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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation January 5th, 2024

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year! 🎉 While we were opening presents and counting down to midnight, the news on women in politics did not stop. Here, we kick off the biggest global election year with the latest on women leading the charge on democracy reform, the gravity of the year’s elections for women and girls, and a few goodbyes to women leaders we will remember.

International Elections in 2024: More Than a Billion Women’s Rights Are at Stake

Data as of March 2023

In an article published in Time, Koh Ewe discusses the reality that almost half of the world’s population is set to determine their representatives this year. This year holds general, legislative, and presidential elections in some of the world's most influential and populous countries. I couldn’t help but notice the run-down of men heads of state who are doing their best (and sometimes illegal-est) to protect their power this year. Will women, and issues that impact women and girls, come out on top? The answer to this question is largely dependent on the systems that exist in that country. As described in an op-ed by Outreach Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw and Research Manager Steph Scaglia, the electoral system has a large impact on the outcomes for women candidates and, subsequently, the wellbeing of women and girls globally.

To learn more about women’s representation internationally, read RepresentWomen’s Golden Year Analysis and our Country Briefs: Oceania Region, Latin America, Post-Soviet States, and Arab states

Koh Ewe reports:

2024 is not just an election year. It’s perhaps the election year…

Globally, more voters than ever in history will head to the polls as at least 64 countries (plus the European Union)—representing a combined population of about 49% of the people in the world—are meant to hold national elections, the results of which, for many, will prove consequential for years to come…

Of course, simply holding an election does not mean the process will be free or fair. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina appears set to win a fourth consecutive term in January, though the election is being boycotted by the country’s main opposition party in protest of a monthslong crackdown on political dissent.

Similarly, in Pakistan, the country’s most popular politician, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, sits in jail while his party has been suppressed and his supporters arrested in the run-up to February’s election…

Not to mention, the elephant in the room; the U.S. presidential race culminating in November has the potential to unleash what the Economist recently described as “the biggest danger to the world” of 2024: former President Donald Trump securing a second term.

Nevada Reformers Rally for Second Push on RCV-Plus-Final-Five After First-Round Success in 2022

Credit: Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current

Zachary Roth reports in the Elko Daily that campaigners in Nevada are preparing for a second round of efforts to secure state-wide approval for RCV after it achieved a 53% majority in the 2022 vote. 

Our research has shown that ranked choice voting helps women run and win. It also creates healthy competition and ensures fairness in elections. For comprehensive, shareable RCV resources, check out our RCV toolkit. 

Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2022 that would create an RCV-plus-Final-Five system — for the measure to take effect, voters must approve it again this year…

Supporters of the system say the Final Four/Five primary gives a voice to a broader share of voters, while the use of RCV in the general helps ensure a fairer result. Under the current system, two similar candidates together may win a clear majority but split voters between them, allowing a third candidate to win with a minority of votes…

By allowing multiple candidates to advance, Final Four/Five shifts the crucial election from the primary to the general. And RCV means the votes of Democrats in red districts and Republicans in blue ones still matter, even if their top choice remains unlikely to win…

Over 40% of all registered voters in the Silver State aren’t affiliated with a major party, and the figure is growing. It was these voters’ frustration over being denied a voice in the state’s taxpayer-funded closed primaries that initially drove the push for reform, said Mike Draper, the communications director for Nevada Voters First, a political action committee that organized the ballot measure.

Prince George County Councilmember Krystal Oraidha’s Push to Pass Virtual Voting 

Oriadha holds her newborn baby in her office. Credit: Michael A. McCoy, The Washington Post

Last winter, Krystal Oriadha (D), Prince George, Maryland’s District 7 County Council member, found she had a high-risk pregnancy given she is Black and over 35 years old. Black women, compared to white women, are three times more likely to die from pregnancy. On top of this, Prince George’s maternal mortality rates are well above Maryland’s state average. As a result, it was dangerous for Councilmember Oriadha to travel, but the county council had no law allowing lawmakers to vote virtually. The Washington Post’s Lateshia Beachum writes about how Oriadha set out to change this. 

