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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation September 29th 2023

Dear Readers,

Senator Diane Feinstein, a trailblazing woman leader, died today at the age of 90. We remember and celebrate her courage and tenacity. Feinstein was the first woman mayor of San Francisco, the first woman Senator from California, the first woman member and the first woman ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the longest-serving woman in the history of the U.S. Senate.

When she joined the Senate in 1992, there were only two women senators - one Republican and one Democrat. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Feinstein's generation, the number of women in Congress has grown steadily over the last three decades -- far short of parity overall but approaching parity among Democrats.

The "year of the woman" in 1992 accelerated the tipping of the partisan balance of women serving in the House and Senate -- driven in part by how women reacted to the way law professor Anita Hill was treated during the Clarence Thomas hearings to join the Supreme Court and the rising impact of the recently-formed EMILY's List that recruited Democratic, pro-choice women to run for Congress. The impact of the work to identify and support Democratic women candidates is clear: women now comprise 44% of the Democrats serving in Congress, while Republican women comprise just 15% of the GOP caucus. Women hold 49% of the seats held by Democrats in state legislatures.

How can we honor Senator Feinstein's legacy? To reach true parity for women in office, we must act with an even clearer intention to advance women's representation and leadership. We must follow the example set by President Joe Biden when he stuck to his pledge to name a Black woman as his running mate. More governors should follow the lead of Governor Gavin Newsom when filling U.S. Senate seats, with Newsom pledging to name a Black woman to fill Feinstein's seat for the remainder of her term.
When there are open seats for Senate, as in California, Delaware, and Maryland, men should refrain from running until we reach parity - and donors and candidate endorsers should do more to recruit and support women before defaulting to men.

We need to keep innovating in our electoral rules as well. Sen. Feinstein's hometown of San Francisco was the first American city in the modern era to pass ranked choice voting. It now has a Black woman mayor, and women nationwide are doing exceptionally well in ranked choice elections that reward candidates who show they are ready to work with others to address pressing policy challenges. Women hold 51% of seats in jurisdictions with ranked choice voting, and the system helped elect Maine's first woman governor, Janet Mills, and Mary Peltola as the first native Alaskan in Congress.

To honor Senator Feinstein's legacy, let's pave the way for a new generation of women leaders by addressing the barriers women face in politics as candidates and as elected officials. Challenging the system takes courage, but Senator Feinstein has provided us with a road map for how it can be done.

Legacy of a Trailblazer: Exploring Sen. Dianne Feinstein's Lifelong Fight for Justice, Equality, and Bipartisanship.

In the article by Rebecca Shabad, with contributions from Dareh Gregorian, Kelly O'Donnell, and Frank Thorp V, we delve into the impactful life and legacy of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who fought relentlessly for justice, equality, and representation until her passing at age 90. As the oldest and longest-serving female senator from California, Feinstein was a pioneering voice for gun control, known for her ability to traverse partisan lines and work cohesively with Republicans to enact measures to better the nation. Throughout her service, Feinstein exemplified a commitment to civil liberties, national security, and the democratic processes within the Senate. Her seat has become highly coveted, with Democratic Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff, and Barbara Lee in the running to continue her legacy. Feinstein's resilience and commitment exemplify the ideals of representation and leadership are central to the mission of RepresentWomen.

"Senator Feinstein never backed away from a fight for what was just and right. At the same time, she was always willing to work with anyone, even those she disagreed with, if it meant bettering the lives of Californians or the betterment of our nation," her chief of staff, James Sauls, said in a statement.

"There are few women who can be called senator, chairman, mayor, wife, mom and grandmother. Senator Feinstein was a force of nature who made an incredible impact on our country and her home state."

As chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein led a multiyear review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which led to legislation barring the use of those methods of torture. 

Feminist Foreign Policies: 16 Countries Leading the Way for Peace, Equality, and Global Impact

World map highlighting 16 countries that have implemented feminist foreign policies, as seen in the FFPC Report "Defining Feminist Foreign Policy." by Lyric Thompson, Spogmay Ahmed, Beatriz Silva, and Jillian Montilla. 

Our research shows that we need to implement multiple systems-level solutions in tandem with pipeline initiatives to achieve gender-balanced governance in our lifetimes. In addition to electing more women, we need to adopt feminist foreign policies, as 16 countries have done around the world. Having a feminist foreign policy means that a country–

...defines its interactions with other states, as well as movements and other non-state actors, in a manner that prioritizes peace, gender equality, and environmental integrity; enshrines, promotes, and protects the human rights of all; seeks to disrupt colonial, racist, patriarchal and male-dominated power structures; and allocates significant resources, including research, to achieve that vision.

