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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation June 30th, 2023

Dear Readers,

This Tuesday, New York City held ranked choice voting primary elections for the city council. As of June 28, preliminary results have been released – 30 women incumbents won their primaries. In this low-turnout, off-year election, some key races were District 1 and District 9. In District 1, current Councilmember Christopher Marte beat his two more moderate woman challengers, Susan Lee and Ursila Jung. In District 9, where current Councilmember Kristin Richardson Jordan did not run for reelection, Yusef Saleem of the Exonerated Central Park 5 holds the lead over Inez Dickens.  

A woman-majority council in New York continues due to electoral system reforms and qualified women candidates. But New York is not the only place that recognizes the critical role of systems reforms in electing women. This week Melinda French Gates wrote a seminal article about the urgent need for women's representation in politics. She observes that empowering women to run for public office within the broken system is insufficient. "Ultimately though, we can’t just keep pushing women into a broken system: We need to fix the system, addressing the full range of structural barriers that keep our government from looking like the people it’s intended to serve." Addressing the multitude of institutional obstacles women encounter when running for office is essential.

RepresentWomen is grateful to Melinda French Gates for her commitment to building women's political power and to Pivotal Ventures for supporting our work.

If you haven't already, check out our 2022 Report: Why Women Won in 2021, which explores the factors that led to a woman-majority council in New York City.

Preliminary Results from Arlington County, VA

Election Results from Arlington County

Last week, we highlighted Arlington County’s debut of ranked choice voting for its board elections and the Virginia Democratic Primary. Since there were two open seats, this was a notable use of proportional ranked choice voting (RCV). On Friday evening, preliminary results for the board were released, confirming Maureen Coffey and Susan R. Cunningham as winners for the two open seats.

Read some of the positive reviews on RCV from local voters and news outlets here.

Both candidates praised the ranked-choice system, noting that it gave representation to two camps of a community that had been split on the missing middle.

“There are two different constituencies that came out and voted and had two different sets of priorities,” Coffey said, “but both groups get someone to represent them on the board.”

…If only first-choice votes had been counted — the closest parallel to the more traditional “first past the post” system — the election would have gone to the candidates who most vocally criticized missing middle

Supreme Court Strikes Down Race-based Admissions at Harvard and UNC; Black and Hispanic College Graduates Express How It Feels to Have Your Life Changed by Affirmative Action 

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in its decisions for the Harvard University and the University of North Carolina cases brought by Asian American students who want to end affirmative action at all universities. 

Justice Sonia Sotomayor proclaims that "the devastating impact of this decision cannot be overstated." Although Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson recused herself from the Harvard case, her dissent read in part, "With let-them-eat-cake obliviousness, today, the majority pulls the ripcord and announces 'colorblindness for all' by legal fiat [...] But deeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life. And having so detached itself from this country's actual past and present experiences, the Court has now been lured into interfering with the crucial work that UNC and other institutions of higher learning are doing to solve America's real-world problems."

Students across America have been anticipating the Supreme Court's decision on affirmative action. The ruling threatens to limit the number of Black and Latino students accepted to universities. Sally Kohn writes in TIME that while White women have benefited more from affirmative action than any other group they will likely be impacted by the Court's decisions if affirmative action based on sex, disability, or veteran status is ever targeted. 

Andrew Brennen, 27, is entering Columbia Law School this fall, perhaps the last class shaped by race-conscious admissions. He has no doubt that given his test scores and grades, being Black played a role in his admission — for which he is unapologetic.

“As someone who is seeking to create the most change possible for Black students in Kentucky,’’ he said, “I sought the best education I could.”

Almost seven decades after Brown v. Board of Education, more than half of the nation’s K-12 students are enrolled in districts where students are either more than 75 percent white or more than 75 percent nonwhite, according to a recent report by EdBuild, a nonpartisan education group.

School districts serving mostly white students receive $2,200 more in government funding per student, the authors found, than those that serve mostly nonwhite students.

And the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gold-standard federal exam, shows deep and persistent gaps by race. By high school, those differences have hardened: 58 percent of Asian American test-takers and 31 percent of white test-takers scored a 1200 or higher on the SAT in 2022, according to the College Board, which runs the exam. For Hispanic and Black students, those numbers were 12 percent and 8 percent.

For supporters, the persistent inequities are proof that race-conscious affirmative action is still needed — and the reason those students come into elite institutions behind. His path, experts said, is consistent with data that suggests that Black and Hispanic students at elite schools are helped by affirmative action. They are more likely to graduate from highly selective colleges and earn more after graduation.

Consider Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a graduate of Princeton and Yale and the first Hispanic member of the Supreme Court, who has described herself as a “perfect affirmative action baby.’’

