Getting more women into politics still an uphill battle

Joan Butler
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Encouraging women to run for elected office should be getting much easier here in our province and the rest of Canada.

Sadly, while we may convince more women to put themselves up for nomination or election, the reality is that the percentage of women in elected roles is still too low.

There are groups trying to do something about it, such as Equal Voice’s local chapter which held a session in St. John’s last weekend. Groups like this have been working for years to try and balance the numbers in our councils and legislatures.  

While women are succeeding and breaking many of the traditional barriers, the numbers of women in elected governments in Canada reveal that we are far from having our fair share of elected officials.

The federal House of Commons has about 25 per cent women, the Newfoundland and Labrador legislature about 15 per cent, and our municipalities have about 34 per cent.  

The province’s municipal council percentage is better than most provinces, but when you look at Conception Bay South and area it is clear that the higher percentage is due to female participation outside our region.

Take C.B.S. as an example. We have only one woman — Beverly Rowe — on our nine-member council. For a town with 25,000 people — and about half of them women — we should have a more gender balanced council.    

We are not the only council with the problem. St. John’s and Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s have no female councillors, Paradise and Mount Pearl each have only two females.

At the municipal level, we have no political parties and thus no party nomination race, making it easier to run for office.

Despite the open process, C.B.S. has never seen a rush of females seeking municipal office.  

We have never had a female mayor or more than two women on council at any time. In recent years we’ve had former councillors Marie Deacy and Sandra Baggs. Baggs is the longest serving female councillor and former deputy mayor, and unfortunately was not re-elected in 2013 when she was one of four women who ran for office.

At the provincial and federal levels, women have to compete for district nominations before even getting to the election stage, so this can be a deterrent.

So what is the problem?

Research has shown that some women perceive politics as too combative, they don’t have time, they see the impact on their personal lives, and many see politics as the old boys club which is hard to get into.

An interesting perspective on why women resist politics has also been raised by a political science professor at Queen’s University who says that the media’s coverage of women may contribute to why we do not run for office.

Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant has published a book called “Gendered News: Media Coverage and Electoral Politics in Canada,” about women in the House of Commons.

During a talk at Memorial University on March 18, she pointed out that women have no problem getting media coverage, but are covered differently in political news because of their gender and this could impact voters evaluations of candidates.

The book looks at how women are often portrayed as sex objects or iron maiden types, and how these stereotypes impact voter evaluations and women’s decisions about running for office.

We are far from equal representation and thanks to understanding the barriers, and groups like Equal Voice, we may get there some day.

What’s happening?

There’s a new Thursday event at Manuels River Hibernia Centre. Turrsday@The River is an adult evening with storytellers, balladeers, poets, acoustic musicians and Irish dancers. Contact info@manuelsriver.com if you wish to perform or have books or CDs to sell.

There will be bar service and $2 cover charge. Topsail United Church Men's Club Annual Flipper Dinner is Monday, June 2, at 7 p.m. Take-out available at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $20. To reserve, call all the office at 834-4567 or Bob at 782-0388.

Joan Butler is a lifelong resident of Kelligrews, Conception Bay South. She can be reached

by email at joanbutler@ymail.com.

Organizations: House of Commons, Gendered News, Manuels River Hibernia Centre

Geographic location: Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Portugal Cove Mount Pearl Queen Kelligrews

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