country, it was exciting to meet and connect with so many elected officials and other women leaders who are serving their communities. 

The RepresentWomen team and Board Member Michelle Whittaker at the Women Mayor's Network Reception in Washington D.C. Credit: RepresentWomen

The electoral world has been busy with the Republican caucuses, and the RepresentWomen team has been busy strategizing ways to strengthen our organization and, in turn, American democracy. Read about representation in the Iowa Caucus, outcomes from a lack of representation in the Southeast, what happens when women are in power, solutions for campaign funding shortages, and inclusion in parliaments abroad.  

Women and the Iowa Caucus

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley. Credit: The Des Moines Register

The 19th* had two great pieces this week covering women and the Iowa caucuses. First off, Mel Leonor Barclay reports that, not only is it difficult to be a woman presidential candidate, but it’s also difficult for women (especially mothers) to fully participate in critical processes like the Iowa caucus. Is it really a democratic process when such a significant part of the population can’t participate? Much like our work to bring our legislative workplaces into the 21st century, we need to remove barriers to active civic participation for folks who don’t fit the status quo. Vote-by-mail, telecommuting, and proxy voting are just a few options our research has identified as powerful structural solutions to upgrade our antiquated systems.

Monday’s Iowa caucuses will require that voters brave the bitter cold and ice to gather at their local caucus precinct at 7 p.m. CT, with no option to participate remotely or by mail. For Iowans with caregiving duties — who are more likely to be women — or who have a disability, this system has long created an outsize barrier to participation. The dangerous weather conditions now facing the state, and likely to yield the coldest caucuses in history, illustrate how that additional burden can easily compound, icing out vulnerable voters…

Who participates in the caucus — as well as who is excluded as a result of the process — will impact the outcome in the first-in-the-nation state. As they work now, participation in the caucuses can be a challenge for anyone who can’t physically show up to a designated site, at a specific time, in the middle of winter, and participate in the process in English. 

The second piece also comes from Mel Leonor Barclay, who celebrates Nikki Haley’s potential to become the first Republican woman to win a state primary. This is particularly noteworthy because our research shows that Republican women are vastly underrepresented in comparison to their Democratic counterparts, possibly due to greater cultural barriers faced by the Republican party. We were also thrilled to see our wonderful board member, Rina Shah, interviewed for the piece: 

Coming up, Haley has a narrow opportunity to become the first Republican woman to win a state primary, pending her showing in New Hampshire on January 23…

When it comes to the history of presidential runs, Republican women have been left in the dust. Haley’s campaign for president has marked a leap for women in the party, and her steady ascent in the  GOP primary so far as a Republican alternative to Donald Trump holds historic potential…

For Republican women in politics who are advocating for increased representation in a party that rails against attention to diversity and equity, Haley’s run represents a step forward for both recruitment and visibility. 

Rina Shah, a political strategist and commentator who has advised Republican campaigns, said the significance of Haley’s run lies in her ascent from support in the single digits to prominent endorsements from major conservative groups and donors based on her performance. 

“When you talk about how the world turns these days, it’s about the money and the power, and to have the powerful and moneyed come to say, ‘She’s the one,’ based on her performances — that’s what she’s fighting for. That’s what I’m fighting for,” Shah said in an interview. “I feel like that’s what the vast majority of American women want. We want to be seen.” 

South Eastern Legislatures Are Still Dominated by Men, Impacting Policy For Women

Graphic showing abortion access in the United States. Credit: Planned Parenthood

Since the overturning of Dobbs, nearly half of the United States (21) have implemented abortion bans or restrictions. The majority of these states are in the Southeast, which also includes legislatures consisting of over 80% men. Jennifer Berry Hawes of ProPublica reports in detail on the policy effects of gender imbalance. 

Our Impact Analysis of NYC’s Women Majority Council brief shows that women’s issues are prioritized when women are in power. To have a more effective and representative democracy, we must remove barriers for women running and serving in office.

[In 1992,] voters elected a record number of women to Congress in what became known as the “The Year of the Woman.” Yet while Congress and many states have seen steady growth in numbers of female lawmakers over the years since then, much of the Southeast has stagnated or barely inched forward.

Tennessee has fewer female legislators than it had 20 years ago. Mississippi improved less than 3 percentage points since then; South Carolina fared only slightly better. Louisiana gained 6 percentage points, and Alabama gained 7.

This leaves large majorities of men controlling policy — including laws that most impact women — at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is sending more power to statehouse doorsteps. Abortion, a key issue of the day, provides one window: A ProPublica analysis of comprehensive legislative data kept by the Reflective Democracy Campaign found that with few exceptions, the states with legislatures most dominated by men as of July have some of the nation’s strictest abortion bans.

RCV-Elected City Councilor Amanda Farías Becomes Majority Leader

New York City Councilmember Amanda Farías and RepresentWomen Partnerships Director Katie Usalis at the American Democracy Summit in 2023. Credit: RepresentWomen

Last week, our terrific ally Amanda Farías was appointed to be the majority leader of the New York City Council. Camille Botello reported in the Bronx Times about this historic milestone, showing how when women, like Council Leader Adrienne Adams, are put into positions of leadership, we uplift other women to build our political power.

Bronx City Council Member Amanda Farías made history last week when she was tapped as the first Latina to serve as majority leader of the council.

