EV SPEAKS OUT
Equal Voice invites you to Be her. Support her. Celebrate her.

 

Female leaders, MPs, changing political conversation for better

Nov 19, 2015

 

Maria Fitzpatrick, a first term NDP MLA, rose in the Alberta legislature this past week to support a private member’s bill on violence against women. As a private members' bill, the proposed measure might have seemed modest to some—to enable women fleeing spousal violence to break a lease without financial penalty.  The legislation tackles just one dimension of the very complex terrain women must navigate when attempting to leave abusive partners.

 

But the measure is absolutely groundbreaking in its acknowledgement that women often have to take extraordinary and urgent measures to escape chronically dangerous and abusive situations. Situations about which, we can safely presume, only a few legislators in Alberta have had meaningful insight. Up to now.  

 

Ms. Fitzpatrick stood in the Alberta legislature among her colleagues to share her personal story of domestic violence; a story so harrowing and horrific that it is a miracle that she and her children made it out alive, let alone to live a future so much brighter.  She told CBC Radio’s As it Happens that the vast majority of her colleagues and constituents had no knowledge of this nine-year ordeal, no understanding that she had suffered broken bones, two miscarriages, the sound of an (empty) handgun at the base of her neck as she awoke, her husband laughing hysterically as he threatened to kill her and their daughters.  She had escaped to a women’s shelter three times, each time forced to return home after a woefully inadequate response from the so-called criminal justice system—and having worn out her welcome in shelters with a maximum two- or three-week stay provision.

 

Financial resources were a major obstacle—and a lease. As the situation became increasingly desperate, she fled as far as she could with her daughters on a bus to Yellowknife, a 62-hour journey to an unknown future. In closing her speech, Ms. Fitzpatrick implored every Alberta MLA present to vote for the proposed bill, which they did. 

 

A week earlier, new Conservative Party Interim Leader Rona Ambrose did a 180-degree turn on her own party’s long-standing opposition to a national public inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women—something the new Liberal government has, thankfully, made an utmost priority and for which they deserve significant credit. Incidentally, the NDP, in its role as official opposition with a caucus that was 40 per cent female, had also tirelessly championed the proposed inquiry in the last Parliament, even after former prime minister Stephen Harper commented that it “wasn’t really on their radar”—despite a groundswell of grassroots support. Ms. Ambrose, in her new capacity as CPC leader, remarked to a national media audience that such an inquiry should never have been political and that her party would lend the effort their full support. Before entering politics, Ms. Ambrose had volunteered with a women’s shelter in Alberta. One can only assume she developed some insight into the lives of women fleeing violence.

 

Many dismissed the Conservative Party’s about-face as cynical and meaningless. I am not so convinced. In both instances, Ms. Fitzpatrick and Ms. Ambrose are effectively leveraging the power of their newfound positions—and their voices—to change a critically important conversation within their caucuses. At Equal Voice, we are optimistic that the addition of more women's voices, and a gender-balanced federal Cabinet, will have the effect of changing the culture too—so that issues that have disproportionately affected women for decades finally get the attention they deserve.

 

So, do women have the capacity to change politics? Absolutely. But in order for them to succeed, they need to be in true positions of power—and have the confidence of their colleagues in the face of many competing pressures, including unrelenting party discipline. This is no easy task.  Every move in politics comes with a certain degree of risk. I would expect that Ms. Fitzpatrick felt more comfortable sharing her story in a legislature that is nearly 40 per cent women. The fact that she is an MP for a female-led government that is tackling violence against women in an intelligent and comprehensive manner is likely a tremendous help too.

 

Ms. Ambrose, as leader of a party that is now coming to terms with itself—and its new position in the political landscape—clearly has more latitude and, with the support of her caucus members, she is able to chart a different course on the proposed inquiry. It’s a course that bucks a very unfortunate and entrenched position to which key actors in the previous government were, clearly, firmly attached.  

 

What’s the moral of this story? That critical mass matters. In other words, if we elect more women andensure that there are sufficient opportunities for them to serve in powerful positions over which they have some meaningful influence, we can get different results. It's why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's commitment to a gender-balanced Cabinet is so auspicious. Not because women are unified in their positions or policy priorities, but because women, in equal numbers, will have the chance to bring their well-founded perspectives and very diverse experiences to the government's key decision-making table.   

 

But critical acts also matter. In each instance above, two elected and empowered women from remarkably different backgrounds and opposing parties are using their respective voices in two different legislatures to persuade their colleagues to act—and think—differently than they may have in the past. They are changing a conversation, for the better. Here's hoping that in Canada's 42nd Parliament, our female federal ministers, backbenchers and opposition MPs will—as the going gets tough in a House that is still predominantly male—be able to do the same. 

 

Originally published in the Hill Times on November 19th 2016. 

Nancy Peckford is national spokesperson for Equal Voice, a national multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada.
 

Get involved... in equal voice chapters from coast to coast.
Find one near you, or perhaps even start a chapter.

Getting to the Gate Online Campaign School:
For women of all ages, back- grounds & walks of life interest- ed in running for public office.

MORE INFO ON GETTING ELECTED TO PUBLIC OFFICE

TITLE SPONSOR

GOLD SPONSOR

GOLD SPONSOR

GOLD SPONSOR

SILVER SPONSOR

SILVER SPONSOR

 

SILVER SPONSOR

 

BRONZE SPONSOR

BRONZE SPONSOR

BRONZE SPONSOR

BRONZE SPONSOR

BRONZE SPONSOR

Greenshield

SUPPORTERS

SUPPORTERS

 

SUPPORTERS

SUPPORTERS

SUPPORTERS

SUPPORTERS

SUPPORTERS

SUPPORTERS

SUPPORTERS

 

Thanks also to the Government of Canada (Status of Women & Canadian Heritage) for their financial support.