Equal Voice: Getting Women Into Politics

Turn on any American news channel, and it’s clear to see the darling of the 2016 Democrat nominatees is Hillary Rodham Clinton - whose leadership seems to be a rallying cry for female leadership in the near future; meanwhile, the opportunities for women in Canadian politics seem to be plateauing. As of the 2011 election, a mere 24.6% or 77 out of 307 Members of Parliament were women; even the highest percentage of any individual party (with the exception of the Green Party, whose sole Member of Parliament is a woman) is at 38%. The group spearheading the movement to change this statistic is the multi-partisan organization Equal Voice, which hopes to support and sponsor women entering and participating in politics regardless of their partisanship.  

The University of Toronto, which certainly does not lack strong female students hoping to enter law and politics, opened its own chapter of Equal Voice in September 2014. The chapter hosted a myriad events, including the Women In Politics panel on January 13, 2015.

Moderated by Dr. Simone Chambers, the panel featured: Dr. Joy Fitzgibbon, whose specialty is in global health policy; Dr. Mairi MacDonald, whose specialty is in History and Law; Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin, whose specialty is on women in politics. (Due to extenuating circumstances, Dr. Cheryl Suzak was not able to attend the panel that night.)

(From Left to Right: Dr. Fitzgibbon, Dr. Chambers, Dr. Bashevkin, Dr. MacDonald)

The current state of women in politics is a difficult issue, but it is not an isolated case. Industries such as global health policy, as Dr. Fitzgibbon explained, are similarly male dominated. The medical community, when working in a globalized context, often has to rely on politics and relations to be able to achieve its goals - an unfortunate cycle that perpetuates the dominant male presence. Dr. MacDonald, on the other hand, believes there is a great need for women to understand where their specialization lies, and what they can do with those skills. Those skills, as Dr. Bashevkin elaborates, are very much in demand; what remains the challenge is for women - especially young wome - to supply.

That “supply” does not necessarily mean a generation of lawyers and politicians that are involved with public life and engage with the public eye. For writers, journalism or analysis can be a way to re-engage the public with politics; for economists and businesswomen, economic reports and advisory are viable options; for those preferring a more subtle influence, advocacy and lobbying are other ways to be involved. The key thing to remember, however, is that these jobs enable the advancement of the representation of women in politics on all levels.  

After all, one of the biggest obstacles for women in politics can be their fellow female colleagues, as well as speculating journalists, analysts, and co-workers. Media scrutiny over trite matters such as clothing choices, personality, and family decisions have often worn away at female leaders. When Dr. Chambers asked the panel if it is harder for women to be involved in politics because of the increased scrutiny, the answer was more ambiguous; the gist, however, was clear: it may seem that women hold a disadvantage stance in politics, but that shouldn’t be the reason to not get involved.

Perhaps Dr. Bashevkin put it best when she said that women in politics face “enormous obstacles, but also hold enormous opportunities.”

At the very end of the panel, the panelists were asked for some final advice to girls interested in getting involved with politics. Here’s what they said:

Dr. Fitzgibbon: “Don’t conform. Be who you are, wherever that may take you. Don’t accept constraints and be able to see yourself doing it.”

Dr. MacDonald: “If you’re doing this, it is not going to be easy. Have a good idea why it is you’re doing something, and that will make all the difference when the times get tough.”

Dr. Bashevkin: “Dream Big."

After the panel, HerCampus stuck around for some final input from the hosts of this event.

(Center, in blue : Daryna Kutsyna; Right, in red: Madeline Hancock)

Daryna Kutsyna, the president of the U of T Equal Voice chapter, found her inspiration to lead the group after spending this summer in Ottawa, where she met Lynne Hamilton, the national vice chair of Equal Voice (as well as being an U of T alumni.) Along with a few other politically active young women in U of T, she started the multi partisan (the executives are separately affiliated every major Canadian political party) group that hopes to promote and focus female leadership and women in politics. 2015 is going to be a very big year for Equal Voice, as they will be helping with the campaign funding and rallying support.

The organizer of this event, Madeline Hancock, is similarly excited for the future of Equal Voice. Public opinion and awareness are very big factors in the success of not only female politicians, but those who are behind the scenes (organizers, coordinators, campaigners) as well. Events such as this panel help to promote the goals of Equal Voice, and empower women in every sector.

Dr. Chambers, whom many first year students would recognize as one of the two POL101 professors, sees this group as a great opportunity for young women (undergraduates and graduates alike) to be involved in because it supports many important skills such as coordination and organization. Furthermore, it offers a network that support and builds up women and prepares them for their future.

If you are interested in joining Equal Voice, membership is only $10.00 and you can sign up online through www.equalvoice.ca, the facebook page, or by contact the president Daryna Kutsyna.