Council Speaker Adrienne Adams — a southeast Queens Democrat and the first Black speaker on the council — appointed Farías at the body’s Jan. 3 charter meeting… 

The 2021 City Council election cycle wasn’t just a defining political moment for Farías individually, but it was historic for the whole legislative body. That’s because 31 women, 86% of them women of color, marked the council’s first-ever female majority. Building on that momentum, Farías’ appointment as majority speaker last week is also the first time every top council leadership position will be held by women, all of whom are women of color, according to a statement from her office…

“It is critical to create pathways for a new generation of council leadership and it is a priority of mine to ensure opportunities for accomplished women of color,” Adams said. “I am excited to welcome Majority Leader Farías in this new role and work closely with her to deliver for all New Yorkers while strengthening this institution.”

Alternatives that Helped Women’s Candidates in Indonesia to Overcome Funding Shortages.

Data from the IPU. Image Credit: RepresentWomen

Tanya Jakimow, Aida Harahap, Asima Siahaan, and Yumasdaleni wrote an article in Indonesia at Melbourne about the struggles Indonesian women face when they aspire to have political careers. One of these struggles includes finding resources to fund their campaigns. In 2019, women candidates relied on unconventional methods to promote their campaigns, including NGO seminars on fundraising.

It is no secret that contesting elections in Indonesia can be eye-wateringly expensive. The open-list system turns elections into what Nadirsyah Hosen describes as ‘The Hunger Games’ in which candidates must out-compete (and out-bid) others, including from their own party. Cash and gifts – increasingly expected by voters – is one way to stand apart and demonstrate commitment. This, of course, increases the need for major financial backing.

High campaign costs disproportionately impact female candidates globally. Women have less wealth, lower incomes, and face greater challenges in mobilising funds from family or political donors. Indonesian women are similarly disadvantaged, as gender ideologies position women foremost as housewives, thereby constraining their professional opportunities…

Yet there are examples of female (and male candidates) winning in 2019 without resorting to expensive campaigns. Research from Central Java shows how women candidates had an advantage when they ran as, and for women, and by drawing upon extensive women’s networks. In West Sumatra, for example, women’s NGOs played an influential role supporting women candidates through training to overcome money politics and broker access to women’s networks.

Our research on women elected as representatives in North Sumatera found that many substantially lowered costs through long-term relationship-building and electoral practices, such as household visits, that achieve the same symbolic and practical ends as cash transfers, without the added financial expense. Indeed, rather than cash and gifts being an unavoidable electoral strategy, they argued it was used as a shortcut by candidates who had not put in the time to ‘sow and harvest’ relationships in their constituency.

A Lesson in Inclusivity from Spain: the Election of Mar Galcerán in the Spanish Parliament. 

Credit: Mar Galcerán’s  Instagram

Ashifa Kassam’s article in The Guardian covers Mar Galcerán who is the first woman with Down Syndrome to be elected to Spain’s parliaments. This is considered a milestone for people with disabilities, especially women who think they could never have political careers in national assemblies. Mar started her political career at 18 years old through joining the People’s Party in Spain. Her political career progressed with the help of Ángela Bachiller, who became the city councilor in 2013 for the city of Valladolid.  

“It’s unprecedented,” the 45-year-old told the Guardian. “Society is starting to see that people with Down’s syndrome have a lot to contribute. But it’s a very long road.”

Her feat has been decades in the making. When Galcerán was 18 years old, she joined the conservative People’s party (PP) after being attracted to what she described as its embrace of tradition.

The achievement catapults Galcerán to the top of the ranks of the handful of people with Down’s syndrome who have crashed through barriers to enter the world of politics. In 2020, Éléonore Laloux became the first person with the genetic disorder in France to be elected to public office, as a city council member in the northern town of Arras, while Ireland’s Fintan Bray was hailed for making history after he was elected to a political position in the country in 2022.

In Spain, Galcerán’s path into politics was blazed by Ángela Bachiller, who in 2013 became Spain’s first city councillor with Down’s syndrome in the northern city of Valladolid.

Galcerán may be the first in Europe, however, to join a regional or national parliament, according to Spain’s Down’s syndrome federation.

Rank the U.S. Presidents!

Despite Donald Trump winning the Iowa Caucus, I am still holding out hope we will see a woman president in our lifetimes. Let us know what U.S. President you feel has been the most effective with this ranked choice voting poll!

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

-Cynthia Richie Terrell


Credit: RepresentWomen

This past Monday, I was reminded of Coretta Scott King and her contributions to the American Civil Rights Movement. Embattled actor Johnathan Majors, in his first interview since his assault conviction, showed a massive misinterpretation of Coretta's contributions to our nation. Queen Coretta was more than just “a Coretta.” She lived a life committed to social justice, education, and peace. She was a civil rights activist long before she met her husband, and she contributed heavily to his legacy. Their collective mission was essential to preserving and strengthening democracy in the United States. As we celebrate Dr. King’s tremendous work in the civil rights movement, we cannot neglect the importance of the contributions of women to this work. Their commitment to justice, equality, and the principles of democracy showed in their leadership. The King women, both his wife and sister, Dr. Christine King Farris, believed that true democracy required the inclusion and protection of all citizens, irrespective of their race or background. As her daughter, Reverand Bernice King stated, Coretta was much more than a prop. Her legacy should be regarded as a true architect of the movement and her husband’s legacy. Coretta’s work will never be forgotten and serves as a blueprint for servicing humanity.

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