where are all the women?

What I want to know is, why aren’t more women involved in politics?

Or the sciences?  I just listened to my first “Free As in Freedom” podcast which turned out to be a conversation between two free software legal eagles @bkuhn and @Kaz discussing gender inequity. I was surprised to learn that Karen Sandler feels insecure about public speaking, since this amazing woman gave one of the most powerful free software talks I’ve been privileged to see, “Free Software on Medical Devices: Unchain My Heart”

gender equality

Marlo Thomas

What happened to the world I grew up in?

You know, the one I’m talking about, the one  that was ushering in gender equality?

As a teen I felt empowered by the classic Marlo Thomas television special “Free To Be, You and Me” My high school drama department class even mounted Free To Be You and Me as a show.


When I was a kid, my favorite team sport was soccer, and that turned out to be the sport my son wanted to participate in. He loved the game, and played for fun in the co-ed “house league” throughout his public school years.  But when he was in high school, the league began segregating the younger teams according to gender. I asked why, and was told it was to make sure that girls got to play as much as the boys.

That’s a shame.

I don’t think such a policy is particularly good for either boys or girls.  Some of the best soccer players my son played with were girls.  As a parent watching all the games, I always saw at the beginning of each season, there were always some boys and some girls who seemed a little uncomfortable playing together.  Boys wouldn’t pass to girls, for instance. And maybe some of the girls lacked the confidence to fight boy players for possession of the ball.  But by the end of every season, every year,  the boys and girls were working together. It was necessary if your team was going to have a shot at winning. And the one thing that the boys and girls had in common was the desire to win.

Segregating the teams by gender might make it easier for girls to play the game, but does them no favors for later. There are few career paths available to women that are devoid of men, outside of nunneries.   From my perspective, the most important thing to come out of co-ed soccer was an opportunity for boys and girls to work together and discover they are all people.

Maybe if we had more of that in the places where we socialize our kids, we would have more women in politics.

When it comes to online social networks, particularly the ones seeking to bring about social justice, there certainly seem to be at least as many women fighting for change than men.  Maybe more.  When you look at any political party, how many of the rank and file, the volunteers, the workers, are women? So why aren’t women more involved in making policy and governance?

Capital “F” feminism

Liberal Aboriginal Affairs critic Dr. Carolyn Bennett

I used to consider myself a feminist, until I became disillusioned when the feminist movement seemed to be less about gender equality and more about a power reversal to seize the power that men traditionally held.  So I stopped thinking of myself as a feminist, even though I think that everyone should have equal rights, regardless of gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, or planet of origin.

Every human should have equal rights, no matter what our differences.  Period. Does that make me a humanist? Human, anyway. But today I’m considering gender.  I realize now I was lucky to grow up in a large family where the girls and boys were treated pretty much equally, with a father who was very supportive of whatever any of us wanted to do or be.

Men and women are all people, we all make mistakes, and you can’t generalize about an entire gender.  Sometimes men behave badly, but women aren’t any more perfect than men.  Blaming everything that’s wrong in the world on one gender or the other doesn’t help. Blaming doesn’t generally fix anything.   Clearly some of the women who have become political leaders have been terrible, just like some male political leaders.  It’s even possible that women might screw up even worse that men when it comes to governing nations, maybe because of the way we have been socialized or simply because we lack experience.  I don’t know.

Cathy MacLellan, 2009 and 2011 Kitchener-Waterloo Green Party Candidate

As a woman, I’ve tended toward female medical professionals whenever a choice is possible.  The wonderful Toronto Women’s College Hospital came into existence to ensure women received proper medical treatment; but the female obstetrician who worked out of WCH was more paternalistic than any male doctor I’ve ever seen.  When I asked her questions – pregnancy was a new experience for me – she ordered me to stop reading and to just do as I was told.  So in my third trimester I switched to a male obstetrician (and this is unheard of) to make sure I would deliver my child across the street at Mount Sinai.

Men and women are different. 

Well, of course we are.  People are different.   We all have different strengths and weaknesses.  We don’t always have the same goals, we often want different things.  There are some things men seem to do better as there are some things women seem to do better.  And it’s hard to know what gender differences are due to nature and which are due to nurture.  But a lot of those things are from the the way we socialize our children.


Democratic government is all well and good, but in order to be truly representative, a democratic government really should come close to reflecting the populace.  If you look at the Members of Parliament who are supposed to represent us at the federal level, that isn’t anywhere close to the case gender wise.  Although the Canadian population is slightly more than 50 percent female, the House of Commons is barely managing 25% women.  Well, 24.7 since the most recent Federal election.

