Tag Archives: Women in government

Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin – Let’s End This List

By Kaitlin Leskovac, WLP Summer Intern

Three weeks ago, under the watchful eyes of six male state legislators (photo), Governor Kasich (R) of Ohio signed the new state budget. As many have noted, the symbolism in this photo is marked, as Ohio’s new budget reads bankrupt for abortion rights. HB 59 contains drastic cuts in funding for Planned Parenthood; it threatens to withhold public funding for rape crisis clinics if clinic employees provide counseling on abortion care; it requires a woman seeking an abortion to have and pay for an ultrasound; and it prohibits transfer agreements between abortion clinics and public hospitals, a measure that is already threatening to close one of only twelve clinics in the state.

In the last couple of weeks, the Texas legislature passed the anti-abortion legislation that Senator Wendy Davis and thousands of other women and men, in Texas and across the country, have been fighting since “the people’s filibuster” late last month. This is the law that is predicted to close all but five of Texas’ abortion clinics. Three Planned Parenthood clinics have already announced they will have to close their doors come August, as a result of the law’s new mandates. As if this doesn’t go far enough, several legislators have sponsored HB 59, a fetal heartbeat bill that would bring the threshold for legal abortion down to 6 weeks.

North Carolina and Wisconsin have also passed recent anti-abortion legislation. In NC, the prohibitive cost of mandated upgrades threatens closure of all but one of the state’s 16 abortion clinics. In WI, AB 227 (aka SB 206) would require women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and require doctors providing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Opponents of the law say it would close two of only four clinics in the state.

And that is exactly the point.

What this recent wave of draconian anti-abortion legislation renders overwhelmingly clear is the importance of who our state legislators are. In the matter of abortion, where individual states retain enormous discretion, the actions of state legislatures can devastate abortion rights. This has been demonstrated time and time again: in Texas, in North Dakota, and in Pennsylvania. Therefore, every election, presidential or not, is essential to the security of women’s rights. However, voting rates in off year elections for state representatives remain notoriously low. Female voter participation in particular has been shown to drop by over a million votes in off year elections in Pennsylvania.

In evaluating state legislative actions against abortion rights, we must carefully consider who it is that we elect to our state legislatures. It’s no surprise that women’s rights are getting short shrift in many states. After all, women are still underrepresented in public office. Women compose only 18% of Congress, and it is hardly better at the state level. In Ohio, women make up 24% of the state legislature; in Texas, 21%; in North Carolina, 22%; and in Wisconsin, 25%.The dearth of women in our state assemblies matters when it comes to setting legislative priorities and countering efforts to restrict access to abortion, not because all women support abortion rights—they do not—and not because electing more women to public office is the silver bullet to end the “war on women.” Rather, as Senator Davis so eloquently demonstrated, the voices of women who are directly affected by public policy have the power to inform the public debate and transform how legislatures approach issues of concern to women. The key is to elect a legislature that is diverse in experiences, viewpoint, and perspective.  If we want to change the outcome, that is, put a stop to threats against reproductive rights, it matters who the players are.

Fact: Women compose only 18% of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Consider this in the larger picture of state governments, which nationwide have become more conservative since 2010. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the first half of 2013, states enacted 43 abortion restrictions, as many as were enacted in the entire year of 2012. With trends like these, it will take a long time to pin down the ever-evolving standard for the nation’s “strictest” abortion laws.

Whether or not these recent anti-abortion laws are ultimately challenged and/or struck down, in passing these measures, state legislators demonstrate an overwhelming lack of respect for women’s choices. In Wisconsin, Governor Walker claims the new bill, “improves a woman’s ability to make an informed choice.” Choice is the operative word here because ultimately, these laws preclude it. A woman can’t very well choose to have an abortion if she is unable to access an abortion.

In the first half of 2013, the efforts to restrict women’s reproductive rights were astounding, and continued and increasing counter efforts are needed to turn the tide. The image of Governor Kasich of Ohio surrounded by only men as he signed the new state budget reads as a lot more than the beginning of a new fiscal year. It reads as a need to continue fighting to secure women’s reproductive rights in every state. It reads as a fundamental lack of diversity in the vast majority of leadership positions in society. And it reads as a need to remind ourselves of the significance of our votes, and the relationship between the who and the what in the matter of legislative priorities. After all, as Ohio State Rep. Connie Pillich (D) summed it up, is your uterus a budget issue?

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Democracy, PA Legislature, Planned Parenthood, Politics, Reproductive Rights, Voter turnout, women in Congress, women in legislature, women voting, Women's health

Hillary Clinton Launches the Women in Public Service Project

Molly Duerig, WLP Intern

Monday, June 11th, marked the official launch of the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP), a program created by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that aims to mentor emerging female leaders from all over the world in public policy and social justice.

 Forty-nine women from 21 different countries were selected through an application process to participate in the project. WPSP kicked off its first annual two-week series of intensive seminars, which will focus on how women can successfully lead and influence the governments and societies in which they live. Participants will also have the opportunity to network with global political leaders.

 The project is sponsored by The U.S State Department and the five remaining “Seven-Sister” schools, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Smith, and Mount Holyoke. The first summer institute will take place at Wellesley College, which is the alma mater of both Clinton and Madeline Albright, the first female Secretary of State.  The other sponsoring colleges, all leading liberal arts colleges, will host the event in the future.

Clinton’s ambitious project will further the pro-women initiative President Obama undertook when he issued the National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security this past December. The Women’s Media Center explained that NAP mandated increased participation of women in the negotiation of peace treaties, as well as a promotion of women’s role in conflict prevention. This program is one that was greatly needed: only 8% of all peace treaties negotiated during the last several years involved women at all.

Furthermore, as State Department ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Melanne Verveer pointed out, almost half of all peace agreements negotiated during the 1990s failed within five years of their passage. “Peace won’t happen if we leave out half of those who are affected by conflict and will benefit from peace,” said Verveer in support of the NAP.

Her sentiment, crucial to the birth of the WPSP, is shared by many leaders urging increased participation by women in politics. As women continue to be underrepresented in politics, we fail to hear the opinion of half of the population. This leads to a plethora of problems, including imbalanced decisions and a narrow range of expertise and perspective.

Gender equality efforts are underway worldwide. Newly-elected French president Francois Hollande appointed an equal number of women and men to the country’s 34-member cabinet for the first time in history .

Clinton’s hopes are that the WPSP will help this trend to continue on an international level. The project’s ultimate goal is for at least 50% of the world’s elected leaders to be women by the year 2050. Currently, that number is at only 17.5%. According to a Women’s Media Center article, the proportion of women to men in the U.S Congress is only 17%, even lower than the international average of 20% of parliamentary seats held by women. Clinton was quoted as saying she was embarrassed by this statistic. She also stated that, “The World Bank has found that women tend to invest more of their earnings in their families and communities than men do,” adding that “those are the kinds of instincts and priorities we would all like to see” at the government level.

If half of a society’s population fails to have proper representation in politics, the desires and goals of that society cannot be properly met. The WPSP aims to broaden the range of perspectives at the political forefront to include more women, as well as give women the resources and contacts to become effective leaders. Here at the Women’s Law Project, we support and applaud this endeavor. This is a bold and innovative approach to international policy that aims to drastically alter global leadership.

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Filed under Democracy, Education, Events, Gender Discrimination, Government, Women Leaders

Study Reveals Women Still Not Recognized as Capable Leaders

A recent meta-analysis (integration of a large number of studies on the same subject) by Northwestern University reveals that most people still use gendered stereotypes when thinking about leadership. The consequence of this is that “Women are viewed as less qualified or natural in most leadership roles…and secondly, when women adopt culturally masculine behaviors often required by these roles, they may be viewed as inappropriate or presumptuous.” These biases against women are most likely contributing to the ever-present leadership gap in the U.S.—women still only hold 17% of seats in Congress and in 2008 only 15.7% of corporate officers in Fortune 500 companies were women.

Previous research found that women are perceived as inherently having more “communal” qualities such as being compassionate. Men, on the other hand, were perceived by participants in the studies as inherently having more “agentic” qualities such as being assertive. Research found that it is agentic qualities that are perceived as being an important element of leadership. The Times of India sums up, “Because men fit the cultural stereotype of leadership better than women, they have better access to leadership roles and face fewer challenges in becoming successful in them.” Both female and male participants in the studies that made up the meta-analysis saw men as being inherently better leaders than women.

It is incredibly disheartening that, as Laura Hibbard commented, in an era where “women hold some of the most powerful positions in the United States (see: Hilary Clinton, Secretary of State, Nancy Pelosi, [Former] Speaker of the House, etc.) we still haven’t really changed the way we think about leadership roles and women.” However, the study did show some encouraging trends. The meta-analysis collected data since 1973 so could see if attitudes towards women in leadership are changing over time. Most people still view leadership roles as inherently male but Alice Eagly, professor of psychology and a co-author of the study told Hibbard, “women should be encouraged that leadership is culturally not as extremely masculine as it was in the past…That’s progress because it makes leadership roles more accessible to women and easier to negotiate when in such a role.”

To learn more about the effort to see more women in leadership positions and to find out how you can help in that effort, visit The White House Project’s website.

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Filed under Employment, Gender Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Women Leaders

First Two Openly Transgender Judges in the U.S. Appointed Last Month

A positive step for transgender visibility was taken in November, when two openly transgender people became judges in two states. California voters elected Judge Victoria Kolakowski to the Alameda County Superior Court on November 2, making her the first openly transgender trial judge in the United States. Shortly thereafter, on November 17, Houston Mayor Annise Parker appointed Phyllis Frye as an associate municipal court judge.

Judge Kolakowski has 21 years of experience in the legal profession, and insists that her gender identity was irrelevant to her campaign. Quoted in the Bay Area Reporter, she says, “That is not why people voted for me and not why people didn’t vote for me.”

Kolakowski had a successful career as private lawyer and a corporate attorney despite the prejudice that threatened to derail her goals entirely as a law student. According to the Daily News, the Louisiana State Bar Association initially rejected her application, claiming she was “not of sound mind” – a reaction to Kolakowski listing herself as transsexual. She had to appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, who ruled in her favor.

Phyllis Frye has been fighting for transgender equality for decades. Daniel Williams of Legislative Queery writes:

The significance of the moment was not lost on Mayor Parker who fought back tears as she welcomed the appointees to the council dais. Council member Sue Lovell who, along with Parker and Frye, fought for years as a citizen to improve the lives of queer Houstonians, beamed as she spoke of how far the three of them have come. Several council members specifically thanked Frye for her willingness to serve.

These judicial appointments don’t come without controversy, considering how transgender identity is mainly ignored or derided by mainstream American culture. It’s important that transgender people gain visibility and inclusion in every aspect of life in the U.S., and achievements by members of this much-excluded community deserve to be publicized and celebrated. We congratulate both women on their victories!

 

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Filed under Democracy, Equality, Government, LGBT

Spotlight on Conservative Women in Politics

The Women’s Law Project is a nonpartisan organization and does not endorse candidates nor affiliate with any political party. However, we are interested in the media coverage of women in politics and the variety of opinions currently being expressed about conservative candidates and what their candidacy means for women. As a resource for readers, we have provided a list of stories we have read recently on this topic with links to more information.

  1. Reason.com argues that the feminist critique of conservative female politicians is unfair
  2. The LA Times reports that the GOP is purposefully promoting more female candidates to discourage association between their party and the traditional political insider
  3. Jessica Valenti says “so-called conservative feminists don’t support women’s rights.”
  4. Newsweek states that the left’s “native mistrust of religion, of conservative believers in particular, left the gap that Palin now fills.”
  5. Amanda Woytus responds to the above article, stating, “Palin is not a feminist. She’s merely using the word to rally religious women and unite them under the same issue they’ve been united under for years — anti-abortion rights.”
  6. Despite the fact that the GOP boasts an increasing number of working mother candidates, Betsy Reed says the “Republican Party’s stance on the issues that matter to working mothers is as regressive as it has ever been”
  7. Mary Kate Cary states that we have entered into an era of “post-feminist politics” and that female conservative candidates “are agents of change not only in the electorate but inside the women’s movement.”

What do you think about the increasing number of conservative female candidates? Does it represent a step forward or back for women’s rights? Let us know your thoughts in comments.

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Filed under 2010 Election, Democracy, Equality, Government, Politics

Victories for Female Candidates: Are We Any Closer to Equal Representation?

NPR termed it a “Super Tuesday For Women. The Washington Post called ita year of the woman,” but noted “the general election in the fall will be the real test of whether the ‘year of the woman’ label is fitting.” After high-profile primaries resulted in numerous victorious female candidates across the country, Samantha Bee of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart humorously explained, “Men broke the country and now you need the ladies to come in and make it all better.”

So what did happen in this year’s primaries? Here are some of the highest-profile wins:

Meg Whitman won the California Republican Gubernatorial primary, making her the “first female billionaire to translate her business acumen into politics” after being the former chief executive of eBay. Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast comments, “[she] opposes the right to abortion, can’t decide if global warming is real, [and] won the endorsement of Sarah Palin.” Whitman spent almost $80 million on her successful campaign, much of it her own money. Whitman will face Jerry Brown (D), a “former two-term governor hoping to win back his old job,” in the November election.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, won the Republican Senate nomination in California. Fiorina commented in her victory speech on Tuesday night, “Career politicians in Washington and Sacramento be warned, because you now face your worst nightmare: two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.” Fiorina was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. She will face another woman, the incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D), in November.

Nikki Haley faces a June 22nd runoff challenge for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina, a state where no women occupy an elected position in the 46-member Senate, after receiving 49% of the vote in the Tuesday primary. She would be the first Indian-American governor of South Carolina. Like Fiorina and Whitman, Haley was also endorsed by Palin, which some think contributed to her jump to the front of the “crowded GOP field” in South Carolina.

Roxanne Conlin won the Democratic Senatorial primary in Iowa, a state that has never elected a woman to the House or Senate. Conlin took “an overwhelming percentage of the vote,” leaving her two male competitors in the dust. She will face five-term incumbent Senator Sen. Charles Grassley (R) in November.

Sharron Angle will face incumbent Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in November, who was apparently “hoping to face off against this rather extreme candidate,” rather than the two other potential contenders that she ousted. Angle, a tea-party endorsed candidate, holds some “controversial positions,” including “abolishing the Department of Education, getting the United States out of the United Nations, and privatizing and/or phasing out Social Security.” The GOP is focusing, on the other hand, on the 13.7% unemployment rate in Nevada, which they feel incumbent Senator Reid has failed to address.

What do these victories mean for women and for the feminist movement?

The Women’s Campaign Forum wrote:

While it cannot be denied that Fiorina and Haley’s [and Haley’s and Angle’s] wins are historic, they also beg the question: Are these victories for women?

As feminism and the women’s movement were born out of the need for reproductive freedom in the form of birth control in the 1970’s, can an anti-choice woman running for office be considered a feminist just because she is a woman? The answer: No.

While, here at WCF, we applaud conservative female candidates who have risen above the misogynistic tactics thrown at them during their races, feminist victories will only come from women who support reproductive health choices.

(emphasis original)

Female representation in our federal legislature (along with numerous other governing bodies in the United States) leaves much to be desired. The Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University reports that:

  • Women hold 73, or 16.8%, of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Of these 73, only three chair a House of Representatives committee and only 7 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Women hold 17, or 17%, of the 100 seats in the 111th U.S. Senate.
  • Of these 17, only three chair a Senate committee and only 4 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Of the 90 women in the U.S. House and Senate, only 23.3% identify as women of color.
  • Only 262 women have served in the U.S. Congress to date (167 Democrats, 85 Republicans).

At the Women’s Law Project, we don’t endorse candidates. But we are concerned with the lack of female representation in our country’s public offices. When high-profile victories for female candidates bring attention to this issue of female representation, we are eager to jump into the discussion.

We want to hear from YOU! What do you think? Do these victories mark a new era for women in politics? Leave a comment below!

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Filed under Democracy, Equality, Government, Politics

Remember to Vote Today!

Although women and men often care about similar issues, women are not adequately represented in federal, state, or local government. As a result, women’s voices and needs are not as integral to the decision-making process, and final decisions about policies that affect the lives of women and their families are often left to men who make up the majority of the legislative bodies.

Today is primary election day in Pennsylvania, an opportunity for every individual to make his or her voice heard through voting. So be sure to head to your nearest polling place and cast your vote!

A few resources and things to remember:

  • Click here to find your polling place (PA residents only).
  • Click here to find your polling place if you are not a resident of Pennsylvania
  • Voting is a RIGHT. If you are a registered voter, and have any problems casting a vote, call the Election Protection Coalition at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

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Filed under Democracy, Government, Pennsylvania, Voting rights

President Obama Nominates Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court

This morning, President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court of the United States. If confirmed, Ms. Kagan will be the fourth woman to serve on the Court, and will bring the current number of female justices to three, the highest ever.

Ms. Kagan has never served as a judge, but she was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in 1999 by President Clinton. At the time, she was serving as Associate White House Counsel. Her nomination, however, was thwarted by Senator Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who didn’t schedule a hearing for her, which effectively ended her nomination.

