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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation April 5th 2024

Dear Readers,

Melinda French Gates once said, “A woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman." By this definition, Cynthia Richie Terrell is a woman who uses her voice to amplify the strength of many women and their belief that we deserve equitable representation. Born a Quaker, Cynthia Richie Terrell understands our power to change the world. Cynthia carries out the traits of independence and boldness with a majestic energy that shifts spaces. 

We here at RepresentWomen honor Cynthia for her 60th birthday and the fantastic work she does to achieve parity in this political space. Support her through supporting our organization as we continue our fundraising initiative. Your generosity will aid us in continuing our mission of dismantling barriers that impede women’s ability to run for office and win.

As we celebrate Cynthia’s birthday, we have dedicated this week’s Weekend Reading to celebrating her work. Join us as we journey through her writings that prove her heart in this work, take a trip through memory lane through her beloved pictures, and, more importantly, engage with our organization by supporting our fundraising efforts.

The Birth of the Weekend Reading

Cynthia at a convening with allies in October of 2014, the day the idea for the Weekend Reading was born.

Cynthia Richie Terrell curates an influential weekly newsletter, Weekend Reading, packed with news and insights that champion women. Launched in 2014, it is a platform for visionary women, supportive allies, and journalists who produce impactful work.

Weekend Reading informs the public and keeps the RepresentWomen team engaged with critical issues central to their mission of achieving parity. The team collaborates to select articles that align with our message and resonate with our audience.

The Weekend Reading began on October 9, 2014, when Cynthia and allies began collaborating to advance women's political representation. The Weekend Reading was first formed as a listserv to share information on research, events, and articles on strategies to advance women in politics. In 2018, RepresentWomen became independent, transforming the listserv distribution into the present-day Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation

Excerpt from the first email sent to the Gender Parity Listserv on October 29, 2014

Grants from The Democracy Fund helped expand Weekend Reading's reach. In March 2020, Ms. Magazine’s publisher, Kathy Spillar, reached out to see if the Weekend Reading could be published on their website. The Weekend Reading has been online on Ms. almost every week now for four years.

Since the blog's launch in November 2015, there have been 396 blogs written by Cynthia and published on the RepresentWomen website. It is also shared on our social media accounts, and we email it to our supporters for engagement.

Thank you for joining Cynthia on this impactful journey by reading and engaging with Weekend Reading weekly.

It's Time for a Woman President in the United States

Artwork by Melanie Humble

Cynthia’s Ms. Magazine article from last year addresses the urgent need for a woman president in the United States, emphasizing the importance of representation and equality in leadership. Gender balance at every level of government is essential for genuine democracy, so it's alarming that the U.S. has never elected a woman president.

Throughout our nation’s history, our government has been led by men. And those men—however capable and inspiring—have only slowly and begrudgingly conceded power to women. We forget sometimes how recently, women in America could not vote, hold a credit card, or have the right to their own bodily autonomy. In fact, these basic human rights are apparently still up for debate within the halls of government. 

We know that the U.S. lags pitifully behind other countries when it comes to women in government. When the International Parliamentary Union measures the proportion of women in national legislatures, the U.S. doesn’t rank in the top 10. We don’t even rank in the top 50. According to our analysis of the most recent data, the U.S. stands at 75th in terms of women’s representation, well behind countries like Germany, Senegal, Bolivia, and New Zealand—all of which, not coincidentally, have also had female heads of state. 

“Leadership is not easy,” said Laura Liswood, secretary general of the Council of Women World Leaders. “But it gives you power to change things, power to make things better.”

When women are able to take on positions of leadership, we all benefit. Women can only be part of the solution when they are at the table.

Reflecting  on Kamala Harris's Historic Vice Presidency and Electoral Reforms to Ensure Equal Opportunities for Women in Leadership

As we approach the end of an election year, let’s revisit an op-ed that Cynthia wrote. Published in Ms. Magazine, the op-ed covers Kamala Harris as the first woman, Black woman, and South Asian woman to be sworn in as Vice President of the United States, shattering the glass ceiling in the executive branch. 

While it is too early in the election year to tell if another woman will be sworn into the executive branch in January, electoral reforms such as ranked choice voting and gender-balanced appointments could ensure equal opportunities for women in the future.

In her acceptance speech on November 7, 2020, then Vice President-Elect Harris said of the women who paved the way, “I reflect on their struggle, their determination and the strength of their vision, to see what can be, unburdened by what has been. I stand on their shoulders.”

And of the women watching her historic success: “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

Going forward, RepresentWomen wants to see many young women and girls rise to the executive branch, and Kamala Harris’s ascension is sure to help inspire women that it is, in fact, possible, but we don’t want another centuries-long struggle to make women in the presidency and vice presidency not just a possibility but a norm.

We need systems strategies and electoral reforms so more women aren’t just inspired to run but can run in a system that accepts and bolsters them the way our current system does for men. A system that has practices and structures in place so women can serve safely, effectively, and just as long as men.

Women Deserve The Equal Opportunity to Run and Win

Cynthia spoke at the Athens Democracy Forum on starting to elect more women. Credit: Athens Democracy Forum

As we await the presidential election to commence this November, let us reflect on an op-ed Cynthia shared in The Hill that still seems relevant today. She delves into the importance of giving women equal opportunities to run and how PACs continue to support incumbents, lessening the chances for women to win. 

Cynthia references RepresentWomen’s 2020 PAC Report to convey the research behind the need for PACs to support women candidates. Although the report and numbers might differ slightly, the overall message and suggested solutions might apply to our current election. 