This story is a prime example of how previously unknown problems can be solved by electing diverse leaders. Oriadha’s lived experience as a Black woman allowed her to see shortcomings in the system. Having people with diverse lived experiences in power strengthens our democracy. Read our research on how solutions like proxy voting and telecommuting can remove barriers for women to serve.

She was shocked to learn that she was the first person ever to be publicly known to be pregnant while serving on the county council — and then, to find out that the county health insurance she’s on wouldn’t cover labor and delivery services in Prince George’s.

Surely county employees deserved more choices, she thought…

The bill [is] straightforward: a procedural change that would allow county council members to vote virtually if they are experiencing illness, parental leave or “a significant or unexpected factor or event” outside their control…

A win for her, she knew, would be a win for any council members in need of accommodations in the future. But she shouldn’t have had to fight for virtual voting in a liberal county, she thought. The reality of that was saddening…

“I don’t want to be absent. I’m not going to get this time back, and this moment isn’t going to last forever,” she said. “The legacy is going to be the policy and the programs I put forth. … I think I’m finally at a place in my life where I really believe that.”

The World is Set to Lose Its Last Head-of-State Queen in 2024

Danish Queen Margrethe II Credit: Ida Marie Odgaard & Ritzau Scanpix, AP

In an article published by Business Insider, Erin McDowell writes about Queen Margrethe II's abdication from Denmark’s throne. Queen Margrethe II has been the longest-reigning queen in the world for 53 years. Crown Prince Frederik, Queen Margrethe II's eldest son, will become the new king of Denmark right after his mother abdicates the throne in mid-January. With this, the world will lose its last head of state queen.      

Margrethe rose to the throne at 31 after her father, King Frederik IX, died of complications from pneumonia…

Like the United Kingdom, Denmark has a constitutional monarchy that disallows monarchs and members of the royal family from participating in politics or independently performing political acts.

However, the queen must sign all acts of parliament after they have already been cosigned by a cabinet minister.

Margrethe became the longest-serving current head of state in Europe and the longest-serving current female head of state in the world after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.

She has reigned for 52 years.

In her New Year's Eve speech to the people of Denmark, she announced, “I have decided that now is the right time. On 14th January 2024 — 52 years after I succeeded my beloved father — I will step down as Queen of Denmark. I will hand over the throne to my son, Crown Prince Frederik."  

Allegheny County, PA, Swears In First Woman Chief Executive

 Sara Innamorato announcing pay increases for full-time county employees Credit: @RyanDeto,Twitter

On Tuesday, former Pennsylvania State Representative Sara Innamorato was sworn in as Chief Executive for Allegheny County. She is the first woman ever to hold this position after overcoming “a heated six-way Democratic primary,” a barrier that could be removed with ranked choice voting, as RepresentWomen’s research highlights. Authors Julia Zenkevich and Chris Potter reported on this historic moment in 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh's NPR News Station:

Sara Innamorato was sworn in Tuesday as Allegheny County's chief executive — a generational shift that makes her not just the county's first woman to lead it but also the most powerful local official in Western Pennsylvania…

Combined with the swearing-in Tuesday of newcomer Erica Rocchi Brusselars as county treasurer and Corey O'Connor's first full term as the county controller, Innamorato's ascension marks a generational change in leadership…

Dana Brown, who heads Chatham University's Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics, said a more collaborative style often follows from electing women to positions of authority.

"We know from the research that when women are in leadership, we see an increase in transparency and bipartisanship. We also anticipate a more inclusive style in terms of drawing from diverse constituencies…"

Innamorato referred to the historic moment early in her speech.

"I’m only the fourth person to hold this office since it was created in 1999, and I think we know that I will be the first woman," she said. "But let me say right here, I will certainly not be the last.”

Susanna Gibson To Protect Women Candidate's Digital Privacy And Consent Rights

  Photograph of Susana Gibson Credit: Steve Hebler, AP 

The 19th* published an important article by politics reporter Mel Leonor Barclay about how Susanna Gibson is refusing to back down after an unexpected revelation curtailed her promising political campaign. Now, Gibson is re-entering the political arena to protect women candidates’ rights to digital privacy and digital consent. 

