official portrait of Kim Campbell, Canada's 19th Prime Minister
Danielle Chartier is one of only 13 women in the Saskatchewan legislature, and she wants to see that figure change.
“We are 52 per cent of the population, and for many, many reasons we are not represented equally in our governing bodies,” said the MLA for Saskatoon-Massey.
She sees the problem as part of a much larger one.
“We need a legislature far more representative of our population,” said Chartier. “This is hugely important to me. This isn’t just about women in the legislature”¦. We have 13 women and two Aboriginal people in legislature. It’s abysmal.”
Chartier and Loleen Berdahl, a University of Saskatchewan associate professor of political studies, led a free public discussion about the need for more female participation in politics at Louis’ on Feb. 7.
Berdahl provided a historic perspective to the problem of women in politics by focusing on electoral history and the unfolding of the female voice in Canadian politics.
According to Berdahl, from the 1970s until the early 1990s, the legislature saw female participation double. But since 1991, the number of women in Saskatchewan government has only risen by one.
Chartier’s perspective was more personal. As a mother of two, she has firsthand experience with the logistical problems of balancing a family with a political career, most often a female problem.
She cited the example of Scandinavian countries, where female representation is much closer to the actual population’s distribution. She said these legislators often see less aggressive behaviour and more family-friendly workplaces.
“I understand why women stay out of politics,” said Chartier, crediting her husband for providing the care their children need that allows her to work in Regina.
As more women enter a male-dominated workplace, the practices surrounding families tend to improve. And as more women fill legislatures, those same issues tend to be brought more into the discourse.
Starting out, Chartier was advised by another female politician to stay away from so-called soft issues, the same ones she thinks women lend a particularly important voice to.
“Do we call housing a soft or hard issue?” Chartier asked. “Is childcare a soft issue? I’d argue that it isn’t.”
She encouraged women to focus on those issues that are important to them, rather than specifically “hard issues” like energy or the economy.
“Women are important to a changing political discourse. There are differences between elected men and women, and there is all kinds of literature that illustrates that,” she said.
image: House of Commons