29 September 2008

YWCA calls for more women in the House

Politicians hot on the campaign trail will receive a report this week they should pay close attention to. I refer to the YWCA's Report on the Status of Women in Canada which they are sending out to all parties and candidates. Among other things, the report calls for an increase in women’s representation in politics. Nothing new in that, of course, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women made the same recommendation almost 40 years ago. Unfortunately, women are still nowhere near political equality. When the election was called, they made up only 21 per cent of the MPs in the House of Commons, and with the polls suggesting an even larger contingent of Conservatives, there isn't much hope for improvement.

The report gives
Canada a failing grade when it comes to the status of women. Representation in our legislatures supports that claim. Compared to our paltry 21 per cent, women now hold a majority of the seats in Rwanda's lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. Including the seats they are constitutionally guaranteed, they now hold 55 per cent of the total seats. Women in Sweden are at near parity with 47 per cent and in Finland with 42 per cent. Looking at what other countries achieve, our failing grade is clearly deserved.

The fundamental reason for our pathetic performance is forcing women to compete in a system created by men for men, a system biased toward the competitive, combative individualistic world of males. A macho world that reveals itself all too sadly in behaviour in our legislatures, behaviour once described by a woman member of the British House of Commons as “very public-schoolboy primitive." Former MP Jan Brown once stated that party politics creates, “an unnatural and combative setting that does not support positive relationships. A place where power and gamesmanship determine the rules.”

If women are to share equally in the political process, the rules and practices will have to change to encourage, or at least tolerate, a much more respectful, caring and co-operative politics.
According to Jan Brown, “Validation of the feminine in the political domain would open up new paradigms of leadership, including joint problem-solving that emphasizes win/win rather than lose/lose situations."

Our battling politicians have a lot to think about in the midst of this election campaign. They could do worse than include a few thoughts about ensuring women an opportunity to participate equally in the decisions that affect their lives. A good start would be digesting the YWCA report.

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