Or former President Barack Obama, a graduate of Columbia and Harvard Law School, where in 1990 he wrote that he was “someone who has undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action programs during my academic career.”

“It’s hard to maybe measure the exact ways in which affirmative action helps,” said Mr. Phillips, now a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “But you can see this chain. One person is let in, and that person then goes on to have a position where they can let other people in.”

Supreme Court Rejects Theory That Would Have Transformed American Elections

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a legal theory known as the  “independent state legislature theory” that would give state legislatures broad authority to gerrymander electoral maps and pass voter suppression laws. The Court’s decision is based on its interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause and Presidential Electors Clause.

The vote was 6 to 3, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing the majority opinion. The Constitution, he said, “does not exempt state legislatures from the ordinary constraints imposed by state law.”

Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Neil M. Gorsuch dissented.

The case concerned the “independent state legislature” theory. It is based on a reading of the Constitution’s Elections Clause, which says, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

Proponents of the strongest form of the theory say this means that no other organs of state government — not courts, not governors, not election administrators, not independent commissions — can alter a legislature’s actions on federal elections.

The ruling soundly dismissed the theory, one that an unusually diverse array of lawyers, judges, and scholars across the ideological spectrum viewed as extreme and dangerous.

But election law specialists cautioned that Tuesday’s decision elevated the power of federal courts in the process, allowing them to second-guess at least some rulings of state courts based on state law.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, and Ketanji Brown Jackson joined the chief justice’s majority opinion.

Toronto’s Mayoral Election Was Largely Influenced by Men, and a Woman Still Won

The electorate in Toronto dedicated about 72.6% of their votes to the top three women candidates (compared to 18.2% cast for the top three male candidates) in their most recent election. Voter turnout increased, and Olivia Chow was elected as Toronto's newest mayor, despite an election season dominated by male influence.

During the last stretch of the campaign, big name endorsements included Premier Doug Ford for Mark Saunders and former Toronto Mayor John Tory for Ana Bailão — two powerful voices in Toronto’s political space. Candidate Anthony Furey also drew a wild card endorsement from Jordan Peterson. The controversial academic appealed to his 4.1 million (mostly male) followers on Twitter to support where they could.

Even though some high-profile women did endorse candidates (i.e., former mayor Barbara Hall for Bailão), it didn’t yield the kind of media attention it did when well-known men leaned in. A question floating around after the results were tallied, was whether Tory’s endorsement could have tipped the scales for Bailão if it was made just a week earlier.

But looking at the campaign teams of several front runners, it is notable just how many respective advisers to the candidates were men. Bradford, Bailão, Matlow, Hunter , and Chow all leveraged suites of high-profile strategists, most of whom were male. While outnumbered, a nod to Saunders’ team, which was led by a team of experienced women.

To be clear, this is not an attack on any of these highly capable individuals; campaigns are hard work and time consuming. This is also not to say women are incapable of being more front and centre, but what is noteworthy is how many more men influence the political process in Canada.

Arguably, less women at the decision table impacts public policy issues affecting women. For example, we saw public safety take front stage during this race, the attacks on the TTC made concerns stand out for voters, but the narrative appealing to women on this front was minimal even though evidence suggests women are largely the victims of these attacks.

The question becomes, if more women had been at the table would a female perspective have emerged more blatantly in this election? For instance, Toronto’s parks are in dire straits and without access to public washrooms, aside from not being able to relieve herself, how might mothers find privacy or space to tend to their child’s needs?

Menstrual products for homeless shelters have also been a reoccurring budget item debated at city hall — this seems like a no-brainer and arguably a human right for the city to offer permanent funding for hygiene products in Toronto’s shelters.

Toronto could also borrow ideas from abroad. For example, in Stockholm, a “gender-equal plowing strategy” during winter is prioritized clearing sidewalks over streets, recognizing that more women travel by foot or on public transit.

As we reflect on the many voices that may have been missed in this election it is incumbent upon all of us to work a create a more inclusive city. It’s this approach that organizations like Equal Voice take by promoting and coaching more women into Canada’s political arena.

As Toronto crowns our third woman mayor, we can get excited about the opportunity this brings for Mayor-elect Chow to include more women and non-binary voices into Toronto’s political domain.

Global Updates on Women in Politics 

Our terrific ally Akshi Chawla, whom you can find in RepresentWomen's Women Experts in Democracy Directory, released her monthly updates on women in politics from all over the globe earlier this week in her #WomenLead blog. In this month's update, Chawla covers elections to keep on our radar along with other nations using some of the critical reforms RepresentWomen advances, such as gender-balanced appointments and hiring policies and modernizing the governmental workspace through rules changes.

🇸🇱 Sierra Leone: Also going to polls today is Sierra Leone to elect its next President and members of Parliament. This is a historic election in the country - it is the first instance of an election after the country brought in a law that mandated political parties to ensure 30 percent of their candidates are women...

