What are the benefits of women’s participation in politics?
“The purpose of a woman’s life is just the same as the purpose of a man’s life: that she may make the best possible contribution to the generation in which she is living.” Louise McKinney, provincial politician and women’s rights activist, first woman sworn into the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and the first woman elected to a legislature in Canada.
Women in politics can make a difference. Here are reasons why women should be included:
Different Attitudes and Perspectives - Attitudes differ by gender. Separate studies in Canada, the UK and the USA show that female politicians (as with women in general) tend to care more about social welfare issues such as health, education and poverty than do their male colleagues. Conversely, male politicians tend to care more about economics, the military and foreign affairs. All of these topics are important and none should be neglected.
Not only do women care about different issues, but they also care differently on common issues; UNICEF says legislatures with more women produce better polices to fight child poverty, for example.
Read the excerpt about Finland found in "Here’s What Happens When You Put More Women in Government" to learn about what Finland’s gender-balanced parliament has done for their education system.
Different Life Experiences – Men and women (and all people!) have their own unique experiences that governments should draw from and present.
“Different life experiences make you think about things in different ways. If you are not a parent, you don’t think like a parent. You may not, therefore, be able to see the problems in a plan for day care, for instance, that a parent would have no trouble spotting.” Aloma Jardine, Times & Transcript, Sept. 12, 2006.
...but, neither are women homogeneous as a group. They are young, old, middle-aged; live in rural areas and urban areas; have children and are childless; and so on. Not every woman in office will place women’s issues (e.g., childcare, eldercare, reproductive health, poverty, etc.) at the forefront of her agenda. Each woman has unique experiences and priorities, but their representation is a critical factor for the development of inclusive, responsive and transparent democracies.
3. Different Leadership Styles – Research shows that women’s leadership and conflict resolution styles embody democratic
ideals. Women tend to work in a less hierarchical, more participatory and more collaborative way than male colleagues.
Additionally, because women leaders tend to negotiate longer than men when it comes to military decisions, the world stage will change when half our leaders are women. Women are deeply committed to peace building and post-conflict reconstruction. Women suffer disproportionately during armed conflict and often advocate most strongly for stabilization, reconstruction and the prevention of further conflict. (The Institute for Inclusive Security, 2009).
Women are also more likely to work across party lines, even in highly partisan environments.
In 2015, The Conservative Party, led by Rona Ambrose, supported the Liberal government’s plan to hold a public inquiry into the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women.
“I have always said we need action and not more reports. If the Liberal government wants to do an inquiry and they think it’s an important thing to do, I will support it,” said Ambrose.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (left) and former Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose (right).
4. More Effective Democracy – Democracy will be ineffective and the object of contempt if it does not strive for fair representation.
Not electing women violates the basic principles of fairness required for a truly representative democracy. Democracy cannot be gender-blind and must include the perspectives of all those who are affected. Furthermore women's unequal representation contravenes international conventions to which the province is bound. Simply put, "Democracy is not democracy without women."
"Women are half of the population, half of the labour force, over half of those living in poverty. Enough said." Elsie Hambrook, Chairperson, New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women
5. More Responsive to Constituent Concerns – Research shows that women lawmakers tend to see "women's issues more
broadly as social issues, possibly as a result of the role that women have traditionally played as mothers and caregivers in their communities, and that more women see government as a tool to help serve underrepresented or minority groups. Women lawmakers, therefore, have often been perceived as more sensitive to community concerns and more responsive to constituency needs. (NDI)
Issues that mainly affect women - health and reproductive issues, sex equality, childcare policy, poverty, etc. - will be shortchanged if women are not there.
6. Less Corruption – Women's participation encourages citizen confidence in democracy. Around the world, women politicians
are often perceived as more honest and more responsive than their male counterparts. Governments with more women legislators are more productive, according to the World Bank. More women at the top is "vital" to finding solutions to economic turmoil, according to the World Economic Forum. "National parliaments with the largest numbers of women have the lowest levels of corruption." (NDI)
“Women I believe offer balance, a more caring society, a more cohesive team approach. I think women understand society's needs and embrace life's realities more pragmatically. I do not believe women go into politics for power. They go into politics to make things better, to make a difference, to improve things, to plan the future and to leave legacies for our children.” Susan Thompson, Mayor of Winnipeg 1992-1998.
Women’s engagement is crucial – and it is important to recognize that women are not a homogeneous group. Depending on whether women are young or older, are educated or uneducated, live in rural or urban areas, they have very different life experiences that lead to different priorities and needs. Moreover, not every woman elected to government will place women’s issues at the forefront of their agenda, but women’s representation is still a critical factor for the development of inclusive, responsive and transparent democracies.
90% of Canadians want more women elected, according to studies by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada. Canadians elect women candidates when given the choice.