St. John’s City Council is unique. We stand out from every other major Canadian city – a lone wolf among the twenty-one other councils in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Big City Mayors’ Caucus. Not one woman was elected in the 2013 election.
In a country ruled by representational politics, our elected officials at every level are not so, well, representational – for identity based on gender, age, or ethnicity. Neither are the majority of people who actually vote.
The 2011 federal election was a banner year for women with the most-ever seats in the House of Commons – 25%, according to Equal Voice, a national organization dedicated to engaging more women in politics.
Lynn Hammond, chairwoman of the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter, spearheaded a first-ever local forum at the end of April.
And she said the better-than-expected turnout at the Foran Room in St. John’s City Hall shows the interest and importance of having women at the decision-making tables.
“Isn’t it amazing that we have women and men here from all different parts of the community, all different parts of the province. Every political party is represented here today and all levels of government. It’s quite incredible to see that we can all come together and work toward a common goal.”
Roughly eighty people met to talk about why women stay out of politics, and how to help. Sexism, finances, and work-life balance came up as some of the biggest factors keeping women away from the political sphere.
“Who wants to be subjected to being called a bitch or a whore for making a statement? Who wants to see their work reduced to what they weigh or what lipstick they’re wearing?” was some of the chatter around the tables. Things female politicians actually face, mind you.
Just think about how people treated former Premier Kathy Dunderdale. No one mentions Premier Tom Marshall’s choice of suit, or exercise regime.
“Public opinion and the media are now with us, whereas when I started, it wasn’t,” said Shannie Duff, who entered politics over three decades ago.
“But just being a woman is never enough to be elected. You have to have the fire in your belly.”
Duff – who both Sheilagh O’Leary and Cathy Bennett credit with pushing them to throw their hats in the political ring – echoed what many people at the Equal Voice forum said: women need to start young, gain confidence and support, and political parties need to change the nomination process to give women a chance.
It’s the parties that tend to go looking for candidates, and parties can have mechanisms to attract more women – like requiring a 50/50 split between male and female candidates.
Or maybe our whole system needs to be changed.
Nunatsiavut President Sarah Leo says they have a clause in their constitution that every effort be made to have a woman on the ballot. “Equality for women is just so ingrained in our government, I didn’t even think of it,” said Leo.
The president needs 50% plus one of votes, so there are multiple ballots, but the winner is the one the majority voted for. In Canadian federal politics, for example, the Prime Minister can have a majority with less than 50% of seats in parliament.
“A lot of it comes from Inuit culture as a whole, understanding females play an important role in our lives,” said Leo.
Equal Voice says they’re working to make that something more people in Canada can see.
It’s important to have equal voices on council but, there were female candidates and they didn’t get the votes. It’s a reality that people think of men and women differently, but that hasn’t stopped women from succeeding in politics in the past.
We need to move past the fact that currently the council is strictly dudes. Stacking the odds to ensure a female voice is a good idea but it definitely takes away from the whole point of democracy doesn’t it? The people made their choice and I don’t know if it was purely rooted in lipstick or body figure. Men’s attractiveness deeeeefinitely comes into play when it comes to their campaign. Saying it doesn’t is ignorance. We just expect different things from men and women and I just don’t know if that’s necessarily a bad thing.