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Strong family-friendly policies and an “old girls’ network” are needed to encourage and support potential women candidates for politics, says a London sociologist who specializes in gender issues in the workplace.
“We need an old girls’ network. We need women supporting women and men supporting women as well,” said Brescia University College professor Helene Cummins, who recently received a Status of Women Award of Distinction for her work in advancing women in the workplace.
“More women are going into male-dominated fields like medicine and business, but women still tend to avoid the political spectrum. There are those multiple reasons, but they avoid conflict and aggressive social situations,” said Cummins.
She said “bully cultures” thrive in political settings and women are more likely to avoid those types of environments. There are female bullies . . . but typically, women are more communal. They typically seek to share power.”
The problem is, power isn’t being shared with women. While it’s been more than a year since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously quipped “Because it’s 2016,” when asked why he had appointed women to half of his cabinet positions, women continue to be greatly underrepresented at all levels of government in Canada.
As Cummins said, there are a multitude of potential barriers more likely to affect female candidates, many of them systemic. At city council level, those could include late-afternoon and evening meetings and absence of child care. In London, some politicians are pushing to have city council identify and address barriers to women candidates before the 2018 election.
Cummins has an instant suggestion.
“There should be daycare available,” she said, noting that statistically women continue to do the bulk of household work, which includes caring for children. “We have to have policies in place to support women in these vital roles.”
Those policies could include stricter code-of-conduct rules. Across the country, when asked why more women don’t enter politics about 30% of Canadians surveyed blame the negative environment, which includes hostility and aggressive campaigning, debating and public scrutiny.
Sheri Doxtator, former Chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames said she has experienced “sexism, racism and ageism,” while representing her community. “It’s in First Nation politics, in mainstream politics as well. People are slinging the mud, and so aggressive, and the name calling . . . it could’ve buried me,” said Doxtator, who was a facilitator at the 2016 Southwestern Ontario Women’s Political Summit and is organizing a similar event in Toronto for Indigenous women leaders.
“But it has always been my belief that the Creator has made women with such strength, honour and respect and such gifts that we will persevere. Women can deal with these things in a good way. Change the tone. I say, ‘I’m here to listen.’ For me, being a leader is not about telling people what to do, it’s about helping people become leaders themselves.”
London’s Ward 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy didn’t mince words. “It can get ugly. I’ve had a lot of experience with ugliness over the last year. But I was elected to do this job and I love my job,” she said. “We have to rally around women, support them and show them this is something women are good at. It’s also important to mentor young women.”
Support would help with the “imposter syndrome,” often suffered by women politicians, including Ward 10 Coun. Virginia Ridley, who recalled feeling like “the biggest faker out there,” for the first six months of her term.
Baechler too said she used to be “filled with dread,” every time she pulled into the city hall parking lot during her rookie year in 1993.
“As soon as I got there, my heart would start to pound,” she told WP. “It was an environment I wasn’t comfortable in. People would be skewered. If you went against someone who was aggressive and bullying, you’d suffer a backlash.”
Baechler believes a more gender-balanced government would be a less aggressive one and has long advocated for strong networks of support around women political candidates. She – along with London’s four women city councillors — is a mentor with King’s University College’s Head Start program, which is a Federation of Canadian Municipalities initiative that aims to increase participation of women on elected council.
“Men tend to have a more confrontational and aggressive style and approach to issues. Women look in and see this yelling back and forth and say ‘I don’t want to play that game,’” she said. “The more we see women appointed to those positions, the more women say ‘ok there’s a place for me.’ Those are all important pieces to changing the system,” she said.
Initiatives such as Women and Politics “Ask Her” campaign — which encourages Londoners to suggest a city council run to women who they think would make good city leaders – could be the push some excellent potential candidates need.
“Often times, women lack political self efficacy and are less likely to seek the recognition to run for politics,” said Brescia’s Cummins. “We need to highlight those unique skills they have and nurture them to be the best they can be.”
Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.
In 2006, the U.S. city of Minneapolis, MN., voted to move away from traditional voting to use Ranked Choice Voting in municipal elections. The city has held two elections using ranked choice.
Coun. Linea Palmisano is now running as an incumbent, four years after being elected through a ranked ballot vote. She spoke with Women and Politics about the impact ranked ballots had on her decision to enter politics.
W&P: You have said you wouldn’t have run for council in a traditional first-past-the-post voting system.
LP: Yes. I believe that to be true. I grew up in the Chicago area and saw how people get ripped down in politics. It can be kind of a nasty environment. I had a full-time job and a one-and-a-half year old at the time. I wasn’t ready to get into a ring and fight, but I wanted to do good. . . the more respectable, more civilized world of ranked choice lends itself to more people getting involved.
