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Equal Representation: Why Women Should Be Raising Their Hands

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at McGill chapter.

Three young, well-dressed women sit at the front of the room, chatting and catching up with each other while people file in through the doors. This is not a 1960s tupperware party, nor a socialite ball. This is politics.

On March 19th, Liberal McGill hosted the “Women in Politics Panel”, a discussion on equal representation in government, political candidacy, and the youthful new face of Canadian politics.

The panel moderator, Anna Gainey, is the president of the Liberal Party of Canada and a long-time confidante of Justin Trudeau.  This mother of three is no slouch. In fact, she ran her campaign last year while expecting her baby daughter. Instead of shopping for strollers, she was out and about in communities, meeting people and building relationships.  Worldly, intelligent, and a self-professed go-getter, she has had many high-profile jobs, including assitant to ministers John McCallum and Bill Graham.

Beside Gainey sits Liberal Candidate Christine Poirier, a confident woman with an infectious smile, who worked as both a nurse and entrepreneur before joining the world of Canadian politics.

On the right of the panel is the Liberal candidate of Outremont, Rachel Bendayan, a lawyer who touts two McGill degrees, as well as years of experience working in international commercial law at the largest law firm in the country.

Poirier begins the discussion by sharing her journey to candidacy. After having her child, Poirier started a clothing company for nursing mothers, giving her the opportunity to work with the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (now “Futurpreneur”) where she had the chance to meet MPs and prominent community leaders to address issues faced by young entrepreneurs.  As an executive member of her student council, she enjoyed taking on roles of leadership.  Poirier had always thought about a position in politics, but her business was growing and her hands were quite full.  However, one day while driving to a trade show, clothing samples stashed in the trunk of her car, her sister asked her where she saw herself in ten years. Poirier quickly responded, “I would like to be an MP.”

“From that moment on I decided that business was enough for me and I sold my shares.” Soon after, she got her membership card for the Liberal Party, and inquired about volunteer opportunities.  After months of hard work at her riding association, she got elected as vice president.

Soon after, she attended her first Liberal convention in Montreal, eager to see what she had gotten herself into. “I signed up for all the cocktails, all the activities, and even the campaign school. Everything. From then on, I had it in my mind that I was running. I raised my hand up to run.” With much support behind her, she was nominated in May 2014 to represent Laurier-Sainte-Marie.

Candidate Rachel Bendayan always knew she wanted to work with the United Nations or other international bodies and focused on international arbitration while studying law. Despite this, she soon discovered that compared to elected bodies, organizations have relatively little power in effecting change. “I learned that an important means of implementing change is by being part of government.”

Unlike Poirier, Bendayan didn’t raise her hand up to run. While working in law, she was encouraged to do so by one of her mentors. Gainey, too, had to be asked to run by her friends and colleagues. All three women agree that this is a common trend amongst female candidates, as they are much more reluctant than men to volunteer themselves for positions.

“We need to ask women. Women don’t come forward as much as men do. But, women who are involved can reach out and bring in more women,” says Poirier.

Bendayan expands saying, “This isn’t something we only see in politics. There are no requirements for corporations to balance the gender composition of their boards of directors.” She adds that women on executives have been proven to increase efficiency and productivity of companies.


 Christine Poirier, Anna Gainey, and Rachel Bendayan at the Liberal McGill Women in Politics Panel.

Gainey, Bendayan, and Poirier all agree that the next government should implement ways to increase participation of women at all different levels. If so, it would become much more commonplace to find women in political roles. Right now the Canadian House of Commons is composed of 26% women, which is quite low compared to other countries around the world. (1)

“Expectations have changed in our lifetime. It’s not easy to balance your family life with this type of job,” says Gainey.  “As a party, we need to commit to looking at ways of making the jobs more manageable for both women and men with family commitments.” She uses an example of the parliamentary calendar, which is comprised of ‘sitting’ weeks and ‘break’ weeks.  “People hear these terms and say, ‘Oh! Those MPs have the whole summer off!’ They’re not break weeks. They’re constituency weeks. MP’s go back to their ridings to work in their communities.”

Poirer says that representation begins at the level of the riding association.  “Many associaions are predominantly male, which was the case for my riding back in 2013. I was the only woman in a group of ten.”  

However, surveys indicate that there is just the same chance for a woman to be elected in a riding as there is for a man. Poirer adds, “Supporters are not gender-biased. They vote for the best candidate. But, there are less women candidates to choose from so there are more male MPs.

Referencing her alma mater, Laval University, Poirier explains how she was surprised to see that in a photo of their Young Liberal organization there were about twenty men and only one woman. “They would double their crowd if they reached out to women,” she stresses. She strongly believes that it’s not enough to recognize the problem. We must take action.  She explains that in order to increase representation, parties must reach out to female leaders in the community, harking back to the point that women are seldom the first to volunteer for leadership roles.

Winning a nomination is just a stepping stone in the world of politics for women. Among the other hurdles they face is dealing with the unequal treatment that is all too common in today’s bureaucracy.

There are clear double standards for men and women when it comes to success. Bendayan explains, “A man is seen as confident and likeable when he takes initiative, but a woman, for lack of a better word, is seen as a bitch.”

This isn’t just a stereotype. This echoes Sheryl Sandberg’s reference to a study in which subjects read a description of an outgoing, successful venture capitalist. To those who were told the professional was a woman they viewed her as “selfish” and “not the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” On the other hand, those who were told the professional was a male found him assertive and more likeable.

When asked how to combat this gender bias, Gainey replies, “Man or woman, you have to be authentic. You have to know who you are. You have to find your voice. At the end of the day, you must be comfortable in your own skin. Then people will believe in what you believe in.”

Bendayan adds, “I have hope that things will change over our lifetime. We’ll show that we’re different from our parents’ generation. Women just have to step up and learn to be comfortable in those positions of power.”

Poirier ends the discussion on a high note, advising her twenty-two year old self to “seize the opportunity”. Addressing the women in the audience she adds, “When the timing is good and an opportunity comes up, go for it! Don’t hesitate to take risks. There is more to gain than there is to lose.”

It’s this type of attitude that will help women across the country take politics by storm and begin making tangible changes in their communities and on an international scale. It only takes a few women to begin raising their hands and soon enough that 26% will steadily climb, and perhaps even double. 


Images courtesy of Liberal McGill and Young Liberals of Canada (Quebec).

(1) www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/lists/Members.aspx?Language=E&Parliament=1924d33…


Katrina served as the Campus Correspondent of Her Campus McGill from 2013-2015.  With a love of writing, fashion, and fitness, she spent a lot of her time exploring Montréal to find great things around campus and in the city to share with the Her Campus readers. Twitter @KatrinaKairys.Awarded 1st place for "On Campus Publicity" for My Campus Chapter Awards 2014Awarded Her Campus "Gold Chapter Level" 2013Awarded Her Campus "Platinum Chapter Level" 2014