The Representation of Women and Women’s Issues in Canada’s Western Provinces

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Nellie McClung "Persons Case" monument in Ottawa.

Nellie McClung “Persons Case” monument in Ottawa.

by Grace Lore

Women are under-represented in political arenas worldwide and Canada, where women make up only between one-tenth and one-third of all provincial politicians, is no exception. Equal access to political participation and representation is crucial to the quality of democracy and the under-representation of women is symbolically important. But does the relative absence of women in provincial politics also mean that issues important to women receive little attention? Do women politicians represent women’s interests in their speeches and statements? If they do, then having so few women in provincial politics may result in political discourse and policies that do not adequately address women’s issues and gender equality.

‘Private Member’s Statements’ provide provincial politicians with the opportunity to speak in the Legislature to any issue important to them or their constituents. This is one place to answer whether women in politics ‘matter’ to the types of issues discussed. If women do represent women’s issues, they will use statements to raise these topics. Women are diverse and are defined by ethnicity, sexual orientation, education, occupation, and personal preferences and individuality. As a result, they have sometimes differing interests and needs: defining what is in ‘women’s interests’ can sometimes seem impossible. Similarly, an issue may not be particular to either gender or may matter to both for the same or different reasons. Despite such difficulties, some issues, as the following discussion highlights, are indeed gendered, arising out of and relating to women’s unequal position in the sexual division of labour or unequal access to economic and political power.

During the election period that included the year 2006, Canada’s four western provinces had a range of levels of women’s representation – Alberta had the least at 16%, Saskatchewan had 17%, Manitoba 23%, and British Columbia 24%. In each province, in every year, women made more ‘Private Member Statements’ (on any issue) than men. More to the point, they made more statements that addressed generally identified women’s issues such as violence against women, childcare, family-work balance initiatives, International Women’s Day, eating disorders, and quality of education. In fact, in 2005 nearly half of all statements made by Alberta’s female legislators concerned women’s issues, compared to only 15% of statements made by men. In 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009 over 25% of B.C. women’s statements addressed women’s issues but in each of these years less than 13% of men’s statements did the same.

The representation of women in Canadian provincial politics is not simply about their numbers but also about the representation of ‘their’ issues. If women pay more attention to and speak more often about particular concerns but some 75 to 85% of provincial politicians are men, ‘women’s issues’ are unlikely to receive appropriate political attention. An increase in women’s representation would change this equation. Women’s representation in political institutions matters for democracy, justice, and also for equality of attention to otherwise under-recognized political and policy concerns.

Note: This research was done using Hansard records from each provincial legislature in the electoral cycle including 2006 and was originally produced for Political Science 504C (Instructor, Dr. Andrew Owen). Information about the number of women represented was taken from CBC News. (n.d). Women in Canadian Politics. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/map-cda-womenpolitics/ (February 2012).

Suggested Reading List
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Pitkin, H. (1967). The concept of representation. Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Young, L. (2002). Women’s Electoral Participation’ Bringing Worlds Together Seminar Proceedings, Retrieved January 28, 2011, from at canada.metropolis.net/events/.
Women’s representation in Canada:
Arscott, J. and Trimble, L. (1997) In the Presence of Women. Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company Ltd.
Bashevkin, S. (1993). Toeing the Lines: Women and Party Politics in English Canada, 2nd ed. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Equal Voice Canada: http://www.equalvoice.ca/
Equal voice.(n.d.) The Facts Ma’am: Facts about women in politics in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.equalvoice.ca/facts.cfm#null (July, 2011).
Erickson, L. (1997). Might More Women Make a Difference? Gender, Party and Ideology among Canada’s Parliamentary Candidates. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 30(40), 663-688.
Young, L. (2000). Feminists and Party Politics. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Women’s representation outside Canada:
Bratton, K., & Ray, L. (2002). Descriptive Representation, Policy Outcomes and Municipal Day-Care Coverage in Norway. American Journal of Political Science, 46(2), 428-437
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Grey, S. (2002). Does Size Matter? Critical Mass and New Zealand’s’ Women MPs. Parliamentary Affairs, 55, 19-29.
Norris, P. (2001). Blair’s babes: critical mass theory, gender and legislative life. Faculty Research Working Papers Series, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. RWP01-039. Retrieved 30 June, 2011 from http://web.hks.harvard.edu/publications/workingpapers/citation.aspx?PubId=375.
Saint-Germain, M. (1989). Does Their Difference Make Difference? The Impact of women on Public Policy in the Arizona Legislature. Social Science Quarterly, 70(4), 956-968.
Studlar, D., & McAllister, I. (2002). Does Critical Mass Exist? A Comparative Analysis of Women’s Legislative Representation Since 1950. European Journal of Political Research, 41, 233-253.
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Thomas, S. (1991). The Impact of Women on State Legislative Policies. The Journal of Politics, 53(4), 958-976.

Lore, Grace

Lore, Grace

PhD Student in the Department of Political Science - University of British Columbia

This article was written by: Lore, Grace

PhD Student in the Department of Political Science - University of British Columbia