By Grace Lore and Kelsey Wrightson
The 2013 general provincial election was a step forward for women’s political representation in British Columbia – more women were elected than ever before (making up 34% of the legislature) and, although she didn’t win her own seat, Christy Clark became the first women to be elected premier in BC’s history.
What this means for women in terms of policy, however, remains to be seen. It is often argued (including by the United Nations) that women start to make a difference to politics and policy after achieving a ‘critical mass’ of representation at 30%. Some studies have found that having more women in politics is associated with greater provision of “women-friendly” social policies and more attention to women’s issues in the political arena (Dahlreup 1988; Grey, 2002; Bratton & Ray, 2002; Thomas, 1991). Political parties remain a dominant force in legislative politics, however, and control over individual MLAs by leaders and party whips may limit the ability of individual women to push policy in this direction. Interestingly, the one elected Independent, and the first person ever to be elected twice as an Independent MLA in British Columbia, was Vicki Huntington. Given women’s limited representation among parties and especially among Independents, her achievement is all the more impressive.
The Liberals’ track record on women’s issues has been heavily criticized. One of their first actions upon election in 2001 was to cut the Ministry of Women’s Equality. The NDP’s platform in 2013 election included its re-establishment. Last year West Coast LEAF’s CEDAW (Convention on Ending Discrimination against Women) Report Card gave the BC Liberals several failing grades – including an F for women and access to justice and for action on missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls. LEAF also assigned the government a D+ for social assistance and a C- for access to childcare. Where the BC Liberals did make some progress is addressing domestic violence with the new Family Law Act, which changed the definition of abuse and improved protection orders, they received a B-. Since the issuing of the 2012 report, and in the wake of the Missing Women’s Inquiry, the government increased funding to WISH, which allowed the Vancouver drop-in centre for sex trade workers to remain open 24 hours. This directly addresses one of LEAF’s concerns; while the group commended the recommendation by the City of Vancouver and Vancouver police to ensure 24-hour access to drop-in centres for sex trade works, it had critiqued the failure to act on the recommendation.
The Liberal’s 2013 platform never explicitly mentioned gender equality, but did include measures, such as implementing the recommendations of the Missing Women’s Inquiry and establishing a Premier’s Women’s Economic Advisory Council to increase business opportunities for women. The extent to which these measures are in fact introduced and are effective in addressing gender inequalities, women’s vulnerabilities, and reversing some of the damage done by previous cuts and reversals remains to be tested.
The 40th British Columbian Election marked improvements in the representation of women among MLAs. Less clear are the implications for women residents of the province, particularly those most in need of governmental services and support.
Dahlreup, D. (1988). From a small to large minority: women in Scandinavian politics. Scandinavian Political Studies, 11(4), 275- 298.
Dahlerup, D. (2006). The Story of the Theory of Critical Mass. Politics and Gender, 2(4), 502-510.
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.
Grey, S. (2002). Does Size Matter? Critical Mass and New Zealand’s’ Women MPs. Parliamentary Affairs, 55, 19-29.
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.
Thomas, S. (1991). The Impact of Women on State Legislative Policies. The Journal of Politics, 53(4), 958-976.
United Nations. (1981). The Convention to End Discrimination Against Women. Retrieved March 25, 2001, from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm.