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B.C. has an opportunity to vote for equality in the next election

Mar 18, 2013

 

In two months, British Columbians will be going to the polls to choose our next provincial government. With the election just around the corner, we have the opportunity to take action to achieve equal gender representation in our government.

 

With candidates still being selected, tallies for the two major provincial parties indicate we may not see a leap forward in the number of women running compared to the last election. With candidates confirmed for 68 out of 85 ridings, the BC Liberals now have 22 women running. In 2009, the party put forward 25 women for office.

 

The NDP, with almost a full slate at 80 candidates so far, has 30 women running for office. In 2009, the party had nearly half of its ridings represented by women candidates - 41 women, a historic high for any party in the province. But, with only five ridings left to fill, the NDP will not hit that high again this time. The Conservative and Green parties still have many ridings to name candidates for, and it is too early to see a trend.

 

We live in unprecedented times - there are more women premiers in office right now than in the rest of Canadian history combined. This progress is reason for optimism. However, overall, Canada remains far from achieving gender equality in politics. While women may hold up half the sky, after more than 90 years of having the vote, women do not make up half of our legislatures, either provincially or federally. Not even close.

 

Provincially, no legislature has more than one-third of its seats held by women; federally, less than one-quarter of our representatives are women. Women provide an important perspective in politics. The United Nations maintains that a critical mass of at least one-third representation of women is what is required for legislatures to produce public policy representing concerns that are key to women. Our government should be one that reflects the population and that signals the importance of women in governing our society.

 

A poll by Equal Voice and Environics in 2008 showed that 85 per cent of Canadians support "efforts to increase the number of women elected in this country." Despite this, Canada continues to lag behind other democratic countries in terms of female representation; Canada ranks 46th on the Inter-Parliamentary Union List of Women in National Parliaments, bettered by many European nations including Germany, Norway and Sweden, Spain, and countries such as Nicaragua and Rwanda.

 

In B.C., we come close to reaching the one-third critical mass recommended by the United Nations, but we still remain well below gender parity. Over the past couple of decades, there has been little progress on women's representation in our provincial legislature. In 1991, 28 per cent of the elected MLAs were women. This number was virtually unchanged in the 1996 election, and then dropped to 24 per cent and 22.8 per cent respectively in 2001 and 2005.

 

In 2009, this number again rose to 27 per cent, an improvement from the previous two elections but essentially unchanged from two decades earlier. Our society has women actively involved in all aspects of business and industry. But, in the 21st century, our most important democratic institution is still male-dominated. The proportion of women in our legislature has stagnated, and we need to change this.

 

Part of the responsibility for running and electing more women lies with political parties. Parties can choose more women as candidates, and choose them in winnable ridings. In 2009, 25 BC Liberal women ran for office, the same number of women the party put forward for the previous election in 2005. The NDP had 18 more female candidates in 2009 than the party had in 2005 - 41 compared to 23. In part because of this increase in the overall number of female candidates, seven more women took seats in the legislature in 2009 than had in 2005.

 

Equal Voice BC calls on all parties to put forward more women as candidates in 2013 and commit to a goal of making our legislature more reflective of British Columbia.

 

Individuals, too, have a responsibility and a role to play in increasing the number of women elected. If you are a woman, get involved or consider running. If you are a man or woman, encourage a woman to run. Take an active role in supporting women candidates with your time, money or vote.

 

Join the discussion of how we can achieve equal representation by writing a letter to your elected official or local newspaper, talk to friends and co-workers, reach out to local candidates and constituency organizations. Finally, we can all resolve to make the political arena a more welcoming place for women by expunging sexist remarks, about cleavage or skirt-wearing, from our democratic dialogue.

 

We know the overwhelming majority of Canadians support efforts to increase the numbers of women in elected office, and we know parties can make it happen. How can we put these forces together to break through and reach critical mass?

 

There is an easy first step. The office of the legislature responsible for administering B.C.'s electoral process can play an important part in enabling citizens to hold parties to account on this issue of fundamental democracy.

Elections BC tracks candidates seeking election but does not track the gender of the candidates.

 

Elections New Brunswick offers an important precedent - it tracks and provides this information and has done so for many years. As a result, the public, the media and political parties in New Brunswick can and do track the representation of women and can hold parties accountable for putting more women forward as candidates. We call on Elections BC to take the simple, but important, step of tracking the gender of candidates in our province.

 

On May 14, 2013, we will head to the voting booths to engage in that great civic demonstration of democracy - a provincial election. Let's take action and make sure it's a vote for a legislature which reflects all our citizens.

 

Authored by: Cathy Huth, Carolyn Jack, Grace Lore, Katie Robb and Janet Wiegand who are members of the BC Chapter of Equal Voice, a national multi-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office.

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