Skip navigation

Weekend Reading on Women's Representation August 2, 2019


Nakuru County Chief office in charge of Gender, Culture and Social Services, Tume Abduba speaking at Regina Pacis Elimu School on July 4, 2019. PHOTO | FRANCIS MUREITHI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 
Dear friends and allies,
The first article to catch my eye this week was this very interesting one in the Daily Nation about the opportunities and challenges of using gender quotas to advance women's representation in Kenya - the students in the accompanying photo (above) are so clear-eyed and beautiful I thought they'd be a good talisman for us:
Gender quotas have for long been used as a vehicle to ensure women’s representation in politics. In Kenya, gender quotas were introduced by the 2010 Constitution. Although there is a considerable number of women in politics as a result, the two-thirds gender rule as stipulated in the Constitution is yet to be implemented.

As Kenyan women continue to push for the full implementation of the constitutional requirement, some questions beg answers. How best can gender parity be achieved? One of the ways that has been proposed over the years and by some scholars in Kenya is gender quotas. Quota systems are usually intended at ensuring that women constitute a certain number or percentage of the members of a body, whether it is a candidate list, a parliamentary assembly, a committee, or a government.


It is largely agreed that women’s access to decision-making bodies is likely to lead to a more women-friendly agenda. To the supporters of gender quotas, the appointment of women brings special and unique qualities to the political process, which benefits society by creating more balanced and integrated decision-making bodies.


Additionally, quotas make people aware of gender imbalances in societal institutions, which in turn helps counter the illusion that all people have equal access if they are qualified, that institutions are gender neutral, and that fair representation is possible without particular interventions.


The election of Ursula von der Leyen as the first female European Commission president “looks set to shine a light on gender balance in Irish political and cultural life”. Photograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters
An article from the Irish Times caught my eye as well as it that gets to the heart of our work for gender parity - the text in bold resonates in particular:
We therefore need to make the intellectual case for a full participatory role for women. I will desist from using the F word, but feminism is not so much the demand for absolute equality as the demand for equality of opportunity with men. We seek a level playing field; only then will the brightest and the best rise to the top – irrespective of gender. At best the genders complement one another and bring different skill sets to the table. And while that may sound simple, the fact is that most elements of our culture militate against it...
So, where does this leave us? I suggest, wearing my teacher’s hat, on a grading system, Ireland is about C minus. Improvements have been made, but so much more needs to be done. The idea that entitlement is due to male birth right and privilege is a subconscious cultural and historical belief that needs to be challenged directly by society.
If it takes legislation to enforce this cultural shift, then so be it. For me, it cannot happen quickly enough. That is why Von der Leyen’s election as the first female president of the European Commission gives me hope of a fairer future for women in Ireland. 
She Should Run founder Erin Loos Cutraro Photo credit: She Should Run
There was a great profile on CNBC about terrific ally Erin Loos Cutraro the founder and CEO of She Should Run and her campaign to get 250,000 women to run for office by 2030:

“Not nearly enough women see what’s possible for their leadership in elected office,” she tells CNBC Make It. “And too many women, when they do see what’s possible for themselves, disqualify themselves because they don’t feel they are qualified enough to do the job.”

In an effort to address this challenge, Cutraro launched She Should Run in 2011. The non-partisan organization recruits and trains women to run for office. Her goal, she says, is to get 250,000 women to run for office by 2030. That’s half the number of elected positions nationwide, most of which are at the local level.


Another incredible RepresentWomen ally Rep Don Beyer (D-VA) reintroduced the Fair Representation Act - HR4000 - which will eliminate gerrymandering, increase civility, ensure winners have broad support, and is projected to elect 40% more women to the House of Representatives based on data from jurisdictions with multi-seat districts & ranked choice voting. Beyer writes about the FRA in The Hill:

In all my years in politics, I’ve never seen a moment in which so many Americans are talking about electoral reform to rebuild our political institutions. This is the moment to think big.

The Fair Representation Act may sound like a dramatic and far-reaching set of reforms, but our current crisis of democracy demands nothing less than the same bold, creative thinking that our founders brought to their task 240 years ago.

