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Issue of Gender Inequality in Canadian Politics

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 1996 words Published: 16th Mar 2021

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There is a very clear pattern for women in Canadian politics; get elected, serve a short period of time, and lose at re-election. A Canadian woman has never been re-elected into a First Minister position in our 150 years since Confederation. Although female leadership position percentage in Canadian politics is higher than ever, it is clear with the history of eight provincial premiers, and one female Prime minister, that there is a pattern. This issue directly relates to Gender Inequality, the patriarchy, and Marxist theories. Inequality is transparent in this situation. With this paper, it will examine what needs to change to see more women not only in politics, but in the leadership realm of politics (First Minsters: Premiers and Prime Minister). To many, this issue of gender inequality in parliament goes unnoticed because of the increased representation of women in federal level politics. But it is not just about representation, and Canadian citizens, women or men, are affected by women’s inability to be elected, and the barriers these women face. Although throughout this paper will be examining the past political inequality of Canada, it will draw on comparisons of countries that have crossed the gap into gender equality, and have had women in the position of the highest power. For example, Margaret Thatcher and Erna Solberg, and the differences between them and women competing in Canadian politics. It is interesting to examine the past 50 or so years in Canadian politics. We have seen representation from women grow rapidly, and last year Trudeau’s cabinet was a full split of men and women. But this topic is something that is far from being considered an equal playing field. Gender inequality will be examined in depth in this paper, and we will see through the patriarchy, etc. how women’s politics is still part of this ongoing phenomenon which is inequality.

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We have seen over the past decade women’s representation in Canadian politics has grown exponentially, to over half of the seats in the cabinet. But, women in Canada at the highest political level (First Ministers) are presented with obstacles and difficulties of getting re-elected that men do not face. These inequalities such as lack of funding, lack of trust, sexism, and gender stereotypes have led to discrimination of women in politics, and an inability of women to be re-elected into these positions.

Canada ranks 50th in a global survey of women’s participation in politics. The representation of women at a federal level ranks below countries such as Rwanda, Bolivia, Cuba, Sweden, and Mexico. In 2011, 76 women were elected in Canada’s federal election (CBC, 2018). Today, after our recent federal election, and for the first time since 2008, no women have control over Canadian provincial or territorial legislations (Kingston, 2019). In Canada, we saw our first women premier in 1991, when Rita Johnson became BC’s premier, after a large government scandal forced the incumbent male candidate to step-down (Kingston, 2019). With that being said, since 1991, we have only seen 11 women premiers in our provinces and territories. It is important to highlight that not one of these premiers have had the support to be reelected. In Canadian politics today, although women’s representation in the House of Commons is at an all-time high, it is still far below the threshold for women in decision-making roles, which the United Nations recommends be above 30% representation. These numbers are evident of persistent barriers to women’s participation in our democracy, indicating ongoing systemic discrimination and persistent unconscious bias, while electing our federal government (Vecchio, 2019).  So why in Canada, where women represent over 50 percent of the population, does this parity and inequality so visibly exist in today’s world?

As Canadians, many of which that are proud of our multicultural ways, and live on equality based merit, have a perception that gender equality should come naturally but in fact, all this research points to that not being the case. Canada is an old democracy, and it is one that is under the scope of many of the other leading countries of the world. Many political scientists saw with the recent 2019 fall election, which had higher-than-usual turnover rates of incumbent MPs, open seats creating more of an opportunity for women in parliament (Carbert, 2019). What we can see is that for Canadians, familiarity breeds comfort, and the sight of a women in these roles in a “man’s game”, and the reaction of the population proves that we have a very long way to go, until we elect a female leader (Carbert, 2019).  It is evident still in 2019, female politicians are deterred by systemic biases, sexism, lack of media coverage, and threats of violence.

Gendered Identities are defined as “the feelings, meanings, and subjective experiences attached to a particular gender. Such meanings are developed as we interact with other and are shaped by dominant gender ideologies” (Curtis & McMullin, 2017). This textbook definition is important in introducing the Sacrificial Lamb, and Glass Cliff theory as they are directly related to gendered identities, and prove that they still exist and hinder the ability of female politicians in Canada.

The ongoing political underrepresentation of women in First Minister positions in Canada’s federal cabinet is somewhat alarming. Data and examinations of past federal elections from the 2004-2011 election shows that women are more likely to be ‘sacrificial lambs’ than their male counterparts (Bodet & Thomas, 2012). The hypothesis of a sacrificial lamb theory is that although women from an unbiased lens might have an equal opportunity to men, they are usually put in ridings where their party has little chance of winning the seat (Bodet & Thomas, 2012). Women are generally placed in ridings where the opposing parties have a “stronghold”, meaning that they carry an absolute advantage over other candidates in that riding, making it almost impossible for a woman to win a seat outright.

