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By: Celine Ferreira
After one of the longest election campaigns in Canada’s history, the Liberal Party’s victory is not the only surprising change to come out of this election.
Professor Karen Bird, whose research involves comparative politics, gender and politics, and indigenous and minority groups, spoke on a panel organized by the Department of Political Science on Oct. 21 concerning the 2015 Canadian Federal Election.
“The share of women among the newly elected Parliament is little better than before. Women now hold 26 percent of the seats, compared to 25 percent. The glass, for women, is still only half full,” she said. “The evidence overall suggests we’ve been stuck at about 25 percent for a long time and it doesn’t seem to fix itself on its own.”
The addition of new ridings and the insurgence of new candidates suggested that more women would be elected. However, the one percent increase does not truly reflect this hypothesis. Prof. Bird said that is due to the lack of seats won by the New Democratic Party which had the largest proportion of women in their caucus.
The NDP has implemented various practices that have increased their number of female MPs, including reaching out to women and offering the support they need to run. A great effort is put into recruitment and a mandate has been established requiring justification for why a female candidate was not found if that’s the case. Bird later stated that such efforts should be adopted by all parties if there is going to be a translation to a more gender balanced parliament.
Due to the higher proportion of women with a post-secondary education, women are increasingly doing well economically, therefore resources such as those provided by the NDP are not of prime interest. Bird went on to say that something must be done at an institutional level to address the lack of women represented in parliament.
Female representation is also topical at McMaster. Last year’s “MSU Wants You” campaign urged more female candidates to seek high-ranking positions within the MSU, and while this initiative is a step towards better female representation at McMaster, it also signifies the work that remains to be done. The federal election can be examined to see how our student government can become more representative of the undergraduate student body at McMaster.
Out of the top nine research universities in Canada, McMaster has the second lowest representation of women in its council especially in executive positions. When asked about her opinion regarding this, Bird said that this is not due to the fact that the women are less qualified for the position or that voters are voting against women; it is a result of structural hindrances.
“I think that if there was some information about what the office involves – what the work is on a day-to-day level, what kinds of tasks are involved – a lot of women would say, ‘I have exactly those skills,’” she said.
Bird further stated that explicitly publicizing what the job involves would attract more women as they would recognize that student government is something they would like to be involved in and that they do have many skills and accomplishments that would make them strong candidates for that position.
Bird hopes that in future elections, whether on the federal scale or at the university level, women will recognize that they possess the skills, experiences and ideas needed to hold key positions that shape public policy.