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.
Since the inception of Women & Politics, we have advocated that local government policies need to be more inclusive of all women and genders. Whether it be the London Plan, the Municipal Budget, or any policy/service that the City provides, the voices and experiences of all women need to be included in a more meaningful and concrete way. In addition, this work needs to go beyond gender to centre racialized, Indigenous and newcomer women who are noticeably absent from many decision-making processes and leadership roles. While white women make gains (albeit incrementally) in many of these areas, women from diverse communities are left even further behind.
So, we are excited to share that London has been chosen as one of the communities for the Diverse Voices for Change Project through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. This initiative is to increase the number of women from diverse communities who are actively informed by, and engaged in, local government decision-making. Five municipalities, including London, Sioux Lookout, Montreal, Halifax and Edmonton will engage racialized, Indigenous and newcomer women in local decision-making processes and leadership roles.
The City of London, along with Women and Politics as a community partner, will work with women from diverse communities to implement strategies, recommendations, policies and procedures within the city that better represent women from racialized, Indigenous and newcomer backgrounds.
We are excited that the City of London has made the commitment to this project and is taking steps forward in becoming more inclusive and representative of all Londoners. This is just one step of many that needs to be taken, and we will continue to push our local government to be more responsive to gender and diversity needs in our City on all fronts. Stay tuned for more updates as this project moves forward and get in touch with us if you are interested in learning more or being involved in any of the work we do.
Here is a collection of stories from our March “Women Who Inspire” event.
The woman I have met in my education career who are mothers of children of autism. Not only do these women juggle career, family and self, they are faced with challenges often beyond their control each and every day. These women have become advocates, professors, and support systems to others mothers with children on the spectrum. These women even do this on their own and with very little interaction and support from the outside. Their love for their children is inspirational. They are my heroes.
I find I admire women more than I am inspired by them. Most women I am exposed to in real life are full of fear, who aspire to get married, get a house, have children. I can’t relate, I don’t live in fear and am usually the inspiration for others as a result. I am looking to be inspired by women in real life and in my community and thought Women & Politics would be a good start. So far, Shawna has inspired me to show up….so, so far, so good! Thank you for hosting this event, I look forward to more. – Jennifer
Michelle Landsberg – I am too young to really remember her advocacy in the 70s but recently read “Writing the Revolution” – a really terrific look back at the bravery of our early feminists who moved the needle in journalism! She made it easier for us all.
Margaret H who at 100 published her first book (2016) “Call Me Ma’am” about her time during the second world war as a psychologist helping recruit women into the Canadian Army. – Dharshi
My mom – She got her Master’s Degree P/t while raising 5 children. At 50 she decided to go to school full – time to get her PhD. She graduated at 55 & went on to teach World Politics at the University of Windsor and she did this all while married to my dad a reluctantly supportive chauvinist. – Marnie
Charlotte Montgomery who was my boss and mentor 41 years ago. I will never forget Charlotte sharing that when the men went to World War II there were only women to do the men’s work and as soon as the men returned the women were sent back to be housewives, Teachers or Nurses. Charlotte did teach for many years and then started as a Teller at the CIBC and worked her way up to Assistant manager, Benefits Department. When I worked with Charlotte I don’t recall any women managers. I think she paved the way for many managers and women U.P.’s to come. – Louise
My sister who, despite being recruited by the company itself, overcame a reputation of only getting the job to fill a quota of women employees. Not only does she now lead her team, she is by far one of the best computer programmers I know. Oh, did I mention she achieved all these goals in her career while also raising two small children by herself? When I think of the term “Super Woman” or “Super Mom” I think of Julie. – Janice
Shawna Lewkowitz for supporting & making spaces for women of all types in so many ways, but especially via founding Women & Politics London – Laura
My mom because she’s constantly pushing me to try new things and speak up for myself – Beah
Me – I say myself as I’ve kept on keeping on despite the cards dealt. I don’t see plenty of women of colour in political leader roles so I teach my children that they can, even if I don’t reach politics. 12 years ago I was addicted to crack cocaine and came to London with $10 in my pocket and a knapsack on my back and 6 months pregnant. In 4 months, my partner and I secured our place and our children were returned to us. Since then I’ve worked our way up. Still have a long way to go but I am not where I was and that is just part of the story! Also, not enough women of colour are represented. – Toni
My Mum – I spoke to her brilliance and resilience in her campaign for NDP representative, but to say that was what inspired me wouldn’t do her justice. It was AMAZING yes, but it’s so much more. She strives to live her life as an example for my sister and I. She volunteers, she works, she speaks. She is my superhero. Every day she does her best for my family, for her community and for herself. How flippin’ cool is that? – Gabriella
My friend Vanessa. She is a woman who has overcome so much. Poverty, adoption, colourization, mental health, addictions, housing insecurity and more. I watch her raise her beautiful family with so much love and grace. I see her developing into a young leader in the community with passion. I am always inspired by how she does all of this and grounds herself in what she’s overcome and she uses it to give herself strength instead of just putting it in the past and burying it. Our worst days give us what we need to create our most beautiful ones. – Suze
Marnie Sherritt – one of the three founders of Project 88. Our goal was to elect more women to City Council. In our 20-year work, we moved to 40% women on City Council. Marnie was always there, making muffins for our “How to run for elected office”, doing registrations, obtaining lists of candidates, mailing invitations to candidates. In fact, she did all the slug work while being absolutely reliable – and she still is.
