May 1, 2010

Why women give politics a pass

By Alison Loat

It's no secret that Canada does pathetically when it comes to electing women.

Today, while receiving the EVE award at the Equal Voice/Canadian Club Women in Public Life lunch, Anne McLellan shared why she thinks this is the case.

McLellan, a former cabinet minister and deputy PM (and, incidentally, an exit interviewee), is currently on the hook for finding more women candidates to run for her party.  She did a coast-to-coast tour, meeting with slews of women, partisans or otherwise, and identified three major reasons why women said they aren't interested in running for office.

1. Work/life balance: Women still do most of the caregiving and work around the home, and have no idea how they could raise a family and keep a household together while working politicians' hours in living 30 weeks a year in another part of the country.  Bring on the stay-at-home dads!

2. The culture of politics: In short, women aren't wild about the confrontational, overly partisan nature of politics, or about the 30 second soundbite or the whole "gotcha" thing. "Women want to solve real problems for real people," McLellan said.  She also quoted former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, who, when asked why he was leaving politics, said, "It's a young man's game. It's a blood sport." 

McLellan also noted the chicken-and-egg nature of the problem: more women could help change the culture, but the culture keeps women away.  I hope I'm not alone in believing that this is not a gender-specific gripe, and that there's a man out there somewhere who also wants to solve a real problem or two.

3. The media's depiction of women: Need we say more?


She had a few suggestions, including: making sure all the party leaders set the right tone, and drive that down through caucus and committees; ensuring campaign readiness chairs recruit at least 1/3 of all candidates from the female ranks; doing more mentoring and training and identifying high-potential women earlier (i.e., more than 6 weeks before the election) and sticking with them.  She also encouraged women to self-identify as interested in politics, noting she too was reluctant initially.

She also noted that funding barely came up as an impediment.  I was surprised she didn't talk more about what lies at the root of some of the major impediments and if anything besides pressure from the party leaders might help change them over time.  Sylvia Bashevkin's latest book addresses some of this in greater detail.

Finally, she closed her remarks by encouraging everyone to participate in Equal Voice's most recent campaign: Be Her or Support Her.  If you're interested, check out Equal Voice's website for more info.



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May 5, 2010 00:24 AM

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March 9, 2012 13:28 PM

How many of us grew up hearing "Never discuss religion or politics" - that gender-specific caveat intended to warn women against expressing our beliefs in order to maintain harmony in our relationships?
Personally, I operate at the other end of the spectrum.

While working on a fundraising event with two other women, I began a political discussion. One, a good friend, is a die-hard Democrat married to a politically-connected Republican. She's always happy to jump headfirst into a political tussle; this is the norm in her home.

The other, a casual acquaintance, quickly confessed, "I know nothing about politics. You should be having this discussion with my husband."

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