2015 was the first Canadian federal election all three major parties (Liberal, Conservative and NDP) had a woman as campaign chair. Canadians voted in 88 women as their members of Parliament, bringing female representation in the House of Commons to 26 per cent.
A one per cent increase from 2011.
Some things have improved for women in Parliament, but that success hasn’t necessarily trickled down to lower levels of government.
In Winnipeg’s 2014 municipal election, there were only two female candidates for mayor, and just nine female candidates — out of 59 — for city councillor.
Dr. Andrea Rounce is an associate professor and director in the faculty of political studies at the University of Manitoba. She said women are still fighting for equal public perception in politics, despite 100 years as provincial voters.
“We have seen some political parties take action to say we’re not short of high-profile, talented women in this country,” she said. “That being said, we still see many candidates going into non-winnable seats. The question is how many of them are women?”
The idea is that some women are just put as “warm bodies” into seats that aren’t winnable, said Rounce. That means there might be more female candidates, but not all are taken seriously.
Rounce said she believes “this isn’t just a woman problem,” and teaching young people about equality in politics — and what to do when you get there — is what’s going to change the game.
“Have women talk about what it means to run, what it means to lose — because everyone in politics loses at some point — but also what it means to win,” she said.
Doubt building up
If there’s one thing women need to learn how to re-negotiate, it’s their sense of belonging, according to software developer Serena Vandersteen.
The imposter syndrome is described by ex-journalist and associate director of inHOUSE Communications, Kirsty Walker, as an idea that “despite external evidence of their competence, they are flawed and do not deserve the success they achieved.”
For Vandersteen, she started doubting herself in university when it really sunk in she was in a male-dominated industry.
“As much as I tried to be confident and try to prove people wrong, every once in a while, it gets to you,” she said. “So you have this threshold until you’re like, ‘oh man, am I really here doing this? Maybe I would be more productive somewhere else.’”
Vandersteen said as she went through computer science at the University of Manitoba, she noticed fewer women in her classes. She said that might be because women haven’t had a lot of experience with technology before university, and the heavy technical material can be incredibly intimidating. Even though she had four years of engineering classes behind her, Vandersteen said she still felt out of place.
“You start to doubt yourself because you don’t have support from people like you,” she said. “I didn’t have any more than two female friends in computer science. Not having support and not being ‘normal,’ the way that people treat you — it just starts to make you feel like you don’t belong. So maybe you should start finding something you’d feel better with because everything is so stacked against you.”
Lean in vs barge in
The feminist movement to “lean in,” suggests women need to simply try harder, and put themselves out into the professional world more. But the idea that gender equality will naturally happen over time if women were to only “lean in” is lazy thinking, according to Dr. Fiona Green, women and gender studies professor at the University of Winnipeg.
“We can’t be complacent. Women often work harder and are more productive for less pay because they’re constantly having to prove themselves worthy of the division,” she said. “It has to change at the family level, the educational level, the religious or spiritual level. It has to change with employers, government, social services, sports teams — everywhere.”
Vandersteen said while she hasn’t had to face the gender wage gap yet, she’s already joining women’s groups to dissolve stigmas and give young women the chance to never see one.
Vandersteen is part of the Ladies Learning Code organization that teaches girls as young as six how to write code for websites and introduces them to technology. While she said she feels empowered by this, she knows she’ll still be hearing “because that’s the way it is,” for a while.
And in the short-term, that doesn’t seem to bother her.
“I almost thrive off of the fact that people underestimate me because it makes me want to prove them wrong,” Vandersteen said. “I know that a lot of women feel like they shouldn’t have to prove themselves, and I don’t really like the fact that I have to, but the situation is what it is today. It’s not going to get better unless we keep working on it. How else are you going to start to break down barriers, right?
Read The Winnipeg equation – Part 1 for a look at some of the reasons behind the gender gap.