PACs focus most of their funds on incumbent candidates, compounding on the inherent advantages of incumbency. The structural advantages of incumbency, which can seem like a gender-neutral disadvantage for non-incumbent candidates, is, in reality, a default-male advantage since white men make up the majority of congressional incumbents. 

PACs have become central political gatekeepers in the American electoral system, and because of their position, they can have a profound impact on women’s political representation. 

Open seat and challenger candidates funded by EMILY’s List had a higher success rate than Democratic women overall during the 2018 cycle, further illustrating the power PACs can have in endorsing and funding candidates. With the help of EMILY’s List, the number of women in the Democratic Caucus continues to increase steadily. In contrast, the number of women in the Republican Caucus fell to a 25-year low after the 2018 election. 

Until we address the systemic and institutional barriers women face in politics, our country never will have a truly representative Congress, and women will continue to scramble to secure their seats at the table.

30th Anniversary of Electoral Reform Triumph in New Zealand and the Push for Change in US Politics

Cynthia with Lani Guinier, legal scholar and supporter of Proportional Representation.
Credit: RepresentWomen

In February of this year, Cynthia wrote an op-ed for Ms. Magazine, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of New Zealand's adoption of the “mixed member proportional system” (MMP), which replaced the winner-take-all system previously used. Despite initial challenges, New Zealand successfully transitioned to MMP, resulting in high voter turnout, increased accountability for significant parties, and improved representation for women and indigenous groups.

Lessons from New Zealand's success can be applied to electoral reform efforts in the United States. Last month, Representatives Don Beyer and Jamie Raskin reintroduced the Fair Representation Act in Congress. If you want a healthier and representative democracy in the United States, contact your representatives!

New Zealand was seemingly an impossible place to win reform. It was the world’s most quintessentially winner-take-all democracy – one with just a single national chamber of 99 legislators, elected by plurality, “first past the post” voting in single-member districts. Minor parties couldn’t get traction, and the people lacked a citizen initiative. The major party winning the most seats earned absolute power and typically would have little incentive to change the electoral rules. Even so, New Zealand changed to a fully proportional system in 1993. In 2011, voters comfortably retained MMP, and it is now essentially settled law.

Our national electoral rules are limited in offering the choices voters want to see, fluidly reflecting who we are as a people and creating incentives for tackling problems together rather than seeing every issue as a political weapon to get an edge. Despite heroic reform efforts, gerrymandering runs rampant, and voters are increasingly stuck in hyperpartisan camps that result in relatively slight partisan advantages for one major party in a district, becoming a nearly insurmountable obstacle to two-party competition, let alone giving independents and minor parties any chance.

The overturning of Roe. and How Women are Hurt When They Are Not in Power

Cynthia at the Iowa Women’s Equality Campaign 

Since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, abortion rights have been stripped for many American women, with the most recent case being in Florida

Let’s revisit a piece Cynthia wrote for Ms. Magazine on how abortion bans are a result of an unrepresentative democracy. Despite widespread support for abortion rights among Americans, state legislatures lack diverse representation, leading to potential bans on abortion without Roe. Structural barriers such as underfunding women candidates and winner-take-all elections contribute to the gender imbalance in political leadership.

On average, women hold just 31 percent of seats in state legislatures. There are only 15 women (11 Democrats and four Republicans) who serve as president or president pro-tem of state senates, and only six women (five Democrats, one Republican) serve as speakers of statehouses.

RepresentWomen’s 2021 Gender Parity Index found that over half of states (30) receive a D grade or worse for gender balance, meaning that representation ranges between 0-25 percent for over half the country. Representation is even worse for women of color: Only 9 percent of state legislators are women of color.

Abortion bans are not widespread: 80 percent of Americans support abortion in all or most cases, and 65 percent of Americans think the Supreme Court should reject the Texas abortion law. This means that, although it has become an intense partisan issue, many conservatives support the right to choose. Conservative women know what it’s like to face situations of rape and severe health risks during pregnancy, and the vast majority do want their daughters and all women to have options.

What are your favorite hobbies?

Last week, we asked leaders to rank their favorite activities in DC. You all voted for visiting the Museum for Women in the Arts!

 Many of you know Cynthia as this fearless leader who fights for women’s political power. When she’s not working to fix our democracy, she enjoys many activities. The RepresentWomen team also knows her for her fondness for baking, knitting, and more! Which one of Cynthia’s hobbies do you prefer? Let us know with this ranked choice voting poll!

Celebrating 60 Years of Bliss: A Trip Down Memory Lane


 That's all for this week. Have a fantastic weekend!
-The RepresentWomen Team


Then Vs. Now

Over 30 years ago, Cynthia co-founded FairVote with her husband and reform work partner, Rob Ritchie. After years of working on the frontlines in politics, their work culminated in them coming together to form this organization that champions electoral reforms that amplify the diverse voices of voters. Cynthia and Rob have worked to ensure the world experiences a fairer democracy, with the understanding that every person is empowered by their vote and deserves a chance to use it effectively. Both active in the Quaker community, Cynthia and Rob have a passion for working for people and continue to succeed in the reform space. 

Cynthia with husband Rob, children Becca, Lucas, Anna & and beloved family dog Maisie in Wissahickon Park in Philadelphia.

Their work has continued through the years and contributed to numerous reform successes nationwide and abroad. They’ve written countless essays, traveled to many conferences, and served as panelists, sharing their expertise on ways to ensure a fairer democracy.

This June, Cynthia and Rob will be honored for their work in the reform space at the FairVote Awards. As founder of the organization, Rob wanted to host a ceremony that celebrated the work of thought leaders in the democracy reform space. Rob and Cynthia will be honored this year for decades of service to FairVote and the democracy reform movement. Support their work and the history of FairVote by attending this dynamic event.

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