Sunday, January 27, 2013

Powerful Women Shouldn't Be News

Kathleen Wynne becoming our sixth female premier isn't newsworthy, what will be, is when a premier's gender doesn't make headlines.

It's of course understandable why newspapers should report on Ontario's first female premier, it is historic, but ultimately what will determine progress on gender equality is whether the media and Canadians in general eventually stop making it an issue.

Currently in Canada women lead five provinces and one territory, approximately 87% of the population now have a woman premier. Though it is important to recognize the advancement of females in politics and the necessity for that to continue, the persistence to marvel at a woman in an influential office risks making it appear like some abnormality or as if women are now perfectly, or even adequately, represented in public office. They are not.

Women make up 52% of the Canadian population, you wouldn't not that by looking at our elected bodies. In the House of Commons there are only 77 MPs or just 25% who are female, placing Canada 47th in the world for women in national politics according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Provincially, it's not that much better. In Ontario's legislature women make up 28%, in Quebec 33% and in British Columbia 32%. 

The idea that six female premiers is a sign of gender equality is also undermined by the fact that two have been doomed to governments that are destined to fall.

Christy Clark of the BC Liberals, due to her predecessor's lack of public consultation over the HST, became leader shortly after the the largest decline of support for her party. Kathleen Wynne's position in Ontario may not be that much better. She also has become Premier after her party, with a similarly long tenure in government, has fallen in the polls.

In fact in Canada's history there have only been eleven first ministers who have been women. Given the situations they were left with, two did not have a chance to turn things around (BC's Rita Johnston with 217 days in 1991 and Kim Campbell with 132 days in 1993), and it looks like Clark and Wynne won't have one either. If one includes Quebec's Pauline Marois becoming leader at the time her party was having an existential crisis, and still is, it would appear that in Canadian politics women aren't so much given an opportunity to succeed as they are given an opportunity to not fail.

Canada electing another female premier, by itself, shouldn't be news, though our current inequalities should be. This is not to say we should ignore progress when it happens, but we must put it in perspective, which at this time is incomplete.

Going forward a premier's gender, like his or her sexuality, shouldn't matter. We should look at Wynne, and all our other powerful female leaders and treat their gender with as much fascination and respect as we do for the person who presently graces our currency.

No comments: