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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation November 1, 2019


(Women and children striking for equality in Iceland on October 24, 1975)
My dear friends,
In the midst of my busy days last week I forgot to celebrate the anniversary of the day in October, 1975 when over 90% of Icelandic women went on strike and refused to work. I love to imagine their camaraderie and passion for women's equality which drove them into the streets - as this story in Jacobin Magazine recounts - and triggered a transformation in the role that women play in politics and in business in Iceland. While there is still much work to be done in Iceland and around the world, I will join anyone who would like to try this approach in the US - just tell me where and when to meet:

"Women are waking up. They know that men have ruled the world since time immemorial. And how has that world been?” These words were first spoken by Aðalheiður Bjarnfreðsdóttir, a fifty-four-year-old domestic worker, on an unusually warm and dry afternoon in fall 1975. Her audience, in her speech in Reykjavík’s main square, included 25,000 women from all walks of life. They, along with 90 percent of Iceland’s female population, had refused to show up for work that day, in order to demonstrate how much they contributed to the country’s economy. It made no difference whether their work took place in a school, factory, office, or home. They were determined to show that they mattered.

The women’s strike — or, for less radical supporters, “day off” — of October 24, 1975 was, in this sense, a success. The action brought the economy to a standstill, forcing Iceland to recognize how much it depended on women’s labor. The massive turnout also ushered in an era of heightened political participation among women, which has contributed substantially to Iceland’s international reputation as a front-runner in gender equality. Yet not all women gained equally from the action — and its legacy for the women it was meant to serve remains sharply contested...

It was perhaps this sense of solidarity that soon led to a significant increase in women’s political participation. In 1980, Iceland became the first nation to democratically elect a female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir. In 1982, a group of women that included the Redstockings decided to put together a women-only ballot for the Reykjavík municipal elections. A year later, some of these women established the new political party named Kvennalistinn or Women’s Alliance, which ran for Parliament from 1983 to 1999, when it became part of the social-democratic coalition party named Samfylkingin. Historian Kristín Jónsdóttir has emphasized these two parties’ considerable effect on Icelandic politics: they brought issues usually considered private, such as gender-based violence, into the political arena and also fought for day care, longer parental leave, and women’s shelters. This period also saw a significant increase in women’s representation in parliament — the proportion of women MPs rose from 5 percent in 1983 to 25 percent in 1995.

The Women’s Day Off has also left a mark on feminist movements internationally. Since 1975, the event has been repeated five times in Iceland, in 1985, 2005, 2010, 2016, and 2018. Even though participation has never been as good as in 1975, historian of ideas Valgerður Pálmadóttir insists that these reoccurrences have ensured the event’s national and international legacy. Indeed, the idea of such a strike has also spread elsewhere. In October 2016, Polish women went on a one-day strike to protest a bill attempting to criminalize abortion, specifically claiming to follow tradition of Icelandic women from 1975. A few days later, women in Argentina organized a one-hour national women’s strike, calling attention to violence against women. Since then, the International Women’s Strike has been staged in at least fifty countries around the world.

On a national level, it seems the Women’s Strike, or Women’s Day Off, marked the beginnings of a movement that managed to lift the glass ceiling for middle-class women in politics and other professional sectors. When it comes to benefits for women further down the social hierarchy, the gains are less clear, despite the groundwork laid by the labor unions and the Redstockings in preparation for the International Women’s Year. “Running faster to stay in the same place” is how Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir, the chair of the union for unskilled workers Efling, recently described the work of low-income women in Iceland today. For them, the glass ceiling is still as firmly in place as it was in 1975.


( Sudanese protesters march during a demonstration Khartoum, Sudan July 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

This update from the Council on Foreign Relations blog on the appointment of the first female Chief Justice in Sudan is welcome news:

Sudan’s sovereign council appointed Nemat Abdullah Mohamed Khair as the country’s first female chief justice. Khair is the first female chief justice in the Arab world, and the fifth in Africa. Sudanese citizens have largely embraced the appointment and see it as a major step forward for Sudanese women, reflecting women’s leading role in the protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir. The appointment demonstrates an effort by the transitional government to increase women’s representation in leadership roles. Four women have been appointed to cabinet positions in the new government, including the country's first female minister of foreign affairs, Asma Mohamed Abdalla. The draft constitution also sets a minimum 40 percent quota for women in the future Transitional Legislative Council.


( A woman votes in Gaborone during the Oct. 23 general elections. (Mqondisi Dube/VOA)

News from Botswana (which uses a majoritarian voting system just like the United States) is not so encouraging according to this story on Voice of America:

Female under-representation in politics continues to be a problem in Botswana, where only three women won seats in the 57-member National Assembly during last week’s general elections. Activists say the central African country has a bias against women both in its electoral system and its culture. 

After the 2014 general election, Botswana only had four elected female Members of Parliament in the National Assembly. The number dwindled to three after the October 23 national poll.

Onneetse Makhumalo of the women’s rights group Gender Links’ blames an electoral system, which she says discriminates against women.

“We live in a very patriarchal society, a society that intentionally or unintentionally we teach people that a male person is a better leader than a female person,” she said. “So we have a lot of women, even those who are capable, at times doubting themselves was to whether they can do it.”