What Canada actually has is a Conservative Party majority government. Yet only 17% of Conservative MPs are women. Lets look at the breakdown within each party:

Canadian Government gender breakdown of 307 federal seats in the House of Commons (one seat is vacant) at 25 January, 2012 ... Conservative Party of Canada has 83% - men with 138 seats (83.1325%) 17% - women with 28 seats (16.8674%) ... the Liberal Party of Canada has 82% - men with 28 seats (82.3529%) and 17% women with 6 seats (17.6470%) ... the Bloc Québécois has 75% men with 3 seats (75%) and 25% women with 1 seat (25%) ... the Green Party of Canada has 0% men with 0 seats (0%) and 100% women with 1 seat (100% ... ... the New Democratic Party of Canada has 61% men with 62 seats (60.7843%) and 39% women with 40 seats (39.2156%)

In total, Canada currently has 76 (or 24.7%) women sitting in the House of Commons.

    • 40 of them (or 13%) are from the NDP,
    • 28 of them (or 9%) are from the Conservative Party,
    • 6 of them (or 2%) are from the Liberal Party,
    • 1 of them (or 0.3%) is from the Bloc Québécois, and
    • 1 of them (or 0.3%) is from the Green Party.

So although the numbers are up for women in government, only 9% are in the majority party. And of the five national political parties represented in our government, only the Green Party has a woman leader.

Canada has only had one female Prime Minister, whose term ran for mere days as she was appointed and left holding the bag for Brian Mulroney’s misguided policies. Campbell would probably have done a better job than Mulroney had she got the position at the beginning rather than the end. (Admittedly, my cat could have done a better job than Brian Mulroney…)

Fairvote Canada's Anita Nickerson

Fairvote Canada‘s Anita Nickerson told me that Canada has “basically been at a “glass ceiling” of 20-22% women for the past 20 years.” What changed in the last Federal election was that the “Orange Crush” bumped up our gender numbers dramatically up from 22%. The NDP commitment to gender equality has led to policies that have resulted in more female candidates, and thus more women in our government. During the last provincial election I learned that the NDP will only run a male candidate if there are no women willing to take on the riding. Yet even with this policy, it is clear that the NDP has only managed 40%.

Personally, I wouldn’t vote for any candidate based on gender. You can have good or bad candidates. My goal in voting in any election is to vote for the person I believe will do the best job, so I would certainly never vote for a woman who did not inspire my confidence.

But still, it is a problem. If women aren’t represented in our democratic government, the laws made by that government are unlikely to be in our best interests. That is a problem.

This isn’t only a Canadian concern.

On Thursday I’m attending the screening of a documentary hosted by the Fairvote Canada Waterloo Chapter:


What: Documentary (see the trailer at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoLWSzq2v74 )
When: Thursday January 26, 7 PM
Where: Lyle S. Hallman School of Social Work Auditorium Room 301
(located behind Kitchener City Hall, across the street in the Laurier building)

Looking at the Senate for the Oh! Canada blog, I was struck by the much higher percentage of women serving on the Senate than in the House of Commons. Where we’re barely managing a quarter of our representatives in the House of Commons are women, the Senate boasts more like a third.  This is a problem.

Perhaps the film will shed some light on the disproportionate lack of women representing us in Parliament.

Image Credits

Marlo Thomas photographed by Alan Light and shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License


4 thoughts on “where are all the women?

  1. You’ll probably think this is funny, but I have an appointment to get an epidural at Woman’s College Hospital in February.

    As to Where are all the Women, there isn’t a single, simple answer. I do know that it is damaging Canada to not have more women active in politics. There are a lot of smart, capable women who are choosing not to be involved, and that is hurting us.

    One of the biggest problems is that people keep telling us what can’t be done. Rather, they should tell us what they can do.


    • Not at all, I had heard Women’s College Hospital was absorbed into one of the others. Even at it’s most gung ho, I expect men would have been treated there.

      The documentary offered a fair bit of information, one bit that surprised me is that qualified female candidates have as much chance of being elected as qualified male candidates. The biggest problem seems to be that there are a variety of reasons why women don’t run. There were interviews with some interesting people, including Kim Campbell. Worth watching.

      The main thrust is that we really have only two choices to get more women in politics, one is to use a quota system, the other is to switch to a proportional representation electoral system.

      More info can be found at: http://menocracy.ca/

      • I feel funny walking into Woman’s College. 90% of the people around me are women.

        I’ll check that site. As to Proportional, I like that, and back FairVote.

        My own projections show the next election being really interesting. If I have things right, the Conservative Party is going to drop by about thirty to forty seats. This assumes that it doesn’t suffer a split beforehand (I’ll be blogging about the three wings of the party at a later date). Partly this is demographics. Partly it is rage. And partly it is Ontario finally realizing that Bob Rae has nothing to do with the NDP…


        • Does it Really? It seems to me that the bulk of the front line workers in most hospitals are women. Or are you talking about patients…

          Politics are certainly messy these days. I suspect it’s fairly obvious I think proportional representation is past due as well. I’ll look forward to your political blogs.

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