Towards gender parity in politics

St. John’s, N.L., deputy mayor Sheilagh O’Leary. - Photo Illustration by Belle DeMont
St. John’s, N.L., deputy mayor Sheilagh O’Leary. – Photo Illustration by Belle DeMont

Across Atlantic Canada, women represent 21 per cent of elected officials overall at provincial and federal levels.

In Prince Edward Island, there are no female MPs.

To date, no provincial or territorial legislative assembly has ever achieved gender parity.

For St. John’s, N.L., deputy mayor Sheilagh O’Leary, that’s a problem.

When she was first elected to city council in 2009, there were two other women on council. A short while later, after she made a bid for mayor and lost, council was left with no women.

“I remember going to one or two of the proclamation events during that time frame, and just looking around the room and just knowing that there was a voice that was completely missing at the table.”

When a byelection came up, O’Leary ran again – this time as a councillor – and won.

“At that point, I was the only woman on council. And I’ll tell you, the difference between that period of time when I was the only voice on council as a woman, to where we are now – the conversation has completely shifted.”

O’Leary said when women’s voices are represented in politics, “there is an incredible difference.”

Currently, St. John’s city council has near gender parity at 45 per cent. It’s the most gender-equal city council of the four Atlantic provinces’ capital cities. Comparatively, Fredericton city council has just eight per cent women, Halifax 13 per cent and Charlottetown 18 per cent.

“I find it a much more respectful working environment,” said O’Leary. “We talk about issues with a different lens completely because women come with a whole other set of values, perspectives and workloads.”

O’Leary said she’s noticed city council works more collaboratively and respectfully since it’s become more gender balanced. She’s also noticed more family-friendly practices in place for councillors with children, whether they are male or female.

Evidence-based results

Gina Gill Hartmann - Photo Illustration by Belle DeMont
Gina Gill Hartmann – Photo Illustration by Belle DeMont

These are the kinds of changes Gina Gill Hartmann is striving for as Atlantic regional coordinator with Equal Voice, a national, non-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.

Gill Hartmann said the benefits to society are noticeable when there’s gender parity in political decision-making. She points to the federal cabinet as an example.

Since there’s been parity in cabinet, she said there have been many family-friendly policies implemented for the public. A woman’s partner can now take seven weeks leave from work after the woman gives birth, and a harassment policy was developed for politicians.

“There is evidence to show that a lot of women put in…

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