Women in Politics

Women in Politics: It’s about substance, not style

By Sheila Wood, Provincial Chief Financial Officer

Years ago, when women were supposedly liberating themselves from male dominance some “bright” corporate marketing person used the expression “you’ve come a long way baby” to sell a product. When Billie Jean King was trying to wrestle some control over male-dominated professional tennis she had to make a deal with a cigarette manufacturer and thus was born the Virginia Slims Women’s Tennis Tour. Some accused her of selling out, but in reality she was just using the tools she had at the time to fight for the rights of women tennis players who were systematically and economically discriminated against. How ironic that today, women in politics are still often judged not as much on ability, but on appearance. Does anyone really care about what is really in style whether it be clothes, hair, or make up? Apparently so. We as women have to be “on” every day of our lives as we have been the sector that has never been in the forefront. We have always had to be the ones to make the case for our own importance.

What is that importance? In politics it has been very small across the spectrum, but large in our day-to-day decisions. It can be a work situation, it can be a decision to be a mother, it can be a decision to be an activist, or it can be a decision to be ourselves… and are we not all those things? So why in politics do we seem not to count at times?

At a recent workshop “Women in Politics” held in Peterborough information regarding the percentage of women participating in politics was addressed. The NDP is the only party that has rules in their constitution for equal gender representation. Some facts shared included the percentage of women elected: Canada 24%, Sweden 44.7 %, Norway 39.7%. Many women from all walks of life participated in an open discussion on why women do not embrace the political arena more as opposed to their male counterparts.  Over and over the message was clear – we are afraid of being put down for our ideas and for how we look and express ourselves. This was very apparent from the young university women attending – who need and want to get more involved but have reservations.

It’s not how we look that matters but how we as women will bring forward a different perspective. In 2006 23.2% of candidates were women. In 2011 28.5% of candidates were women… going forward we should aim for over 30%. Yes we have come a long way but we know there are still miles to go!

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commented 2014-02-03 20:14:41 -0500 · Flag
There’s also the issue of childcare, clothing costs, transportation, education/access to information, the style of debate forums which are weighed heavily towards those with privilege (i.e., those whose opinions are given greater weight simply because of their gender and/or skin colour and/or age), the adversarial nature of politics as a whole (let’s get away from that, can we please?) as well as the lack of opportunity to gain experience running. One place we need to start preparing women to think about politics as a career is in communities; being part of a community league or neighbourhood association, a parenting coalition at the local school, etc. is a great way to gain a perspective on cooperation, consensus and how to get things done through teamwork. We don’t need more women getting elected by “being like the guys.” We need women getting elected because they can do the job a whole lot better and without pulling alpha male nonsense.