My Daughter – who calls out gender based violence in her grade 5 class even when it isolates her. – Jodi
I am inspired by my teacher because she is nice.
My mother lost her mom when she was young and was moved into C.A.S and moved from home to home, eventually running away and living on the streets, homeless and finding meals in dumpsters. She quit school in grade 9 to work to get money to eat. She got pregnant at 17. She married and had two more kids, then divorced and worked so hard to make ends meet. She did whatever she could to not only make sure we had what we needed but often it was not unusual to see other kids from the neighbourhood at our house for dinner or staying for a week, month, even longer when their parents were going through problems. She was a tough mom but only when we needed it. She worked during the day and did school at night to earn her degree. She also made sure she gave back to the community, telling us it was her job to set an example for us; she has coached more than 100 kids competitive soccer, was the first female head coach of a club and many other firsts in the soccer world. She is also a very strong advocate for people who live in poverty, especially women. Every month she puts aside $50 and quietly picks one women in London who needs a hand and helps them. Last month it was a young girl going back to school who needed school supplies, the month before a young mom whose son was very ill in the hospital — she paid all of her parking. This and so very much more makes my mom my (and many others’) number one inspiration!! – Sarah
My Mom – my first example of what it looks like to be a leader. – Jodi
We had our first Young Women and Politics workshop in April at the Northwest Resource Centre. 24 girls and young women came together to learn about politics, socialize and meet local female politicians. Participants were asked to write a blog post to reflect on their experiences. Here are posts from two of the amazing young women who attended.
My experience at the Young Women and Politics Session
My experience at the Young Women and Politics session was amazing. There are so many reasons why this session was a very tremendous experience for me. I have gone to many workshops for young women and how to feel confident, but Women and Politics really showed a perspective on inner beauty. The beauty of leadership. As many will know, being a leader is a very difficult task when it comes to politics for women. But this workshop was eye-opening in terms of options for young women in politics. A big part for me at this session was how they talked about the word “Feminist.” This word at first may be scary to some people. It was for me at first — until Women & Politics. They’ve really showed me that this word only means equality. Equality in the sense of being equal between men and women. I found it eye-opening to see that a word that sounds so strong could be just a simple well-known fact to me. Ever since I’ve heard that, I’ve been telling people that I’m a feminist and that is something I thought I would never say. Another big aspect that really caught my attention was “Breaking through barriers.” This was a big part that stuck with me even after the session was done. After hearing that term, I was really starting to see the barriers that occurred everyday that I wouldn’t have seen if I hadn’t been to the workshop. Everyday stuff, like how I noticed that my gym teacher picks boys to be team leaders and not girls. This really caught my eye and I was surprised to see it. In summary, Women and Politics demonstrated that being a leader and confidence is the best beauty a girl can have. -Christina Keane Sanchez (13)
Turning 25% into 50%
I went to the “Young Women and Politics” event last weekend and I thought it would be good just to have some background knowledge on politics but I actually learned so much! I learned that there are no lines like everyone thinks there is to get involved in politics, what the real– not what society thinks — meaning of a feminist or feminism is, what it’s like to be a politician as a woman and how we can get in involved. There is no line between politicians and “regular people”; you can call your local MP and talk about how you can get involved helping out with your community and move up from there.
