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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation February 16, 2018


​The 2018 US Olympic bobsled team

Dear readers,

The 2018 US Olympic team is gender balanced in large part because of a system reform a generation ago called Title IX. Several years ago I wrote this piece on the need for a Title IX for women in politics to elect more women to office faster. While there are far more women running for office in 2018 than ever before, we need systems reforms to win parity for our daughters and our daughters' daughters (and sons).


Our sister organization in the UK, the Electoral Reform Society, published a terrific report on the winner take all voting system - used in both the US and the UK - that is 'holding women back' - according to this piece on Common Space. While the terminology used to describe the voting system may sound different the mechanics of the system function in the same manner to create safe seats for incumbents and little opportunity for women to win and hold onto seats in large numbers:

The First Past the Post System (FPTP), the electoral system under which Westminster elections operate, allows for hundreds the seats to effectively be “reserved” by incumbent male politicians, the ERS has argued.

Figures from the ERS study show that, although there is near gender-parity among current MPs first elected in 2015, with 45 per cent of those MPs being women, 170 seats are still being held by male politicians first elected in 2005 or before.

The ERS found that, of the 212 currently serving MPs first elected in 2005 or before, just 42 – or 20 per cent – are women, and of the 44 current MPs elected in 1992 or before, only eight – or 18 per cent – are women.

However, progress on gender equality in Westminster has not been entirely straightforward, as only 37 per cent of MPs first elected in 2017 are women.

“Westminster’s single-member seat system is widely regarded as the world’s worst when it comes to achieving gender balance.” ERS director of policy and research Jess Garland

The ERS has placed emphasis on long-held seats as a “major barrier” to improving representation and achieving gender parity, and argues that the one-member-per-seat nature of First Past the Post exaggerates these problems.

The ERS advocates a proportional voting system that would allow for multi-member seats – typically referred to as ‘proportional representation’ - to address this.

Commenting on the new research, ERS director of policy and research Jess Garland said: “While we’ve seen progress on women’s representation in recent elections, gender equality is being held back by Westminster’s broken voting system, which effectively ‘reserves’ seats for men.

“Over 80 per cent of MPs first elected in 1997 or earlier are men, with the one-MP per seat one-person-takes-all nature of First Past the Post leaving few opportunities for women’s representation once a man has secured selection. Sitting MPs have a huge incumbency advantage, and since open selections are relatively rare, we face a real stumbling block in the path to fair representation.

“We need a proportional voting system that puts real democracy and dynamism at the heart of our politics." ERS director of policy and research Jess Garland

“Parties have made significant strides, with near gender parity among current MPs first elected in 2015. But without change of the system, further progress will be extremely slow.”

Garland continued: “Westminster’s single-member seat system is widely regarded as the world’s worst when it comes to achieving gender balance. Proportional multi-member systems – used in democracies around the world – mean there are always real opportunities for improving women’s representation.

"As parties evaluate their progress towards equal representation, they should make an honest assessment of the implications of continued use of FPTP for achieving equality.

"To get the best parliament possible – to stir it up, to introduce new perspectives and to add some much-needed dynamism in a chamber ripe for reform – we need a proportional voting system that puts real democracy and dynamism at the heart of our politics."

The Brisbane Times had a great piece about women's representation in Queensland, Australia:

Queensland is smashing the glass ceiling when it comes to female political power.

The most visible female leader in the state, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, made history as the first Australian woman to be elected for two terms as premier.

She said her focus was not on "making records", but she was proud the Australian milestone was a Queensland milestone.

Ms Palaszczuk's cabinet is 50 per cent female and 50 per cent male.

Facing off against Ms Palaszczuk will be opposition leader Deb Frecklington, who assumed the mantle late last year after the LNP's loss at the state election.

It is the first time the merged LNP has had a female leader.

And when Queensland Parliament resumes on Tuesday, after a three and a half month break, it will be the first time the leaders on both sides of the chamber are women.

Standing next to Ms Palaszczuk will be Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, who now has an additional powerful role in cabinet, as Treasurer.

Also at the top will be Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath, who added leader of the house to her job description, which means she will be responsible for organising government business and tactics in Parliament.

Back at Queensland Labor HQ, the party has its first female state secretary, Julie-Ann Campbell, and Sarah Mawhinney this week started as assistant state secretary.

"This shows that Queensland Labor is leading the way on women's representation," Ms Campbell said.

"When Parliament opens [this] week, Labor will have 48 per cent women members compared to the LNP's meagre 15 per cent."


I found a fascinating story in Smithsonian Magazine about women's representation in Victorian-era novels which was higher than in modern novels:

Since the birth of modern English-language novels in the 1700s, male and female characters from Paul Atreides to Elizabeth Bennet have laughed, grinned, felt and acted through their pages. A new study conducted using a machine learning algorithm has offered fresh perspective on their histories. “The Transformation of Gender in English-Language Fiction,” published this week in the journal Cultural Analytics, analyzed the presentation of gender in more than 100,000 novels, finding a paradox when it came to novels of the 20th century: as the rigid gender roles seemed to dissipate, indicating more equality between the sexes, the number of women characters— and proportion of women authors—decreased.

Built by study author Ted Underwood, a professor of English and of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois, and his coauthor information scientist David Bamman of University of California at Berkeley, the algorithm analyzed the characters and authors of 104,000 novels—far more than you’ll read in a lifetime. Underwood and Bamman originally built the algorithm for a previous study on characterization: they were joined in the current study by coauthor Sabrina Lee, a graduate student at the University of Illinois. The novels were selected primarily from the HathiTrust Digital Library and represented a selection of bestsellers from the years 1703 to 2009. The list includes popular titles like Pride and Prejudice, Dune and some of the novels of Raymond Chandler.

Upon looking at the data and sectioning it by time, the researchers were able to see trends over certain periods: between about 1800 and the 1970s, for instance, a “steady decline” in the proportion of women authors—from about 50 percent to less than 25 percent. In the same period, they saw a decline in the number of named women characters. Those trends start to reverse in the latter part of the 20th century. And over the course of their study, dramatic and rapid shifts in the words used to characterize gender--as well as a decrease in the number of specifically gendered words. 

Marne Pike a terrific partner who works at Veracity Media, shared this event update:
WUFPAC (Women Under Forty PAC) is having it's "Women in Action: 2018" event on March 7th. Below is a short blurb, but to learn more and RSVP, visit their Eventbrite page! 

On the eve of International Women’s Day, we hope you will join WUFPAC as we kick off this election year at the Fridge Art Space in Barracks Row in the historic Eastern Market neighborhood. Enjoy this fun and eclectic space known for its street art from emerging and established artists as you mingle with Members of Congress, local creatives and entrepreneurs.

WUFPAC’s mission is twofold: To help elect more young women to elected office so that young women have an equal voice in shaping public policy, and to build the seniority of women in Congress by electing women at a young age.

Date: March 7th, 2018
Time: 6:30-830pm (VIP reception starts at 6pm)
Other upcoming events include:
And finally, as some of you know, I have been working with a coalition of women's organizations for the last year to develop a strategy to win gender parity - for all women - in our lifetimes. This terrific group of bi-partisan collaborators has a new name, ReflectUS, and will be celebrating the launch of our work together on Tuesday, March 6th at the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, DC. Please use this link to RSVP and email me at [email protected] with any questions.

I hope to see many of you on the 6th, if not before!

This week marked the birthdays of two of my women's equality heroes - may we live up to their example...

Frederick Douglass
And Susan B Anthony

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