Currently only 5% of women in Botswana hold political positions, far from the 30 percent goal set by the regional bloc, the Southern African Development Community.

Men hold the vast majority of political seats, even though 55 percent of Botswana’s voters are women.

A study by the women’s rights group, Emang Basadi found that the electoral system does not favor women, who also face cultural barriers.


Ranked Choice Voting will be used in 11 cities next Tuesday as this blog from FairVote reports and voters in NYC will be voting to adopt RCV for use in primaries - I hope that some of you may have already voted #YesOn11 during early voting?! Please join a growing number of celebrities and luminaries who are helping to make sure this measure passes: and follow Rank The Vote NYC on social media and share their posts!
And in case you missed it, here is an excerpt from the editorial in favor of Question One from the New York Times:

If New Yorkers know one thing, it’s how to choose among a wide array of options: subway routes, pizza parlors, clothing boutiques, Broadway shows. The nice thing about having these choices is that you can rank-order them; if your first isn’t available, you’d probably be O.K. with your second or even your third. But when it comes to electing politicians, New Yorkers are in the same bind as most of the rest of the country — voters can choose only one, no matter how much they like him or her, or how many other candidates are on the ballot.

The good news is that there’s a solution, in the form of Ballot Question 1 in this year’s New York City elections, for which early voting begins Oct. 26. (Election Day is Nov. 5.) That solution is called ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting.

The initiative, part of a package of electoral reforms on the ballot, would give New Yorkers the ability to rank up to five candidates in all primaries and special elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, borough president and members of the City Council, starting in 2021. If they didn’t like any of the candidates offered, they could, as always, write one in.

While ranked-choice voting has already been adopted in cities and states from coast to coast, New York City would be by far the largest jurisdiction in the country to get on board.


(Tina Strehlke CEO of Minerva BC)
There was quite a good piece in the Vancouver Sun by Tina Strehlke about strategies that both the public and the private sectors must employ to make serious and sustained progress toward gender balance in government and in society at large:

In the age of #MeToo and society’s renewed focus on gender equality, one might presume that we are inches away from completely closing the gap between men and women.

If this were true, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, likely wouldn’t have committed $1 billion over the next decade to promote gender equality, as she did earlier this month.

Minerva B.C.’s annual Face of Leadership Scorecard released this week suggests that many organizations are making some progress with respect to gender equality. But any assumption that society is a few small steps away from closing the gap is false.

Refusing to acknowledge progress made would be an equally inaccurate and unhelpful point of view....

It is also vital for private and public sector organizations to promote leadership development and training. This is especially true for young women and emerging leaders, for whom training helps build confidence and makes attaining a leadership role a tangible reality.

There is also a necessity to explore the effect of gender-based quotas as a means to reduce the gender gap in corporate leadership. Although seen as contentious for a variety of reasons, countries like Germany, India and Italy have introduced such quotas in the past 10 years with positive results. Italy, for example, increased the instances of women directorships from 3.6 to 35.8 per cent in just seven years.

As is so often in life, two concurrent realities can be equally true.

B.C., Canada and the world are making improvements with respect to gender equality.

At the same time, we must not take our foot off the gas pedal, as the positive momentum built over recent decades will not continue without sustained efforts.

And since Melinda Gates will likely not be donating $1 billion in Canada anytime soon, it’s up to businesses, non-profit and governmental organizations to do the work. But maybe most importantly, it’s up to all of us.


(Tallying gender of speakers at a recent conference)
I was reminded this week of the work of Gender Avenger which is pushing all of us to be attentive to the diversity of women's voices on panels and at conferences. Here's a blurb from their website for those of you who are interested:
Volunteer co-founders, Gina Glantz and Susan Askew, work with great professionals to build a community of activists dedicated to ensuring that women are always part of the public dialog: our amazing web designer, administrator and content creator Elan Morgan, the incredible consulting group Women Online which oversees our social media strategy and content, innovative developer and co-creator of the GA Tally Dan Schultz, and designer Maddie Dai. Along with Gina and Susan, Marta Rosa serves as a Director. Since our inception, Yonatan Kogan and Katie Dowd have helped out in and around their full-time jobs, and Mellody Hobson made a contribution to get us started just before we launched and continues to give us great advice as we grow.
I just got an invite today for the Black Girls Vote Ball hosted by the terrific team at Black Girls Vote - I hope that you will join me in considering supporting this event by sponsoring the event or buying an ad in the program.
  • 7:00-12:00pm
  • Friday, November 22
  • Martin's West, 6817 Dogwood Rd, Baltimore, MD 21244
Finally, please check out RepresentWomen's Medium account (we could use some more followers) for more great reading from the fabulous intern team who have been writing about:
to mingle with stars and stalwarts of the democracy reform movement - I will be there and I hope to see you too!
  • 6:30-8:30pm
  • November 18th
  • Gold Room
  • Rayburn House Office Building
  • 45 Independence Ave | SW | Washington | DC | 20515


P.P.S Chelsea Handler retweeted the piece in Ms Magazine, written by a RepresentWomen intern, about the Gender Parity Index!

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