Commentary | Hyde Park: Enough with Parliament’s masked sexism

It wasn’t long ago that America was buzzing feverishly about the possibility of the first female president ever. With the country’s recent obsession with Barack Obama, the absence of estrogen within the confines of the governing bodies of the Western world has receded into the depths of memory faster than Dick Cheney’s dirty little hunting secret. It seems the advancement of women into North American government has settled down since the exciting days of suffrage and the boom that followed. Canada as a nation is far behind.

In this overly politically-correct country where diversity is a national selling point, one might think governmental representation of the female gender would be respectable. Think again; here are some realities you might be surprised with. Currently in the House of Commons, the place where all Canadian MPs meet to yell at each other, there are about four men for every woman. It seems Parliament doesn’t quite walk the walk at all. In fact, Canada ranks 46th among world nations regarding the percentage of women in the Lower House. So what’s the problem?

There are numerous obstacles standing in the way of women in Parliament. Unfortunately, there is undisputedly a degree of residual sexism in the way we perceive the ideal leader. A politician’s image is a major ingredient to success – we want a capable, accountable, and down-to-earth individual. The accepted stereotype is a physically powerful man, a strong jaw line, a reassuring smile – heck, let’s just say we want a Barack. The problem, however, is not as much among the voting constituents, as it is the lack of women running for office.

But things won’t simply change overnight. Consider a parallel to the freedom of black people in North America. Abe Lincoln officially gave African-Americans full rights in 1863, and yet it took until this year to elect a black president. Just like LeChatelier’s principle of chemical balance, our society resists change, and it’s rather easy to forget that these human rights for females are only a century old. The inertia of social attitudes explains this painfully slow process of gradual change.

Thirty per cent has been adopted as an acceptable target of female representation, and there seem to be a variety of ways to achieve this goal. Just over half of Canadians feel that political parties should be obliged to support a certain proportion of women as candidates, and the idea of financial benefits awarded to parties who choose more female candidates has yielded mixed reviews. In the most recent federal election, the NDP led the way in gender balance with around one third of their elected MPs being women. This being our most recent representation, Canada set its new record with the proportion of women forming 28 per cent of candidates nation-wide. These solutions have to be implemented consistently, and will take some time.

It’s simply astounding that Canada is so behind on this issue. For all ourpride in tolerance, acceptance, and pluralism, 46 is too large a number on the world scale, and 22 is too small of a percentage. Rwanda leads the world with over half of their Lower House members being female.

If anyone can further influence change, it is the youth of our nation. If you’re interested in learning more, apply for Women In House, a program that gives female students the opportunity to shadow important women in Parliament, learn more in-depth about the issue of equal representation, and collaborate with other women to create networking bridges. As citizens we can be patient for new changes to start creating substantial results enough is enough?

Aquil Virani is a U0 Arts&Science student, and can be reached at aquil.virani@mail.mcgill.ca.


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