Long way to go

Belinda Stronach on women in politics.

We are of course long past the time when a woman entering politics prompted men to gasp at the audacity of it all. But we haven’t achieved equality of numbers. In fact, we’re not even close.

While women represent 52 per cent of the Canadian population, only 22 per cent of federal Members of Parliament are women; this ranks Canada 46th out of 189 countries in this indicator, behind countries like Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan.

We haven’t achieved the kind of progress that so many Canadian women seek in advancing social justice and improving the tone of political discourse in the House of Commons and beyond.

It’s possibly even worse than that.

Andrea Horwath, elected over the weekend by the NDP, is just the second woman to lead a major political party in Ontario. The last one, Lynn McLeod, saw party promptly trounced in the one election she was allowed to contend as leader. Only two women in Canadian history—Catherine Callbeck in PEI and Pat Duncan in the Yukon—have been elected premier of a province in a general election. (The current premier of Nunavut, Eva Aariak, was chosen via a legislative vote.)

Only three women have led political parties at the national level—Kim Campbell, Audrey McLaughlin and Alexa McDonough. Total number of seats won by their parties in four attempts: 45. (Does one have to consider the political context in addition to any influence of gender bias on those results? Sure. Do those results remain rather troubling precedents? Probably.)

Now consider the present situation. If you ranked the most high profile politicians in the country, how far down the list would you have to go to find the first woman? Would she—maybe Carole James in BC or Pauline Marois in Quebec—crack the Top 20? The Top 30? Where would the most high profile woman—Josee Verner? Marlene Jennings? Libby Davies?—in Parliament rank? If the four party leaders all quit tomorrow, how many women would enter the races to replace them? Better still, how many would have a reasonable chance of doing so?

The “Why aren’t there more women in politics?” question is maybe a tired one. But possibly only because no one’s yet provided a decent answer—either in the form of explanation or, you know, more women in politics.

In the meantime, this piece—by Sandra Tsing Loh in the Atlantic—is maybe the reigning best attempt to figure it all out.

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