I am assembling infographics of women who support the Fair Representation Act - I would love to feature each of you so please send me a blurb and a photo if you'd like to help advance women's representation in Congress - here are some samples from super allies Lanae Erickson, Senior VP of Third Way and Jessica Byrd, director of Three Point Strategies and Movement for Black Lives:



There was a very interesting article in The Washington Post sports section about Olympic athlete Allyson Felix who has become an activist on women's equality issues after the birth of her daughter:

This past weekend, Felix returned at the U.S. track and field outdoor national championships in Des Moines, running unattached. She ran slower than usual but advanced to the 400-meter final before falling short of making the world championships as an individual. She qualified to be a potential member of the 4x400 relay in Qatar this fall.

She felt grateful and showcased a new, unrestrained sense of purpose. In May, Felix wrote an op-ed, published in the New York Times, denouncing Nike’s maternity practices and calling for greater support for athletes who become mothers. Now, she has further plans to wield her formidable voice. She defines herself as more than an athlete, and even something in addition to a mother. For the first time, Felix describes herself with a word she once would have run from: activist.


“When you are talking about life-changing situations, I think becoming a mother and having a daughter and understanding what she’ll face in the world, it’s just bigger than myself and any comforts that I’ve experienced,” Felix said. “It’s time for me.”

When Felix denounced Nike, many within and around track and field wondered what club or company she would end up running under. She announced this week that Athleta, which had never backed an athlete, will be her primary sponsor. She chose Athleta, she said, because the company shared similar values and agreed to help her launch initiatives to empower and support women.

“I think it’s really redefining what sponsorship looks like,” Felix said. “They’re excited to celebrate me as a whole athlete. That’s not just my performance, but being a mother and an activist as well. I’ve really never experienced that before.”


Allyson Felix holds daughter Camryn after running the 400-meter final at the U.S. outdoor championships. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Finally, here is a good read from Joan Walsh of The Nation about the impact of multiple women candidates running for the democratic nomination:

The Gillibrand-Harris moment was the deepest any of the debates have gone on women’s issues—and Harris deserves credit for being the first Democrat to bring up the issue of abortion in this round of debates. It was tough to watch Biden squirm. But if he’s going to be the nominee, he’s going to have to answer for his old-school attitudes on women over the years—just as Harris will have to answer questions about her past as a prosecutor, which made her uncomfortable on Wednesday night.

It’s impossible to imagine the debate going into the depth it did—on equal pay, or women’s workplace role, or abortion—if there hadn’t been more than one woman on that debate stage. Over two nights, we saw six. I’m on record hoping that the field narrows before the September debates, but I’m hoping it loses as few women and people of color as possible. There’s a reason that Wednesday night was the superior debate, and it wasn’t just the presence of those particular two front-runners, Biden and Harris (neither of whom had a very good night, for the record). A debate stage with three women and five people of color (out of 10) couldn’t help but produce more passionate genuine debate than the clash of 10 white people we watched Tuesday night. Let’s hope we see much more like this.

That's all for this week!

P.S. I am pretty certain I have never shared a piece from Parade Magazine but I am always up for trying new things and this article has a great message about Laura Dern's thoughts on Gender Equality:

To help bring awareness to the gender pay gap and gender inequality and help inspire women to ask for more, Dern recently executive produced a film with Planters NUT-rition to demonstrate the pay equality issue in a relatable way. A hidden camera was placed in a super market as customers were sold gender-specific bags of NUT-rition. Women could purchase the limited-edition 20 percent bigger “Equal Pay Pack,” bag of nuts. However, the male customers were not permitted to buy the bag with 20% more nuts. They had to purchase bags that were 20% smaller—just because they are men.

Proceeds from the sale of The Equal Pay Pack will benefit equal rights advocates and help fund a free legal help line with trained professionals. The help line is in place for any person experiencing a gender equality issue. “I have been learning how similar the abuse of power is, no matter your job. It affects female workers across all industries,” says Dern. “It used to be, don’t complain. You have such a luxurious job.”



Continue Reading

Read More