What would your country look like if the government was 75% women? by Sandy Mayzell

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by Sandy Mayzell, Founder and Director of Dancing with the Octopus

This question launched the 1st Annual International Women’s Day 3-minute video contest, hosted by the Dancing With the Octopus: Women and Politics (DWtO) project.Women from Canada, India, S. Africa, Turkey, Afghanistan, France and Switzerland imagined, and submitted their scenarios.  The winning entry, “What if…”, was created by Victoria, BC’s 13-year old, Rebecca Hansen, and can be viewed along with the 5 top finalists at www.dancingwiththeoctopus.com.

Rebecca is a 13-year old with a bold vision and, from what I hear, she’s not the only one! Recently, friends and colleagues have been raving about the passion, intelligence and willingness of their tween daughters to engage in leadership activities. But what happens to these girls as they move along into their later teens and twenties? Their confidence seems to take a major blow. The pressure to conform, the media’s portrayal of the unachievable perfect body image, fear of being a little too smart as they vie for boys’ affection and approval, and the message that women don’t count, have all emerged as explanations for why women past their early teens are reluctant to get politically involved. This could also help explain the rise in youth voter apathy.

But since recent research shows that 1 out of every 2 human beings is a woman, in a perfect world 1 out of every 2 politicians would be a woman too! Ok, the U.N. calculates that a little less will do – critical mass to create change can begin to be achieved at 1 in 3. Here in Canada we’re at 1 in 4, tying us with Australia in 46th place for women in government, just behind Mexico, Iraq and Sudan. Clare Beckton, Executive Director of Carlton University’s new program, Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership, maintains that the only way to get great decisions is by having both men and women weighing in equally. Neither perspective is better than the other, shemaintains, but menand women do bring different things to the table for consideration.  When both are present a balanced decision is more likely to be reached. But how do we get there when women are so hesitant to step up?

It is critical that we, as adults, plant the seeds of leadership and validity early enough that girls understand what’s at stake. Young women need to learn that they count, their vote counts and there is a place for girls in every conversation and political arena.

So that’s where DWtO comes in – it’s a multi-media, non-partisan project inviting women of all ages into a creative conversation on how to get more of us elected and engaged in the political process.

Each of its 8 ‘tentacles’ uses a different medium to playfully expose and deconstruct myths and obstacles that typically deter women – partisan nastiness, character assassination and judgment by the media, lack of privacy, travel, long demanding hours, fear of a family-work imbalance, and not feeling qualified, to name a few.

And it appears that the absence of role models is a big factor – the stories of the strong women who helped to build this country are not typically taught in school. DWtO’s solution?  Let’s put women’s social and political contributions from the past into the public curriculum, and make it easy for overwhelmed teachers and unmotivated students to access.

The newest DWtO tentacle in development is an educational peer-to-peer online tool entitled, Dancing Backwards: Let’s Get Canada’s Political Women into History. This replicable, accessible web-library resource will be made up of videos of very short, storytelling presentations – puppet shows, skits, slide shows, cartoon or graphic representations, etc. – created by both school-aged girls and boys. It will be fun, informative and entertaining; role models as seen through the eye of the demographic that needs them most.

The hope for this project has been reinforced by positive feedback from educators, coupled with personal experience in the field from DWtO. By introducing young students to the history of women in politics, their stories and their contributions, more boys will view girls as intellectual partners after seeing the courage and accomplishments of our foremothers. Certainly young women and girls will show more interest in shaping their own world and will believe that they have the right and the wherewithal to do so.

This article was written by: Mayzell, Sandy