To find out more about the current state of women in Virginia politics, be sure to check out our research in RepresentWomen’s 2023 Gender Parity Index

Women politicians are often held to higher ethical standards than men are, and women are more likely to be shamed for sexual activity than men, research shows. As more women — and more younger women, who are more likely to have grown up online — run for office, these two factors may come into more frequent conflict.

Gibson said her experience prompted her to take a close look at laws surrounding the dissemination of sexually explicit content online and the high number of millennials and Gen Zers who’ve created such content…

She is advocating for laws modeled after Illinois’, which doesn’t require proof of intent to cause harm. She intends to lobby for the change before the Virginia General Assembly, which will kick off its annual legislative session this month. Gibson also plans to push for harsher penalties for violators, who now face a Class 1 misdemeanor; Gibson says the crime should carry felony penalties because of the extent of the harm...

“If I just went away and was quiet … what message is that sending the world? It’s that you can do this and women go away,” Gibson said. “Running again would send a very loud message … and take away some of its power.” 

CAP Outlines Eight Ways to Protect American Democracy

Credit: Reuters

Our allies at the Center for American Progress, published a great report this week that clearly spells out eight ways we can safeguard democracy in America and protect our free and fair elections. Many thanks to lead author Rebecca Mears, who runs the Democracy program at CAP, for her leadership on strategies to safeguard our democracy. Here are a few highlights:

This report provides a roadmap to help heal and strengthen American democracy. It explains some of the most pressing challenges that the 2024 U.S. elections will bring and how states, election officials, and the public must not only counter these challenges but also improve election safety, accessibility, and security…

4 policies to address systemic issues in U.S. elections:

  •  Ensure that all eligible Americans have a voice by protecting the right to vote: Rekindle the fight for federal voting rights and implement strong state voting rights acts
  • Ensure that voters are fairly represented: Adopt electoral systems that encourage consensus-driven governance and provide voters with more proportional representation

The good news is that localities and even some states are living up to their title as “laboratories of democracy” and are experimenting with new electoral systems that move away from these structures. This section discusses two such reforms: 1) open primaries paired with ranked choice voting and 2) proportional ranked choice voting, also known as “single transferable vote.”

  • Strengthen public faith in institutions: Create a public central repository for election results
  • Ensure that voters’ voices matter on policy: Protect the ballot measure process

Remembering Eddie Bernice Johnson

Credit: Melanie Humble

In the wake of former Texas Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson's passing on Sunday at the age of 88, RepresentWomen reflects on the remarkable legacy she leaves behind. Johnson made history as the first Black person to represent the Dallas area in Congress and the second Black woman ever to represent the state in the nation's capital. Her distinguished career was marked by a commitment to public service and advocacy for her community. As she announced her retirement in 2021, it became clear that Johnson's impact transcended the political arena; it was a testament to her enduring dedication to breaking barriers and fostering positive change. To learn more about the extraordinary life and achievements of Eddie Bernice Johnson, be sure to read the comprehensive obituary provided by the Texas Tribune.

Vote on What You Think is The Biggest Barrier to Gender Balance!

In the last Weekend Reading, we asked readers to rank their favorite holiday cookie, and you voted for Snickerdoodles.

RepresentWomen knows that the first step to creating a healthy democracy is to identify its problems. For this week’s ranked choice voting poll, let us know what you feel is the biggest barrier to gender balance in elected office in the U.S.

That’s all for this week! Have a great weekend.

-Cynthia Richie Terrell 

P.S.

Credit: Melanie Humble

This week marked the birthday of Lucretia Mott who was born on January 3, 1793 on the island of Nantucket. Her Quaker upbringing grounded her commitment to equality and fueled her work for abolition and women’s rights. Mott was a key figure at the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights in 1848 and a founder of Swarthmore College, my alma mater.

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