W&P: What makes it more respectable, more civilized?
LP: In a more traditional campaign landscape, (campaign managers) quickly define who you are, get the people who they know will vote for you. . . .and then you attack (your opponent), push them into a corner.
The whole premise of ranked choice is that by nature, by strategy you’d have to be more friendly, because you are asking people to consider you as their second choice. You are speaking to to a wider audience . . . You are getting their feedback, you are learning what they want, you aren’t trying to talk about such a polarizing campaign.
W&P: Some say ranked choice voting would lead to more women candidates and more women being engaged. What do you think?
LP: Definitely. I think it allows us to be thoughtful, to be who we are, to engage more people.The other woman who got into my race would do events at the park explaining ranked choice voting with favourite flavours of ice cream. You get to cast a wider net that way. It’s a way to increase participation, which is attractive to women who have informal networks, being on the block, their work networks, other moms at school, at the park. For some reason running around to different events is still mostly a women’s domain.
W&P: What is your political background?
LP: I didn’t grow up wanting to be a politician, but I want to do good and I feel like public service is a way I can do good in the world and govern well. The kind of environment ranked choice voting allows for enables you to do that, to be yourself. There’s a lot more space to be in the grey area.
W&P: What were your platforms in 2013?
LP: The big buckets were about building a more prosperous, sustainable and connected city. By prosperous I do mean equity. Making everybody successful. Sustainable . . . I’m a bit of an environmental nerd. I could differentiate myself from my opponent with that. Connected was about mass transit
W&P: So ranked choice is the way to go?
LP: An advantage of ranked choice is you get to define the conversation more. Define the issues, the talking points…You get to have more of a conversation.
Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.
Ranked Ballot Public Participation Meeting
Saturday, April 22
As London prepares for a public discussion on whether to become Canada’s first city to move to “ranked ballots” — a voting method that would change the way we elect local government — it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of an overhaul.
For Women and Politics, that includes looking at if and how ranked ballots can lead to more women on city council.
Are women underrepresented at the municipal level in London?
Only four of London’s 14 city councillors are women. So, yes. Yes, we are.
Can a new way of voting – one in which voters rank their choice of candidates – change that? Supporters say yes.
Not only is ranked ballot voting more democratic than first-past-the-post elections – through which you can win with only 30% of the vote (meaning 70% of voters didn’t choose you) if that’s more than each of the other candidates got – advocates say it encourages women women to enter municipal politics, and leads to gender equity, multiculturalism and diversity on city council.
“It’s not like women aren’t getting elected under a first-past-the-post system, but the number of women elected is desperately under-representative of the population,” explains Katherine Skene of Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. “Just electing a women to the position of mayor doesn’t say we’ve solved our gender problem. A council with a few racialized candidates, it’s not good enough. We aren’t getting there fast enough. If we know the system is a barrier, we need to change the system.
“Ranked choice is a way to a better more representative government that is more diverse, that is gender balanced.”
How ranked ballots work:
On voting day, citizens are asked to rank their choices for mayoral and ward candidates. Instead of putting an X beside one name, you’d put a 1, 2 or 3. It’s kind of how we make other decisions, such as what type of ice cream we want. (Gold Medal Ribbon, obviously, but if they don’t have it — and why doesn’t anybody carry that? It’s delicious! — chocolate will do the trick.)
**It’s important to note, voters don’t have to rank candidates. You can still vote the traditional way – choose your top candidate and leave the rest empty.
Once polls close, if a candidate receives at least 50% of the votes, he or she wins that race. If nobody gets half, the person with the least votes is dropped and “second choice” votes from that candidate’s ballots are redistributed. The cycle continues until someone ends up with half the votes and wins.
Why are we talking about change now?
The province made changes to the Municipal Elections Act, giving municipalities the option of using ranked ballots. So far, no cities have taken the province up on its offer and cities have until May 1, 2017 to decide. Other cities have turned it down, saying it’s too costly. In London, staff has recommended against ranked ballots for the next election due to uncertainties about whether the city will have a working system in place by then.
Why ranked ballots could encourage more women and diverse candidates, including people of colour and people with different abilities, gender identities, ages and more
What happens in political races is this: People who want an incumbent out throw their support behind the candidate they want who is most likely to beat that incumbent. Candidates are already being groomed for London’s 2018 election. And often, a candidate that is seen as strong enough to get capture a good portion of the vote, but not a guaranteed winner is asked to step out of the race in effort to ensure the preferred candidate gets the maximum amount of votes.
