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The Road to Equality is Rocky Indeed

Jun 05, 2015

 

Alberta now ranks in the top three provinces in Canada for its representation of women (at 33 percent women) and has the highest percentage of women in its cabinet of any jurisdiction in the country. However, it doesn’t mean that women serving in that province, or any province or territory for that matter, are immune to sexist and inappropriate comments.

Such has been the case for newly-minted Alberta Health and Seniors Minister, Sarah Hoffman, who announced that, under her leadership, the province would be banning menthol tobacco products- products that have a severe and negative impact on those who use them.  

Instead of a discussion about the merits of this move, Ms. Hoffman was subjected to sexist characterizations of her body type, suggesting that she was in no position to make informed decisions about health care on behalf of the government.

Equal Voice has been heartened to see the response from many in Alberta and beyond, including a quickly issued apology from the high ranking PC party executive in question.
  
At the same time, this incident serves as a poignant reminder that the kind of change Equal Voice is seeking is only partly about numbers. It’s also about a dramatic culture shift rooted in respect. Respect for the many talented women who seek office, in addition to those who have been elected as leaders in their communities to serve their constituents – and their provinces and territories.

"It is time for women to be recognized for what they bring to the table- and not for what they wear or how they look while they are there," says Stephanie Kusie, Chair of Equal Voice's Alberta South chapter. 


Of course, Equal Voice acknowledges that the judgment of women is not specific to one party or one sector. Across the board, women in public life are regularly critiqued on the basis of physical appearance and/or family status, among other things, despite how unrelated these comments are to their capacity to do their job effectively.  

Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel, who also serves as Minister of Western Economic Diversification, has been an ongoing target of sexist characterizations, as has the federal NDP’s Deputy Leader, Megan Leslie. Their experiences prompted Equal Voice to launch our social media campaign, #RespectHer, last spring. 

A year later, the need for such a campaign is no less urgent, even in a province whose governing caucus is 47 percent women. 

There is no doubt that a newly elected Alberta government which features a variety of fresh and largely unknown faces is being scrutinized through a lens that is partly gendered. One of their tasks, whether they want it or not, is demonstrating that women, in all of their diversity, are not only up for the job, but that Albertans will be better off for having them at the table. 

Equal Voice is reviving its social media campaign, #RespectHer, and encourages members and supporters to send a supportive tweet to Alberta Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman (@shoffmanAB) – and any other elected woman confronting this kind of treatment. 

There is no doubt that the road to equality is rocky, but with the support of women and men like you, we will get there.  

For more analysis, check out this article by Sydney Sharpe in the Calgary Herald. 

For more information: 

Stephanie Kusie, EV Chair for Alberta South
587-432-7100 
Nancy Peckford, Executive Director 
613-854-9793

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