“The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Society thinks that we want to be better than men but the definition says “equality to men.” We don’t want to be compared to men like, “Oh you can’t go into politics, that’s for a man.” Even if those aren’t the exact words, it’s implied. Only 25% of the politicians are women. I would definitely go to something like this again and I encourage other girls to come out as well so we can turn that 25% into 50%! – Georgia Harrington
Margaret Hoff inspires me because I have been hearing her voice for many years. She has the courage, passion and commitment to give voice to issues of importance in London; issues that may be controversial, issues that challenge the ‘status quo’. Margaret continues to give voice even when ignored, shut down, or strongly opposed. She makes things happen – no matter how long or hard she has to invest to do it! She founded London’s Daycare Services Committee, worked on London’s Governance Task Force, focused community efforts on transit, housing and electoral reform. Most importantly to me as a member of Women and Politics, she co-founded Project 88 with other inspiring women. This went on to be Project 91, 94, 97 and 2000, an important initiative to get more women elected in London. She continues to work on behalf of women in our community, and provides advice to our Women and Politics group. Her voice makes a difference, and inspires others to raise their voices. We can do so much with our united voices, so let’s all be inspired by Margaret and use our collective voice to make London a better place for women!
As part of International Women’s Day and the Pledge for Parity, we are launching a new series called “Women Who Inspire” with an event at Winks Eatery at 6:30 p.m. We want to collect and share stories of everyday women in London who inspire you. By sharing and telling these stories, we hope to inspire more women to see themselves as leaders.
Our first event will be hosted by Sophie Helpard, President, University Students’ Council, Western University. Sophie will tell us a bit about her own story, maybe touching on a woman or two who has inspired her along the way, and then we are going to ask you for your own stories. We want to hear who inspires you – a paragraph or a few bullet points is all you need to share. You can send us your stories beforehand by:
and we will share them in the leadup to our event. Or, you can just come out on March 7th and tell us in 2-3 minutes who inspires you and why.
If you are more of a sit back and listen kind of person, we still want you to come out. We will have cue cards for you to write your inspiring woman story on, or you can just kick back and take it all in.
And since we know, women just don’t inspire women, they inpsire all of us, we welcome everyone to our event. Women, men, children, you name it, we want you there.
Registration is not neccesary but it will help us plan our event. If the day comes around and you have three friends you convinced to come but they didn’t register, please don’t worry, bring them along.
So get thinking: who are the women in London and area who inspire you and why? What is their story?
We can’t wait to hear about it!
* If you need special accommodations, please let us know in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Hear their voices. Witness their courage. A generation standing up for change.
If you’ve just signed up for #30Days2Vote and haven’t received tasks from earlier in the month – get caught up by clicking through the challenges for each day below!
Our #30Days2Vote challenge is designed to help voters flex their civic engagement muscles. Follow along with us, participating in small, easy-to-complete, daily tasks that will help you prepare for the election.
Spend 30 days learning a little more about the responsibilities of municipal government, the candidates running in your area and their platforms. Gain the confidence you need to head to the polls on October 27.
Much like a 30 days fitness program, you may find yourself more advanced than a particular day’s activity. You may already know some of the information or have completed some of the tasks and that’s great! If this is the case, consider reaching out to someone in your community – a neighbour, a friend, or a coworker – and help them to become more informed and engaged that day.
On October 27 we want to raise the bar on voter turnout. We want you to feel more confident in your vote and have fun along the way!
Our #30Days2Vote challenge is open to anyone and everyone who would like to participate, regardless of gender identity.
Download and share the calendar and poster!
Get caught up!
If you’ve just signed up, and haven’t received tasks from earlier in the month, click through the daily challenge emails here.
For the past year, London has participated in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Head Start program, an initiative to encourage young women to actively participate in civic issues and politics. As a result of the program’s extensive consultation with young women they have partnered with web.isod.es to produce a documentary film to be released this fall. The purpose of the film is to address the underrepresentation of women in political seats across municipal, provincial and federal tables.