This Fall Women & Politics was fortunate enough to work as a community partner with the Community Engaged Learning Program at Western University. We had 4 women students from the course, Interest Groups and Social Movements, who did some background research for our organization related to women and politics. The students’ research provided some data and evidence that will inform the direction of our work in regards to encouraging more women to get involved in politics. The areas that the students looked at in their research were: soft entry points for women hoping to get involved in politics, barriers that exist that prevent women from entering politics, best practices from organizations with similar goals to Women & Politics, and lastly government policies that facilitate women’s participation in politics.
You can accesss the student’s full report here but we are going to provide a brief summary of each of the areas of research. Their research is in no way an exhaustive search of the literature, similar organizations or government policy, but it does provide some evidence for the work and future direction of Women & Politics.
Section I: Women, political ambition & soft entry points to politics
Some of the key findings of this section comes from a study done in the US of College students and political ambition. ( Lawless & Fox, 2014). The men and women surveyed were of comparable age, race, religions, household income, and party affiliation.
Other study & literature findings:
What this means for Women & Politics?
This week, we welcomed in a new City Council. One that, in the eyes of the public, represents broad change from our previous Council. We have 11 new Councillors, many who come from community-based backgrounds, several who ran grassroots campaigns, plenty that are young, and all who are keen. What we don’t have is greater representation of women and diverse communities on our Council. We elected four women; Maureen Cassidy, Anna Hopkins, Virginia Ridley and Tanya Park, and two people of colour, Mohammed Salih and Harold Usher. Our female representation actually went down in this election, from 30% to just under 27%.
When we started working toward electing more women to Council, we knew this election year was going to be a difficult one. The lack of women at all levels of government isn’t an easy fix, it is rooted in systemic issues that make it more difficult for women to run for election. Women still carry the load of domestic responsibilities. Four out of five sole-parent households are led by women, women spend twice as much time as men taking care of children, and women spend 40% more time on domestic responsibilities. We are more likely to live in poverty, with women of colour, women with disabilities, aboriginal women, and senior women being even more likely. Well-documented issues, such as less access to networks, financial connections, scrutiny of women’s appearances and actions, as well as the logistics of government life, make it less likely women will run. To change the numbers, we need to address many of these issues, and that just doesn’t happen in a short amount of time. This is long-term change that requires long-term vision and work.
Despite the odds, there were many women who stepped up to run for election, and there were several positives. We had three strong women Councillors, Nancy Branscombe, Joni Baechler, and Judy Bryant stepping down and not running for re-election. This meant we weren’t necessarily going to be adding to the women we had on Council, we would be fortunate if we replaced them. Two of those three departing seats did in fact go to women, with Maureen Cassidy replacing Joni Baechler in ward 5 and Tanya Park replacing Judy Bryant in ward 13. Virginia Ridley also beat long-time incumbent Paul Van Meerbergen in ward 10 and Anna Hopkins won in a very crowded race in ward 9. These wins were successes for representation and for women in general, as all of these women are strong advocates for their entire communities and understand the importance of making sure the needs of women and families are considered when making decisions.
We also elected the youngest Council we’ve ever had, and many of these young Councillors have children, including our new Mayor, Matt Brown. Women & Politics stresses the importance of representation because we need people who hold diverse views and lived experiences at the table for decisions to be made that truly impact everyone. Once a certain number of people representing those views are present, decisions are more easily made that reflect the needs of the communities they represent.
We now have a Council with plenty of involved parents and the conversation about the value of including families in Council activities and city wide events is already starting to shift. We see that having many parents at the Council table translates into the perspectives and realities of families’ lives becoming an important consideration in how our Council operates. Just look at the picture from a tour of City Hall that Councillors and their families were given last week.
The Council chamber is full of families and children. This picture is symbolic of the lives of many of our Councillors, and it demonstrates that children and families can’t help but be considered in the decisions that will be made about our City. They are being welcomed into Council chambers and symbolically given a seat. That is how representation matters, and how it ends up making a difference in the decisions and in the climate that is created.
Recognizing the value of families is one step. We need representation. We need to know that the people at the decision-making table understand the varied needs and lived experiences of the people they are representing. Most importantly, we need decisions to be made that positively impact the entire community. We may not have adequate gender or diverse representation at our current Council table, but what we do have is a committed set of Councillors and a Mayor who can reach out to the community to ensure they are representing the needs of women, people of colour, LGBTQ communities, people with disabilities, low income people, seniors, and others who may not be well represented. We have a Council who is already making change and taking steps to be more inclusive in regards to families. For that we are thankful and we are also hopeful that this is only the beginning of broader inclusivity by this Council.
(Photo Credit to Councillor Josh Morgan)