The question we must ask ourselves in the 21st century and in such an equality-based social country that Canada is, why are women faced with the burden of an unequal opportunity. Political scientist Sylvia Bashevkin has followed women’s roles in politics quite closely, and she believes that to Canadians – women plus power equals discomfort (Samper & Trimble, 2017). When we examine the role these women play, although having the same job description as their male counterparts are viewed as less effective, and their leadership skills often mistrusted because of their gender identities. The ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon, similar to the ‘sacrificial lamb’ theory suggests when women assume leadership positions, it is usually in a risky or precarious state of the company, or political group in this case (Samper & Trimble, 2017). Women are usually brought in as healers, although the chances of failure are unreasonably high for the incumbent woman. We take former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne as a perfect example. Preceding Dalton McGuinty, who saw the number of Liberal seats in Ontario drop below majority status, sending the Liberals into a non-powerful position. Wynne was then brought in to be the saving grace for the Liberals, but because of her openly gay sexual orientation, along with the gender bias, Wynne was destined for defeat.

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To summarize the previous theories, it is important to look at examples in other countries of political representation of females in First Minister positions. Based on literature from other countries, and an academic journal written by Judith McKenzie, stresses the point of “in the case of political ambition of women.., most suggest that it would be foolhardy and strategically unwise to go down the essentialist path in arguing men and women have different political ambition because they are inherently different in nature” (McKenzie, 2000). Challenging this case is the famous Margaret Thatcher, otherwise known as the ‘Iron Lady’ who is said to have paved the way for women in First Minister roles in politics. But what was different about Thatcher was her disregard for gender bias in minister roles in Federal government, and a famous quote when asked if it was hard to be a female leader, responds “A woman must rise through merit. There must be no discrimination” (Murray, 2013). Thatcher believed she was elected because she was the best person for the job, and that if other women were best fit, they should be a leader as well. Finally, the opposite persists with Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, who is an advocate for women in politics, and realizes that discrimination towards her gender still exists in her government today. She explains “..most importantly is to bring girls away from discrimination and give them the education and confidence needed…to challenge the men for the positions of leadership in Norway’s government (Anholt, n.d.). With these examples and history of international women in leadership roles federally, this proves that Canada must change their ways for discrimination to eliminated and give the right person, the right job.

In conclusion based on the above examples, multiple political theories, and comparison to other dominant female political leaders in the world it is evident that Canada has a long way to go. It is apparent that systemic biases, and gender inequality still exists in federal government and we need to take action against the sacrificial lamb theory, and other hardships female politicians or women trying to enter politics face on a daily basis.

Works Cited

  • Anholt, S. (n.d.). Erna Solberg - Norway - The Global Vote. Retrieved from https://www.goodcountry.org/global-vote/elections/norway/candidates/erna-solberg.
  • CBC News. (n.d.). 50% population, 25% representation: Why the parliamentary gender gap persists. Retrieved from https://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/women-politics/.
  • Kingston, A. (2019, April 19). Why does Canada now have no women premiers? Because it's 2019. Retrieved from https://www.macleans.ca/politics/why-does-canada-now-have-no-women-premiers-because-its-2019/.
  • McKenzie, J. (2000). Political biography and autobiography and the study of women in politics in canada: The case of political ambition. The Journal of Legislative Studies, 6(4), 91-114. doi:10.1080/13572330008420641
  • McMullin, J. A., & Curtis, J. (2017). Understanding social inequality: intersections of class, age, gender, ethnicity, and race in Canada. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.
  • Murray, J. (2013, April 9). What did Margaret Thatcher do for women? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/apr/09/margaret-thatcher-women.
  • Sampert, S., & Trimble, L. (2019, October 6). The 'glass cliff' is steep for Canada's female politicians. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/the-glass-cliff-is-steep-for-canadas-female-politicians-78988.
  • Thomas, M., & Bodet, M. A. (2013). Sacrificial lambs, women candidates, and district competitiveness in Canada. Electoral Studies, 32(1), 153–166. doi: 10.1016/j.electstud.2012.12.001
  • Thomas, M. (2019, March 6). We need to stop blaming women for their under-representation. Retrieved from https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/march-2019/need-stop-blaming-women-representation/.
  • Vecchio, K. (2019). Elect her: a roadmap for improving the representation of women in Canadian politics: fourteenth report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (42nd Parl. 1st Sess.). House of Commons.


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