What feminist foreign policy looks like in practice varies from country to country. Germany, the largest country in the group in terms of foreign aid, has pledged to almost double its donations geared toward gender equality. Canada and Slovenia have met or exceeded gender parity in their diplomatic or ambassador corps, while France, Spain, and Colombia have set up boards of feminist activists to advise their governments. Argentina has put trans feminism at the center of both its foreign and domestic policies, creating the position of special representative for sexual orientation and gender identity. And the Netherlands, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, has commissioned a review on racism in the foreign ministry...

This isn’t just talk. Prioritizing women has a measurable impact on helping nations to achieve their foreign policy goals. A global study of United Nations Security Council resolutions found that women’s participation in the peace-building process increased the likelihood that a peace agreement would last at least two years by 20 percent and increased the probability it would last 15 years by 35 percent.

Pew Research Center Releases New Report on Women and Political Leadership

On Wednesday, Pew Research Center released "Women and Political Leadership Ahead of the 2024 Election." This report explores public opinions on women in politics, the obstacles women in office face, and the potential impact of having a woman executive. This research reinforces some of RepresentWomen own findings, including the fact that progress is slow and inconsistent and that Democrats appear more open than Republicans in supporting and facilitating gender-balanced governance.

Some of the toplines from the Pew Research Center's report are as follows:

  • Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say it’s highly important to them that a woman be elected president in their lifetime
  • More than half of Americans point to women having to do more to prove themselves as a major obstacle for those seeking high political office
  • Most women, Democrats say there are too few women in high offices
  • More than half of Americans point to women having to do more to prove themselves as a major obstacle for women seeking high political office
  • Americans see differences in how the media treats men and women running for office
  • Americans see disadvantages for women candidates across racial and ethnic groups compared with their male counterparts
  • Majorities say a woman president would be no different than a man in several key leadership areas
  • About a third of Republicans say a woman president would make the U.S. less respected globally
  • 18% of Americans say it is highly important to them that the U.S. elects a woman president in their lifetime
  • 1 in 4 Americans say it is extremely or very likely the U.S. will elect a woman president in their lifetime

India’s Landmark New Gender Quota Law Is A Win For Women

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace published a fantastic article by Fellow Saskia Brechenmacher that assesses the future of women in India’s politics. India’s legislature has recently passed a new bill that will reserve one-third of the seats in parliament for women. India’s decision to introduce this gender quota measure speaks volumes of its preparedness to embrace its role as one of the world’s major economic and political powers. As our own research shows, gender quotas can help countries make rapid progress toward gender balance. This said, the new law may take years to implement into India’s system of governance properly, meaning that India may not experience significant shifts toward gender parity in time for next year’s elections. Still–

The reform represents a significant change in a country that currently ranks 141 out of 185 countries globally with respect to women’s political representation, opening the door for many more women to enter national politics. Six previous attempts to pass the measure had failed, often due to the opposition of smaller regional parties, many of which insisted that the gender quota include a sub-quota for women representing historically disadvantaged castes.

As of 2023, women hold only 15.2 percent of seats in the Lok Sabha and 13.9 percent in the upper house, known as the Rajya Sabha—though the latter is not covered by the new law. Representation across all but two state legislative assemblies is even lower.

Part of the problem is that few Indian women run for office. In 2019, under 10 percent of candidates were women. Barriers include traditional gender norms that limit women’s roles, mobility, and influence outside of the home, lower levels of political knowledge, concerns about safety, and sexism and discrimination within political parties. Although Indians generally support women’s political leadership, women often struggle to advance in political parties without the patronage of influential male leaders.

Prime Minister of Iceland Concerned about Women’s Representation on a Global Scale

Photo: Associated Press

Earlier this week, Brianna Boecker published an article in Women's Agenda about Katrin Jakobsdottir, the Prime Minister of Iceland. As one of the few women heading a nation, Jakobsdottir is deeply concerned about women's representation and gender equity on a global scale. In the last year, several countries have experienced significant declines in women's representation, leaving the number of women leaders across the globe scarce. Of all 193 UN member states, only 13 are currently led by women, accounting for less than 10% of all global leaders. 

In a few weeks, RepresentWomen will release the Golden Year Analysis to examine and analyze global progress towards gender parity in 2021 and 2022. Although women's representation has increased substantially over the past few decades, as Jakobsdottir has pointed out, gender parity remains far out of reach for most countries. Using global data from 2021 and 2022, the Golden Year Analysis will identify the most effective strategies to advance and maintain women's representation worldwide, shedding light on the path forward to gender parity. Stay tuned for the release! 