“The candidates that tend to get asked not to run are often women and people of colour,” said Skene. “They are seen as candidates that can’t win, but can siphon of enough of the vote so the other (unwanted) candidate could win.”
“Non-establishment people tend to be women, people of colour, new Canadians, people from an economically disadvantaged background. They will say two years before, “I can’t run, because so-and-so is running and I don’t want to split the vote.’
“With ranked ballots, suddenly you have a race where you can’t split the vote.”
Critics, including Fair Vote Canada, say there’s no statistical evidence to back up the theory ranked ballots lead to greater diversity among candidates.
But ranked ballot supporters say the lack of evidence is linked to the lack of cities using ranked ballots. While provincial and federal parties use the method to elect leaders, and a few U.S. cities have gone that way, no Canadian cities use ranked choice.
So, they defer to common sense:
“Say you’ve got an unpopular city councillor and a whole bunch of people who want to defeat that councillor. The councillor still has a good chance of winning because the others will split the vote,” explains Dave Meslin, also of RaBIT.
“And the incumbent is often a white man, because white men still hold positions of power.”
Ranked ballots discourage mudslinging and negative campaigning, say supporters.
With ranked votes, candidates do better when they run positive campaigns, get fresh ideas out there and reach out to community members, including their opponents, so people see them as a viable second choice, according to Jeanne Massey of Fair Vote Minnesota.
“It favours candidates who are more consensus building and collaborative in nature, and . . . In general, women are more more apt to run that way. They’ll win more often,” says Massey.
But . . .
Critics say the method is complicated and confusing to voters and can lead to spoiled ballots.
They say the confusion will lower voter turnout.
However, in recent months, city staff have held demonstrations with members of the public, using fruit as election candidates and asking people to rank their fruit of choice.
City Clerk Cathy Saunders tells Women and Politics the sessions were effective in simplifying the concept of ranked ballots for voters: “What we did at each session was manually did a count. We had people coming to sit down and do a count so they could clearly understand how it works. It’s complicated to explain, but once you do the count, it’s easy.”
The city has also produced a video – sadly using stick people instead of fruit – posted to the city website along with information about ranked voting at www.london.ca. You can add your voice to a public survey on the site too.
The city is holding a public participation meeting on ranked ballots, April 22, 11 a.m. at City Hall. Women & Politics hopes to see you there.
Jennifer O’Brien is a journalist in London, Ontario.
We are recruiting three to four individuals to serve as board members. Joining our board of directors is a one-year commitment, with the possibility for extension. Board memberships take effect as of April 2016, and the expected time commitment is 1-2 meetings (2-4 hours per month), in addition to working group meetings as required.
While we encourage applications from all people who identify as women, we recognize the importance of a diverse leadership team, and will give preference to applications from Indigenous women, Francophone women, LGBTQ identified women, women of colour, immigrant women, and women with disabilities.
We are interested in a variety of skills and experiences, however, at this time, we are seeking women with expertise in one or more of the following areas:
Equal Access. Equal Power. Equal Representation.
We will actively engage women with politics and create opportunities to amplify their voices.
Women & Politics is a citizen-led initiative that looks to engage and increase the participation of women in the political landscape. We host social events, develop educational resources and tools, participate in political activities, and connect women with their community and each other.
We are a non-partisan organization. We welcome all women to participate in our programs and events regardless of their political affiliation or knowledge of politics.
Learn more at www.womenandpolitics.ca.
If you are interested in applying to join the board, please email our nominations committee at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have any questions, please contact us at email@example.com. The deadline to submit your application is Monday, March 14th, 2016 at 11:59 p.m.
In planning for this 2015 election cycle, the Board of Women & Politics set out a strategy to identify the election issues most important to women in London and area. We started off with a survey to the community that identified 4 priorities:
From there, we organized a Women’s Issues Forum in June where we invited four women leaders to speak on these issues and invited discussion from the broader community. That event was well attended and sparked the formation of a sub-committee focused on election issues relating to young women. Women & Politics, along with the London Youth Advisory Council, successfully obtained a grant from the Laidlaw foundation to hold three evening events for young women. The topics chosen by the committee were, politics and youth, the future of work, and young women’s healthcare. These small group events created some interesting discussions with attendees, and several small election strategies were implemented, including a commitment to talk to young women in our community about health and politics.
