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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation September 22, 2017


​Happy autumn to everyone in the northern hemisphere!

And happy election weekend to those who will be voting in New Zealand on Saturday and voting in Germany on Sunday. These two nations are of particular interest because they both use a mixed member proportional voting system meaning that officials are chosen both from single-seat districts and from party lists. Voting system expert Matthew Shugart writes a good blog about the elections for those who are interested.

Both countries rank high in women's representation - New Zealand ranks 31st and Germany 21st -  because of their voting systems and the voluntary quotas that parties have used. It's also important to note the somewhat higher rate that women get elected from the proportional seats than from the single-seat districts. Look for an update on that contrast next week!


All this talk about elections reminded me of this terrific piece by Patty Lane - a voting system expert from Canada. Please do read the entire piece if you have time as it examines the weaknesses of our system and the benefits of proportional systems - here is a teaser:

Here’s an election-year riddle: What do the democracies of Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., France and Australia all have in common?

These five countries have archaic voting systems that help ensure women aren't equally represented in political decision making. In short, they're all sexist.

Our winner-take-all "First Past the Post" (FPTP) approach to voting suppresses the number of women in office.

I call it "himocracy." Feel free to hashtag the hell out of it.

In this patently unfair system, Canadian women live under a political glass ceiling. Only 25 per cent of our federal representatives are women. This puts us at 47th in the world for female representation, behind Germany, Denmark and Switzerland... oh and Angola, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australia has the same problem with its “alternative voting” (AV) system.

The graph below shows that the top eight countries in the world for female representation at the highest levels of government use what is called "proportional representation" (PR), versus "winner-take-all" systems in their elections.

I enjoyed a quick trip to Nashville last week to chat with attorneys general and candidates for attorney general in advance of a press conference at which members of the Democratic Attorneys General Association made a public commitment to recruit and support more female candidates for AG races - the New York Times wrote this story on the announcement:

Only two governors and five state attorneys general are Democratic women, an acute problem for a party that counts women as a pillar of its base and trumpets the value of diverse representation.

Moving to address the disparity, the Democratic Attorneys General Association gathered here last week and created a committee of current and former attorneys general and other partners to recruit, train and raise money for female candidates. The project is called the 1881 Initiative, named for the first year that a woman sought, unsuccessfully, the office of state attorney general. (Two did, in California and Illinois.) The goal is to ensure that in five years, at least half of the party’s attorneys general will be women.

There has been a flood of commentary on Hillary Clinton's new book What Happened that I imagine most of you have read and absorbed but I thought you might be interested in listening to the sold-out Politics and Prose event here as we continue to digest the 2016 campaign and build effective strategies that will lead to the first American female president.
Another book that caught my eye was this one by Drude Dahlerup from Stockholm University entitled "Has Democracy Failed Women" - look like something we will all need to read when it is published:

Why are women still under-represented in politics? Can we speak of democracy when women are not fully included in political decision-making? Some argue that we are on the right track to full gender equality in politics, while others talk about women hitting the glass ceiling or being included in institutions with shrinking power, not least as a result of neo-liberalism.

In this powerful essay, internationally renowned scholar of gender and politics Drude Dahlerup explains how democracy has failed women and what can be done to tackle it. Political institutions, including political parties, she argues, are the real gatekeepers to elected positions all over the world, but they need to be much more inclusive. By reforming these institutions and carefully implementing gender quotas we can move towards improved gender equality and greater democratization.

Speaking of democracy failing women, the Kansas City Star ran a piece by Bryan Lowry entitiled "Where are the women? Crowded field for Kansas governor is one big men's club" that explores the all-male field of candidates for governor in Kansas. It includes Representation2020's Gender Parity Index and a good pitch for multi-seat districts with ranked choice voting:

Kansas, which was the first state with an elected female mayor (Argonia’s Susanna Madora Salter in 1887), ranked first among all states in gender parity in 1993 when Democrat Joan Finney held the governor’s office and Republican Nancy Kassebaum was serving out her final term in the U.S. Senate, according to Representation 2020, a national group pushing for greater representation of women in government.

The group ranked Kansas 21st in gender parity in a 2017 report, giving the state a D grade because of a lack of women in statewide office and the gender imbalance in the Legislature.

Most states scored about the same or worse than Kansas. Only New Hampshire, which has an all-female congressional delegation, scored an A.

Cynthia Terrell, Representation 2020’s director, said New Hampshire’s use of multiwinner districts as opposed to single-winner legislative districts like Kansas creates more opportunities for women to gain elected office.

Under a multiwinner system, multiple legislators would be elected from each legislative district. Ten states use this system and women are three times more likely to be elected by it, Terrell said.

“When you don’t create ladders for women gaining more power in a state, then they’re not positioned to run for higher office like governor,” she said.

Terrell said female candidates offer unique perspectives on policy and their absence from a race can affect what policy issues are emphasized.

“In order for American democracy to work, all constituencies and demographic groups need to have a seat at the table,” she said.

And finally, CNN reported on the number of women who have been nominated to be a US Attorney by the current administration - just one out of 42:
Of the 42 people President Donald Trump has nominated as US attorneys, the chief federal prosecutors throughout the country, only one is a woman.
The pattern raises the prospect of a shift in how the nation's laws would be enforced and underscores Trump's broader lack of diversity in appointments, starting at the top with his Cabinet, which is dominated by white men.

The Emmy Awards offers a fascinating contrast to the story on US Attorney nominees and illustrates the clear impact that "categories" for male and female performers have on the outcomes - it's hard for many to wrap their heads around categories/quotas/targets for women in government but it's a norm in the entertainment industry...

So glad to be working with each of you to make it a norm for women to have equal billing in politics as well!

P.S. Multi-seat districts and ranked choice voting get a good plug in another great book out this week entitled One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet Deported

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