Gilda Sportiello, an MP from Italy, became the first person to breastfeed her baby during a session of the country’s Parliament, the Associated Press reported. Sportiello had earlier fought for a rule so that Parliamentarians who were new mothers did not have to skip work if they were breastfeeding their baby...

In the meantime, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are pushing for a reform that will pave way for parental leave for legislators. Currently, MEPs cannot vote if they are on leave to care for children. They are pushing for official leave that will allow remote voting when a new parent is not able to attend a session in person. 

“If you’re forced to choose between your votes and your child that’s a really bad signal, especially for young women,” Lara Wolters, a Dutch MEP who is expecting her second child, told POLITICO. 

Another Barrier Women Face in the Workplace: Ageism

New research finds that women face ageism in the workplace at every age, not just old age. An article written by Amy DiehlLeanne M. Dzubinski, and Amber L. Stephenson discusses ageism and women's careers. Ageism was once thought to affect exclusively senior citizens. However, a new form of ageism, "Youngism," affects women. When maturity and ability are mistakenly associated with age, it turns into a flawed argument used to discriminate against young women. Older women also face age-based discrimination as they are seen as less relevant and less capable than their male co-workers who are the same age. Ageism in the workplace is gendered, as men are largely unaffected by this type of discrimination. No matter what age a woman is, she faces barriers to advancing her career simply because of her gender. This negatively impacts companies because having an age-diverse workforce enhances the productivity and performance of the organization, while age discrimination leads to reduced engagement and job satisfaction.

As women age, they are often not seen as valuable or relevant in the way that their male counterparts are. Older women in our research expressed that they were deemed unworthy of advancement. “While men become wells of wisdom as they age, older women are seen as outdated, harpy, strident,” one physician noted. “Our voices are discounted.” For example, a 61-year-old deputy chief information officer (CIO) was not considered in CIO succession planning. Instead, the current CIO was grooming a male colleague for the role. Another retirement-aged woman added, “I am largely ignored.”

Younger women — and those who looked young — were called pet names or even patted on the head, as one 39-year-old woman reported. Young women also experienced role incredulity. They reported being mistaken for students, interns, trainees, support staff, secretaries, paralegals, and court reporters. Such inaccurate assumptions were especially prevalent for non-White women, such as an Asian higher-education executive who appeared young and was presumed to be in a junior position.

Many younger women also experienced a credibility deficit, which occurs when women’s statements and expertise are not believed. “I am often told that I don’t have the experience so I can’t know what to do,” one 34-year-old woman explained. In the face of such bias, women (and especially women of color) must expend extra effort to prove themselves. One young-looking Black university chief financial officer noted that she is often “pressed to provide a synopsis of her resume to establish credibility.”

Remembering Peg Yorkin

Legendary feminist Peg Yorkin died this week at the age of 96 - Peg is pictured above with Ellie Smeal and other women's equality champions at my wedding - held 30 years ago on a very hot day in an old Quaker Meetinghouse with no air conditioning! The Washington Post captures a fraction of Peg's enormous legacy with these words:

"Ms. Yorkin made headlines in 1991 when she announced at a Washington news conference that she was donating $10 million to the group; it was described as the largest gift ever given to a feminist organization. Women have to “put our money where our anger is,” she said, “or we perpetuate a system that relegates women to begging for the obvious. It is time to stop begging men for our rights.”

Much of the donation was earmarked for advocacy on behalf of mifepristone, also known as RU-486, which terminates pregnancies by blocking the hormone progesterone and is often taken with the drug misoprostol.

Ms. Yorkin, Smeal and other activists traveled to Paris and Frankfurt, Germany, where they met with executives of the drug’s manufacturer and parent company, encouraging them to bring the pill to the United States. They later lobbied lawmakers and the Clinton administration, encouraging them to champion the drug, and advocated for its use in treating progesterone-related cancers. The pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000.

“You get to be players at the table if you have the money to do it,” Ms. Yorkin told the Los Angeles Times. “But it’s taken so long, I was beginning to wonder if it would happen in my lifetime.”

Here's to carrying on Peg's admonition to "turn our rage into direct action” and, I would add, we also need to make time to appreciate the beauty around us:

Sweet peas, Queen Anne's Lace, lavender, and thyme are all blooming now in my garden and make a fragrant bouquet!

That's all for this week,

Cynthia Richie Terrell

P.S. To familiarize more people with ranked choice voting (RCV), we have decided to start sharing RCV polls in every Weekend Reading! This week, I want you to imagine your school or office having an ice cream party. The budget only allows for one flavor, so attendees must rank their choices to decide. You can vote on which ice cream flavor you want here.


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