Our biggest event was a World Cafe style All Candidates Meeting, organized in partnership with Business Professional Women London (BPW), which was held at Riverside United Church on September 29th. Over 100 people came out to the event, with eight candidates in attendance. Each candidate rotated between tables of their riding made up of 6-10 participants and a facilitator. Candidates were asked a variety of questions by participants and were also asked to respond to questions on the four women’s election issues, previously identified in our survey. The feedback on this event was very positive, with both candidates and participants expressing that the format allowed for deeper discussions and a unique opportunity for participants to engage with candidates.
We also participated in the World Homeless Action Day on October 8th, which raised awareness about homelessness in London and was organized by the London Homeless Coalition, London CAReS and United Way’s GenNext. Women & Politics offered up election information and questions one could ask candidates about how they and their party would address homelessness. It was privilege to attend this event and have the opportunity to share information on a key election issue, identified as a priority by women in our community.
Lastly, there was plenty of action happening on our website and on social media with an election resource page, regular blog posts on the identified key election issues, and regular posts related to election issues.
As promised when we initially sent out the survey at the beginning of the election cycle, we intend to hold candidates and their parties accountable for their promises. As such, we are posting the elected MPs survey responses on our website and we will be providing an updated report card on their progress in relation to these issues You can find the surveys here. Additionally, below you can see a quick summary of what Prime Minister Designate, Justin Trudeau and his party promised in relation to these issues. We are hopeful and cautiously optimistic that these promises will be upheld. It is vitally important to women in our communities that these and other issues are addressed.
On issues related to women and the election, on his first day as Prime Minister Designate, Trudeau stated the importance of holding an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. He also made a campaign promise to consult the Canadian people on electoral reform and institute some kind of change from the previous first past the post system, prior to the next election. In his party’s campaign platform, Trudeau pledged to commit $20 billion over 10 years to social infrastructure and to create a national housing action plan that would theoretically provide affordable housing for Canadians at all income levels. Trudeau’s party committed to providing “$125 million per year in tax incentives for developers and landlords to build and renovate rental units.” And lastly on the issue of health and refugees, according to the Liberal Party’s platform, the Liberal government promised to fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program for refugees. While C-24 is not directly mentioned in the Liberal platform, Trudeau has said throughout his campaign that the Liberal government would repeal C-24 and its second-class citizenship. We are pleased with these developments and will be watching local MPs and the larger government to see if and how they fulfill these promises.
Poverty is a hot button issue in our city. Mayor Matt Brown has recently established an Advisory Panel lead by several community leaders who have been asked to bring forth recommendations on how to solve the issue of poverty. It is our hope those leading understand the impact poverty has on women and recognize their needs often differ from those of men.
A girl born in London is ten times more likely to grow up to be a poor adult. Why? Because of her gender. Poverty is not gender neutral.
Poverty is more than a shortage of income. As the United Nations describes, poverty is “the denial of opportunities and choices most basic to human development – to lead long, healthy, creative lives and to enjoy a decent standard of living, freedom, dignity, self-esteem and respect of others.” In 2014 in Canada, more than 1 in 7 women lived in poverty. The stat itself is problematic because we can quantify 1 in 7 but must use the words “more than” since we know women who live in poverty often live in silence, which makes it near impossible to calculate an accurate number.
The percentage of females living in shelters is far lower than males: 73.6% male to 26.2% female (Sagaert, 2012:14), but this figure does not accurately reflect the number of women who are homeless. Many women will choose to move in to a home with other families or live in dangerous relationships, often abusive, because they are fearful of living in violence and exploitation on the streets. These women are also known as the Hidden Homeless because we know the number is significant but have no way of capturing it.
For many of our Hidden Homeless living with an abuser, regardless if it is the same one day to day, is deemed a safer and better choice than not having a pillow to lay your head on at night. Sadly, many of the women have lived with violence much of their lives and have resigned to a life this way, and often, violence in childhood and adulthood is the root cause of the original homelessness. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, substance abuse, learning difficulties and other mental health issues are all consequences of the violence many of these women have suffered throughout their lives. Once homeless, this is compounded on the streets and often becomes a barrier to regaining a foothold back to a safe and healthy life.
As much as we appreciate our municipal government’s focus on poverty we must demand ALL levels of government follow suit, and we must continue to reinforce that any solutions must be reached using a gender lens.
This past spring, Women & Politics surveyed women from across London, Ontario to hear what issues were important to them for the upcoming Federal election. Four themes emerged:
Women & Politics held a public event with experts to discuss each topic at the beginning of June to help women learn more about these issues. You can find a summary of the event here. Our next step was to learn where candidates stand on these issues. Women & Politics is currently conducting an online survey with all of the candidates of each riding in London, asking them pertinent questions that relate to each area. We will provide their responses on our website in the next few weeks.