Subsequent to working in the Clinton White House, Ms. Kagan presided as dean of Harvard Law School from 2003-2009. President Obama appointed her the first female Solicitor General in U.S. history in 2009. The Solicitor General represents the federal government in cases before the Supreme Court.

Ms. Kagan is generally regarded to be left-leaning and is openly pro-choice and pro-LGBT rights. During her time as dean at Harvard, she barred military recruiters from campus because of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but allowed them to return because the school risked losing federal funds. In written answers to questions from members of the Senate Judiciary during her nomination to the Solicitor General position, she wrote that “the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, subject to various permissible forms of  state regulation.” Critics on the left distrust her views on executive power and indefinitely detaining foreign combatants suspected of supporting al-Qaeda.

As we wrote in another blog post, appointing and electing female judges matters. If Ms. Kagan is confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, she will join Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor in bringing women’s representation on the Court to 33%. While this is still far from a perfect representation of the female population on the bench, it would be a welcome step forward.

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Filed under Equality, Government, Reproductive Rights

Female Judges in the United States Are Few and Far Between

Update: This blog post originally stated that there were no women on the Mississippi Supreme Court, which came from the executive summary of the report. However, Beverly Pettigrew Kraft, Public Information Officer for the Administrative Office of Courts in Mississippi, emailed us to let us know that there is a woman currently serving on the Mississippi Supreme Court, Judge Ann H. Lamar. Our apologies for the mistake, and thanks to Beverly for letting us know.

Via Ms. JD, we learn about a study on female representation in the state and federal judiciaries in the United States [PDF]. The study was conducted by the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University at Albany and its findings indicate that women still have a long way to go before equal representation in the courts.

Some highlights (or lowlights) from the study:

In the U.S., women make up only 22% of all federal judgeships and 26% of all state-level positions.

With respect to women’s share of federal judgeships, only New Jersey and Connecticut achieved critical mass of 33% (the point at which women start exercising significant influence). About 20% of federal judges in most states are women. Women’s share of federal judgeships is at 10% or less in eight states. There are no women judges on federal benches located in Montana and New Hampshire.

There are no women judges on the U.S. District and Magistrate benches of the U.S. Northern District of New York (a 26 county region) despite the existence of a pool of 359 female judges serving on New York State benches.

Women are also absent from the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts District of Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia. There are no women judges on the Supreme Courts of Idaho, Indiana (see update above); and from the Alaska Court of Appeals.

In Pennsylvania, 22% of federal judges are women, and 27% of state-level judges are women, resembling the national average.

Equal representation is important in every profession, including the judiciary. In a thriving democracy, the court system plays a crucial role in ensuring that justice is a reality for all citizens and that the branches of government do not overstep their bounds. Like every judge, women bring their own unique experiences and history to their work. In a diverse society, this is extremely important and should be emphasized. And when women reach a critical mass, they can start to break down stereotypical gender roles more easily than when there are fewer women on the bench.

Make sure to read the whole report [PDF] and see how your state ranked.

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Filed under Democracy, Equality, Government

Sotomayor Sworn In as First Latina Supreme Court Justice

Sonia Sotomayor made history on Thursday when she was confirmed as the Supreme Court’s newest justice by a 68-31 vote in the Senate, becoming the first Latina and only the third woman to sit on the Court. She was sworn in on Saturday by Chief Justice Roberts with her hand on a bible held by her mother, and was surrounded by about 60 guests, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, members of the Obama administration, friends, and family. “It is our nation’s faith in a more perfect union that allows a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx to stand here now,” she said after being honored by the President at a White House reception. She continued:

I am struck again today by the wonder of my own life and the life we in  America are so privileged to lead…I am deeply humbled by the sacred responsibility of upholding our laws and safeguarding the rights and freedoms set forth in our Constitution. I ask not just my family and friends, but I ask all Americans to wish me divine guidance and wisdom in administering my new office.

It is thrilling to see Sotomayor added to the Court, and we applaud Pennsylvania Senators Casey and Specter (as well as the other 66 senators) for voting to approve her confirmation. We join the National Women’s Law Center in encouraging you to take a moment to thank the senators who made history and voted to confirm this exceptional woman. As President Obama remarked: “When Justice Sotomayor put her hand on that Bible and took that oath … we came yet another step to the more perfect union that we all seek.”

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Filed under Government, Supreme Court