Although there has been an increase of women in Canadian politics of about 20 per cent in the last 30 years, there is still a shortage of female representation.
“Saskatchewan is abnormally low in terms of percentage,” said Loleen Berdahl, political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Berdahl says that, nationally, Saskatchewan is a bit behind but that there is not a huge gap. Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have a higher proportion of women in the legislature because their political parties put more emphasis on making sure they have more female candidates.
With 58 seats available in the Nov. 7 provincial election, the Sask. Party has 10 female candidates, while the NDP has 13. According to Berdahl, the numbers are lower than they have been in the last few elections. She also said that even though the NDP has a goal as one of their policy statements to try to achieve gender parity in the number of candidates, they are a long way off from that.
Deb Higgins, deputy leader of the NDP and MLA for Moose Jaw Wakamow, said that they have set targets for themselves to improve female participation in politics. Although they have not met their target this time, they wanted 50 per cent of candidates to be female. However, many women lost their nomination fights.
“It’s a start,” said Higgins. “We need to have targets and we need to be actively recruiting women and actively speaking to women of the opportunities that are out there and how they can contribute through politics.”
The long and unpredictable hours of life in politics require time and commitment away from both home and family. Consequently, it is difficult to see greater female participation in politics because women in this day and age “carry the brunt of responsibility for family care,” said Higgins.
Laura Ross, the Sask. Party MLA for Regina Qu’Appelle Valley, says her party does not set goals for gender parity. The Sask. Party feels that it is important for the “best person to have the job, be it man or woman,” she said.
However, the Sask. Party still encourages women to participate in a variety of ways and has many women in other positions such as campaign managers.
“A lot of times women don’t see themselves in that role [as candidates], so we are encouraging women to step forward,” said Ross.
One organization encouraging more female participation is Equal Voice, a non-partisan group pushing for gender balance in politics.
According to Equal Voice’s website, “Women are 52 per cent of Canada’s population and make up an average of 21 per cent of Canada’s municipal councils, provincial legislatures and the House of Commons.”
Equal Voice was talked about extensively in the Sask. Party, and Ross stated that many times women do not see themselves in politics because they do not understand all the responsibilities. She further stated that once that happens, women of all ages are prepared to step forward.
Professor Berdahl says the fact that Saskatchewan now has an Equal Voice chapter is a “positive development.”
Graphic: Brianna Whitmore/The Sheaf