To further explore each topic, Women & Politics is also dedicating a blog post on each topic. This blog post will focus on Issues Affecting Women New to Canada. This topic will be broken down into two areas: access to healthcare and Bill C24. The online survey to candidates asked questions pertaining to these two areas.
In Canada, the type of resident that you are determines your level of access to healthcare. This is especially true for newcomers. If you came as a permanent resident, you have access to the same health care as all Canadian citizens. If you arrive to Canada as a refugee, you receive the Interim Federal Health Program (IFHP). In 2012, the Federal government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reduced the healthcare services to which refugees would have access to. In 2014, the Federal Court of Canada found these cuts not only “cruel and unusual” but also unconstitutional. The Conservative government is appealing this decision but this will not be heard until after the election.
Further reading: http://www.doctorsforrefugeecare.ca/the-issue.html
Newcomers who are not refugees still face significant challenges in receiving optimal health care such as language barriers, racial discrimination, increased social isolation, eligibility issues, and a lack of understanding of the Canadian health care system. These layered challenges are often especially true for women newcomers who are often, at first, more isolated and less integrated to their new Canadian communities.
The next government can help newcomers receive better access to health care by offering better supports and helping them navigate the system more easily.
Further reading: http://www.kidsnewtocanada.ca/care/barriers
In June 2015, the Conservative government instated new legislation that effectively creates a two-tier citizenship system in Canada. This new legislation allows the Canadian government to revoke Canadian citizenship to dual citizens who have been convicted of terrorism, spying offences or high treason. A dual citizen is anyone who is eligible to receive citizenship from another country from Canada, even if they were born in Canada. For example, a Canadian whose mother was born in Britain, may not have applied for dual citizenship but is eligible for dual citizenship, can have their Canadian citizenship revoked, if convicted of terrorism, spying offences or high treason.
We have asked candidates who are campaigning in the London area the following questions related to this topic:
Please stay tuned to read each of their responses.
As you are likely aware a federal election will be occurring this year. In anticipation of this, Women and Politics London would like to hear from you what your priority issues are for this upcoming election.
On May 11th we will be hosting an Issues Forum where speakers will explore the priority issues you have identified, and you can discuss the impact of these issues on women in London.
Following the Forum we will be sending a survey to all registered candidates for the upcoming federal election to ask them to outline their position on these issues. We will then communicate these positions to all of you to help you determine who you will vote for in the election. If the candidates are successful in being elected we can then hold them to account going forward, on these important issues.
Please complete our online survey here! This survey is only has 2 questions, and should only take you approximately 1 minute to complete.
Thank you for sharing your opinions with us!
It’s that time of year again, the time when we reflect on the previous year and resolve to make improvements in the year to come.
Today a lot of us will make resolutions – we will decide to be healthy, to give more, learn more, reduce our waste and on and on the list goes.
What if we could make a resolution to help make real progress in one or all of these areas? Or conversely would we feel comfortable letting someone we don’t know make decisions on the direction our lives will take in the next year? It’s time to add a new resolution to the list – in 2015 let’s all get a little more political!
Here are a few suggestions:
Resolve to take part in London’s Build a Budget process and let this new council know what you see as important. Lots of us may have made the decision this year will be a healthier year or perhaps more specifically we have resolved to bike more. Wouldn’t it be nice to see those healthier choices supported by a strong policy to support bike lane infrastructure? Maybe you want to be greener, would a wet garbage collection help you do that? Maybe you resolved to read more, one item covered under the City budget is funding for Libraries. If you weren’t planning to purchase all those books, let City Council know Libraries are important to you.
Resolve to not only volunteer for charities and causes, but also to advocate for policy changes. Volunteering is a great thing to do but why not take it up a notch and advocate for that charitable cause with your political leaders? If you are giving to homeless shelters let your elected representatives know the way we treat those without permanent residence matters to you!
Resolve to join a party, it’s a great step towards making real change. With most political parties membership allows you to have some influence on party policy, in some cases members are able to choose who will represent them on the ballot. With the Federal election happening this year, this can be incredibly important if we want to see better representation of women (as well as other currently under represented groups in parliament).
Resolve to help out with a campaign. Whether you help put up signs or canvass for a candidate or use your skills in some other way it’s a great way to learn ore about the process and help make change.
Finally, resolve to provide some positive feedback to your elected officials, it can often be a thankless job and tough decisions are going to be made. If you resolved to be a happy more positive person remember to share success stories and words of encouragement to all.
We at Women and Politics are looking forward to 2015, to new challenges, to future successes, and continuing to advocate for more women’s involvement. What will you resolve to do?