Iceland's prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, says that being a female leader is increasingly isolating, The Times reports. 

"Numbers have gone down rather than up, so it's a lonely place," said Jakobsdottir. "It's a worrying trend and shows there's nothing given about gender equality."


"I think if we had more women at the table making decisions we would have less conflict and more focus on the well-being of the population," said Jakobsdottir, who has made a point to centre gender equality in her speeches throughout her time in Iceland's top office.

"The sad fact is gender equality is not high on the agenda for many men," she said. "Of course, there are good exceptions, but very seldom. And when there are so few of us women in leadership positions, I think it's our responsibility to wave that flag wherever we go."

Trailblazing the Path to Parity: Ms. Magazine’s Unwavering Advocacy for the ERA and Modern Feminist Discourse

Ms. executive editor Kathy Spillar, the Honorable Carolyn Maloney, journalist and immediate past president of ERA Coalition Carol Jenkins, and Ting Ting Cheng, director of the Equal Rights Amendment Project at Columbia Law School. (

Max Fallon-Goodwin’s article in Ms. highlights the pivotal role the publication has played in advocating for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) since its founding. Through an anniversary book and enlightening discussions, Ms. demonstrates its commitment to gender parity and brings to the forefront the relevance of modern feminist discourse.

Recently, Ms. brought together activists, feminists, and legislators like Kathy Spillar, Hon. Carolyn Maloney, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, showcasing a unified, intergenerational pursuit for the ratified ERA to be instituted into law. Fallon-Goodwin explains the ongoing struggle against legislative and societal challenges, emphasizing the need for cohesive solidarity among feminists and disenfranchised groups to achieve constitutional gender equality and to confront the evolving threats to women's rights and representation.

Katherine Spillar—executive editor of Ms. magazine and editor of the 50 Years of Ms. anthology —reminded the audience that 50 Years of Ms. is just as much about the future as the past. Spillar hopes the book inspires new readers to find ways to “fight better” as we navigate post-Dobbs movement building and the rise of authoritarianism in the United States and worldwide.

Bella Ramirez, a recent Hunter College Graduate and Sign4ERA petition leader, urged the audience to “listen to each other” and to always fight for a more feminist future.

The main goal of the evening was clear: In the next 50 years, feminist activists, writers, organizers, and leaders will look back and be able to recognize the giant leap forward it was from the 50 previous years.

It has been a week full of work travel and events for the RepresentWomen team!  🌐 ✈️

From left to right: Partnerships Director Katie Usalis, Outreach Manager Alissa Bombardier Shaw, and National Partnerships Manager Victoria Pelletier.

The Partnerships Team is in Los Angeles, California, engaging in meaningful conversations about strengthening our democracy at the American Democracy Summit (ADS). On Thursday, our Partnerships Director, Katie Usalis, spoke on a panel about proportional representation with Charlotte Hill (Fix Our House), Andrea St. Julian (The Justice Workshop), and Rey Lopez-Calderon (More Equitable Democracy).

Later in the day, our National Partnerships Manager, Victoria Pelletier, spoke on a panel about achieving ranked choice voting victories through coalition building with Sean Dugar (Collective of Organizers for Reformed Elections), Susan Lerner (Common Cause NY), Sol Mora (Coalition of Communities of Color), Grace Ramsey (Democracy Rising), and Ed Shoemaker (Rank The Vote / Ranked Choice Boston). Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth to learn more about our research and discuss data-driven strategies for increasing women's representation!

Executive Director Cynthia Richie Terrell and Communications Intern Nora Weiss.

Meanwhile, our Executive Director, Cynthia Richie Terrell, is in Athens, Greece, attending the Athens Democracy Forum. On Thursday, she spoke on a panel about the role systemic change can play in reducing political polarization. She was joined by Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai, Hungarian M.P. Balázs Orbán, and The New York Times journalist Roger CohenWhile in Greece, Cynthia met up with our Communications Intern, Nora Weiss, who is studying abroad in Athens this semester.

Also this week, our Digital Engagement Associate, Ria Deshmukh, spoke about RepresentWomen at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Ms. and the release of their new book 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine that Ignited a Movement.

Coffee Festival in D.C.!

Union Market in D.C. will celebrate everyone’s favorite caffeinated beverage this Saturday. In a city known for its bustling politics, a different kind of buzz is taking center stage as coffee enthusiasts unite for the inaugural D.C. Coffee FestivalRank your favorite coffees!

That's all for this week! Enjoy your weekend!

-The RepresentWomen Team


Another exciting feature of our 2023 Gender Parity Index! Our good friends over at All In Together made us their Gender Avenger of September! Check out the interview here

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