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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation September 22nd, 2023

Dear Readers,

This Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day. Despite the recent increases, voter turnout in the 2020 presidential election was just 66% according to the Pew Research Center. While voting is essential, a huge factor in determining winners in U.S. winner-take-all elections is the system, not the voter. To have a truly representative democracy, the United States needs to change its electoral system. Adopting ranked choice voting for single winner races and proportional ranked choice voting for elections that elect more than one person will yield a truly representative democracy. Diversity in politics is crucial, as those making decisions influence the concerns addressed, approaches used, and creative solutions offered. Women bring different perspectives, lived experiences, and issues to governing and we must change our voting system to elect more women to office, faster.

Our research emphasizes the link between electoral systems and women's representation, supporting proportional ranked choice voting (P-RCV) in the United States. Countries with proportional representation (PR) have better-gendered representation, and the inclusion of gender quotas in party nominations further enhances it. Check out our Op-Ed in Democracy SOS to learn more about elections in the U.S.!

Proportional Representation and Ranked Choice Voting as Remedies for Political Polarization: A Study by Rachel Kleinfeld

Rachel Kleinfeld, a Senior Fellow for Carnegie's Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, recently released her working paper, Polarization, Democracy, and Political Violence in the United States: What the Research Says, which explores the existing literature on polarization, relevant facts, and the sorts of interventions that could be made to remedy polarization in the US. One of the proposed solutions to tackle  polarization is creating structural change to our election system:

Intervention suggestions include forms of proportional representation, such as requiring states with more than a minimum number of districts to elect half of their congressional delegations by individual districts and the other half at large, whether from the entire state at large or from larger, non-gerrymandered regions; abolishing primaries or making primaries nonpartisan, in which all candidates run and the top two vote-getters qualify for the general election; instituting ranked choice voting, which is supported both for its possible effects in getting around polarizing primaries and because it may reduce negative campaigning…and finally, setting up proportional representation systems, which allows a broader spectrum of political options to gain representation and ensures that no significant percentage of the population fails to get represented because it represents a minority within a given geography in the way winner-take-all systems allow. 

India Takes Bold Step Towards Gender Equality with Women's Reservation Bill in Parliament

Prem Chowdry reports on a new method to increase women's representation in India. A bill that provides for a 33 percent quota to women in the Lower House and state Legislative Assemblies has been introduced, which will work to dismantle existing barriers that historically have prevented women from being at the decision-making tables.

"In a big boost to women’s empowerment, the Union Government has introduced the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha. The Bill provides for a 33 per cent quota to women in the Lower House and state Legislative Assemblies.  

Opponents argue that the reservation system may not truly empower women; rather, it may be misused to promote proxy representation, with male politicians using female relatives as figureheads. There’s also a concern that it may undermine the democratic principle of equal opportunity by promoting gender over merit. 

Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of women’s reservation in Parliament are substantial. Research from around the world shows that women in politics tend to prioritise issues such as education, healthcare, and social justice. Increased representation of women in Parliament could, therefore, lead to more resources being allocated to these critical areas.

Even after 76 years of Independence, India has been unable to achieve equal gender representation in politics. Globally, too, India is far behind with a ranking of 103 out of 190 countries in women’s representation in the Lower House of Parliament."

State Supreme Courts Fail to Reflect the United States’ Population

The Center for Public Integrity recently published an article by Aaron Mendelson, revealing that the United States State Supreme Courts do not represent the nation's diversity. Although the racial and ethnic diversity of the United States has continually increased, the makeup of state supreme courts across the country has failed to reflect this. This year,18 states had all-white benches, and white men accounted for 81% of justices on state high courts. 

Concerning women's representation, state supreme courts are also unsuccessful in representing the nation's composition. Although there has been a steady increase in women serving on state supreme courts since the 1990s, women's representation still falls short of gender balance. Women comprise only 42% of state supreme court justices despite comprising over 50% of the U.S. population. Further, women's representation varies vastly from state to state. Some state supreme courts are gender-balanced, while others, such as South Carolina, have no women justices at all. 

To ensure that state supreme court rulings reflect the interests, preferences, and values of the American public, it is clear that judicial diversity is essential. Through systems-level reforms, RepresentWomen believes that achieving greater diversity and representation at every level and within every branch of government is possible. In states where Supreme Court justices are elected, reforms such as ranked choice voting may help improve judicial diversity. According to our research, legislators must exercise the best practices for promoting gender-balanced appointments in states where justices are appointed.

A host of academic research has found that the race and gender of justices can impact rulings.

One study found that Black federal judges are "significantly more likely than nonblack judges to support affirmative action programs." But the influence extends beyond any individual judge. The study also showed that the presence of a Black jurist on a panel of judges "increases the probability that a nonblack judge will rule in favor of an affirmative action program by about 20 percentage points."

Another study found that female judges guided parties to settlements more quickly and more often than male judges. And female federal judges not only ruled differently in sex discrimination cases — their presence also made their male colleagues "significantly more likely to rule in favor of the rights litigant."

(That study found no difference between male and female judges in 12 other areas of law.) 

Judicial diversity "matters for rulings," said Maya Sen of Harvard University, who in 2021 provided testimony to a U.S. Senate subcommittee on the issue. "If we want the rulings to be reflective of the preferences and interests of the broader American population, then diversity in judges is an important way to get there," she told Public Integrity.

The Enduring Legacy of 'Ms.' Magazine: A Half-Century Journey in Feminism's Relentless Pursuit

Rita Braver's article in CBS News explains how, over fifty years ago, the term "feminism" was a revolutionary concept. Gloria Steinem and other trailblazing journalists amplified this with Ms. Magazine, spotlighting pressing issues like abortion. The magazine evolved to cover themes from child-rearing to violence against women. An anthology titled 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine That Ignited a Revolution, released this week, captures its enduring spirit, tackling subjects like professional harassment long before #MeToo. Ms. remains vital, echoing discourses as pertinent today as in the 1970s. Pursuing gender equality continues, with pioneers like Steinem at the forefront.

We are thrilled to extend our heartfelt gratitude to Ms. Magazine, Kathy Spillar, and the incredible Roxy Szal for featuring RepresentWomen's Weekend Reading in Ms.!

"We wanted to be able to write about trying to make an equal marriage or to write about abortion. We didn't want to just focus on women's outsides, but also our insides." - Gloria Steinem.

In fact, Steinem said she became an activist as well as a journalist while covering an abortion hearing. "Suddenly, I realized, wait a minute, I had an abortion when I was in London, and why has this common experience not been spoken about? So, in the very first issue of Ms., we had a massive petition signed by all kinds of people saying, 'I have had an abortion, and I demand that it become safe and legal.' And of course, we're still fighting this battle in some states." - Gloria Steinem.

What Are Your Favorite Animals?

Families in Washington, D.C., are gearing up for a spectacular nine-day farewell celebration, 'Panda Palooza,' at the Smithsonian's National Zoo, as beloved pandas Tian Tian, Mei Xiang, and Xiao Qi Ji prepare for their journey to China. Rank your favorite zoo animals here!

That's all for this week, have a good weekend!

The RepresentWomen Team

P.S. Research Director Courtney Lamendola and Research Associate Steph Scaglia participated in an interview with Akshi Chawla from #WomenLead. A decade of using data to advocate for parity in USA's politics: Lessons from RepresentWomen's experience offers "a glimpse into what goes on into preparing the index, which findings stand out for them, why this index was launched, and how much it has been able to achieve."

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