Women in Canadian Politics

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In recent times, there have been developments in the Canadian political scene. That has seen the number of women in elective posts increase. For instance, by 2011, the number of women in Parliament was at 25% of the total seats. Eighty five percent of the Canadian federation were under the leadership of female premieres by 2013. Such changes have shown that women can achieve what men can, albeit with a few changes. For a long time, there has been a gap between male and female representation in politics. That is not a trend unique to Canada but prevalent the world over. There have been initiatives aiming at encouraging more women to compete for political elective posts. However, there still exist some hurdles that need overcoming. The biggest hurdle for women to overcome in their quest to match men in political representation is the glass-ceiling phenomenon.

Even with the increasing number of women in elective posts in Canadian politics, there are still many challenges that women face. They range from stereotypes on the role and abilities of women, a sexist perception on the conduct and behavior of women, as well as media imbalances when it come to the treatment of women in politics. All these act as hurdles to the achievement of political success for women in politics. They serve to intimidate women and make them reluctant to join politics. Men tend to have an upper hand starting from the party primaries all the way up even when women tend to have better policies. That shows that there still exists some bias in politics that favors men over women. Women have to overcome all these challenges in order to succeed in politics.

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Analysis of the political scene shows that Canada, just like other old democracies, is facing stagnation in terms of the gender gap. There has been very little change over the years. While the number of women in Parliament increased from 22 percent in 2008 to 25% in 2011, the change is still little. Analysis shows that old democracies like Canada do not seem to favor gender shocks. They have a preference for the incremental approach where the number of women increases gradually over time. That may take decades to achieve some balance in the representation. Another approach that could work for women in politics would be proportional representation. Here, parties may use quota policies to foster gender equality. However, some may argue that this is an unfair system as it may lock out candidates with ability for the sake of gender equality. However, old democracies like Canada tend to resist such special treatment of candidates. The argument for most is that one commands more respect when they earn their position rather than when things are made easy for them. The viewpoint further suggests that gender quotas would be a violation of liberal democracy where everything is fair in society.

From a distance, it may seem that the electorate in Canada may be biased towards women politicians. However, a closer look shows that gender is not a main concern for voters. Voters consider other factors when they choose their representative. They would therefore seem unlikely to vote along gender lines. The other factors may, however, limit the chances of women to win elective posts. For instance, gender stereotyping affects women in that it trivializes their contributions. Rather than focusing on their policy stands, the stereotypes focus on personal lives of women. By doing that, the stereotypes prevent the electorate from analyzing objectively the qualification of the female candidates. Another crucial factor in the election of women is party loyalty. Most women politicians tend to represent leadership qualities admirable to the electorate. Their focus on community puts their policy positions higher compared to those of men. The electorate also tends to see them as more honest and trustworthy. However, party structures and policies may discriminate against women in the nominations. That means that women may find it difficult to make it through the nominations in most parties. It also means that while the female leaders possess some qualities desirable to the public, the public never gets to enjoy such qualities since the dynamics in parties may not allow that.

The glass ceiling is a phenomenon that many people argue exists in the mind. It tends to limit the achievement of women in many areas and professions. It holds them back from seeking the highest positions available. That explains why men dominate in top leadership positions in almost every sector. In politics, the glass ceiling is also evident. The willingness of women to join politics demonstrates well how the glass-ceiling phenomenon affects women. Unlike men, women tend to lack the push to propel them into politics. Most wish to shy away from politics and leave it up to the men to engage in politics. There exists a difference in the mindset of women and men regarding politics. That may explain the gap existing between male representation and female representation in politics. For instance, while men would be eager to run for office, women would tend to be reluctant. In fact, they tend to wait for someone to ask them to run for office. That is in contrast to men, who tend to be full of confidence as they enter the political arena. For example, the late former finance, Jim Flaherty, had to ask Dr. Kellie Leitch several times before he could convince her to run for office. That shows that even with qualifications, women still do not feel confident enough to venture into politics without prompting from someone else. That mindset sets them apart from men. They tend to limit their capabilities and tend to rely on what other people think of them and what they tell them.

The issue of culture in politics is another hindrance to women pursuing politics. The political culture is male dominated. As such, that discourages women from entering the murky waters that is politics. There have been suggestions by female politicians that politics lacks civility due to the dominance of men. They claim that debates can be bruising due to the existence of sexism. That may serve as a discouragement to women politicians who seek to encourage others to join them. There is also the existence of old boys’ networks in politics. The networks tend to work to maintain the status quo of male dominance. They would therefore pose a threat to women politicians seeking to disrupt the status quo. The women politicians therefore have to find a way to overcome such efforts.

Naturally, women tend to focus more on family. They would therefore tend to prefer work that allows them time for family. That may seem to limit their reach. Jobs that require them to be away from their family may not be ideal for most women. That may explain the attitude of women towards politics. Politics involves a lot of travelling at times. Politicians may spend long periods of time from family. Furthermore, as a politician, one becomes a public figure. That draws one’s family into the spotlight. That may not be what most women wish for. They would therefore tend to shy away from the limelight for the sake of family. Due to family commitments, fewer young women venture into politics compared to men. They would rather commit their time to their families. However, the trend may be changing, as there have been efforts to encourage more women to join politics. There have been concerns over the lack of family care facilities within Parliament. With such facilities, there may be more women entering the political scene.

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For many years, women have lagged behind when it comes to elective political posts. Male have had dominance in politics over time. However, that is changing as more women are venturing into politics. Although more women are joining politics, the rate is still low. There is an increasing need to have more women in politics. While other countries may favor other ways of achieving gender equality in politics such as proportional presentation, Canada favors the incremental approach where the number of women increases gradually. In this approach, the system provides equal opportunities and it is up to the women to make an effort to win their positions. Although the efforts of individual politicians and political parties can be lauded for trying to bridge the gap between male representation and female representation, there are several hurdles that women still face. The main hurdle is the glass ceiling that women have to overcome. It limits their achievements and may make them unwilling to engage in politics. It limits the willingness of women to venture into politics and contributes to the lack of confidence. However, there are initiatives to overcome this and with time, women may be able to rise above the challenge of the glass ceiling and the limiting culture of the male dominated political landscape.

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  1. McNutt, Kathleen. Politics, Policy and Participation: Contemporary Issues in Canadian Gender Equality. Canadian Political Science Review, 6(2-3), pp. 139-141, 2012.
  2. O’Neill, Brenda. Unpacking Gender’s Role in Political Representation in Canada. Canadian Parliamentary Review, March 3, 2017.
  3. Cool, Julie. Women in Parliament. Parliament of Canada, July 2, 2013.
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