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Women in Canada watched U.S. election aghast

By Nancy Peckford      

The Clinton campaign was such an incredibly painful example of how misogyny influences the way in which the contributions of women in politics are understood and regularly diminished.

Hillary Clinton, pictured Nov. 9. The world needs a ground game around the globe to get more women elected, writes Nancy Peckford. Photograph screen capture of CNN
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OTTAWA—It’s a girl!

These were the words for the balloons that were supposed to be released at Hillary Clinton’s victory party, celebrating the election of the first female president of the United States. This anticipated milestone—more than 230 years in the making—followed centuries of women’s activism, decades of smaller but significant breakthroughs, many millions of volunteer hours by countless women and men enthusiastic about the prospect of cracking that final glass ceiling, and 18 months of a tireless and sophisticated Clinton campaign.

There’s a saying that, it’s often the “sticky floor,” not the glass ceiling, that keeps women from truly attaining their full potential. In the U.S., that floor is full of stumbling blocks like the wage gap, unemployment, costly heath-care insurance, a federal maternity leave policy that gives women just 12 weeks to recover, a highly sexualized culture, and a U.S. Congress with just 20 per cent women, putting them at 97th in the world for women in national parliaments.

Women in Canada watched aghast. So did so many Canadians generally.

At the local Equal Voice National Capital Chapter Viewing Party in Ottawa, the energy at the beginning of the evening was electric. The prospect of Canada’s own renewed commitment to gender equality, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, being amplified with a new Hillary Clinton administration felt (prophetically, as it turns out) nearly too good to be true.

After years of stagnation or exceedingly slow incremental progress on women’s equality, Canada and the U.S. would have their own #HeforShe phenomenon, prime minister and president. What a combination. The potential was awe-inspiring.

By 9:30 p.m. at the EV event, the frenetic checking of phones and news feeds had sucked all the energy out of the room. By 11 p.m., most guests had disappeared to digest the prospects privately or with loved ones. At 3 a.m., Trump gave his acceptance speech.

So, it wasn’t meant to be. Not this time. It’s a tough loss. A really, really tough one. And we really have no idea how all this is going to go in the U.S., or what the spillover effects for Canada and other countries will be.

But what we do know is that now, more than ever, Canada’s leadership on women and girls matters. And that Canada must now commit to serving, for the foreseeable future, as a forward-looking and tangible beacon of light for how leveraging diverse women’s leadership talents—in both public life and the private sector—is not simply a matter of acting on one’s values, but an important exercise in pragmatism and good governance.

Denial about the massive missed opportunity that was this past Tuesday is no longer an option. Nor is inaction. For those who are feeling despair, there’s more than enough work to go around. The more champions we have on this issue, the better. Count yourself in.

Just three weeks ago, federal Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu announced a $1-million partnership with Equal Voice to support some of EV’s work to address the gender gap in politics. The goal, obviously, is to reduce the barriers to women seeking and serving in elected office.

It’s no doubt ambitious. Part of our work entails engaging with legislatures for ways in which their day-to-day operations could be changed to be more inclusive of women, whether it’s child-care supports, the elimination of evening sittings, more staff, leveraging technology to reduce the travel burden, and on it goes. Given that nearly every legislature in the country, save Nunavut, was conceived before women had the right to vote, the task of modernizing the workplace is not insignificant.

And then there’s the culture issue. The Clinton campaign was such an incredibly painful example of how misogyny influences the way in which the contributions of women in politics are understood and regularly diminished. This isn’t news for women in Canada, particularly those who are elected. Women from all parties here are increasingly vocal about the unacceptable hate and vitriol that gets regularly thrown at them on the basis of their gender by commentators, colleagues, and, sadly, their own constituents.

To shift that culture, once and for all, we need to infuse the political system with current and future generations of women leaders who must—and who will—take up the long overdue space that is rightfully ours in the electoral arena.

That is why Equal Voice is investing significant energy into our national Daughters of the Vote initiative which will bring 338 young women, one from every federal riding, to the nation’s capital on March 8, International Women’s Day 2017. While here, these emerging leaders for Canada will participate in an innovative and ambitious political engagement and leadership summit to celebrate 100 years of some women getting the right to vote, as well as mark Canada’s 150th.

All 338 “Daughters,” who will “look and feel like Canada” in all of its diversity, will have the opportunity to hone their skills, strengthen their networks, and sharpen their instincts. Importantly, they will also ‘take their seat’ in the House of Commons, on the morning of March 8th 2017 as we celebrate one of the only times that women have filled the House in its entirety.

These EV “Daughters” will then go back to their communities energized, informed and primed to lead. They will seek out formal politics for the possibility it holds for them and their communities. They will be tenacious, ambitious, and passionate. They won’t get discouraged easily. They will play the long game. They will have a formidable network on which they can rely, and leverage, from coast to coast to coast.

And they will feel the full weight of knowing that, without their engagement and that of women like them, defeats like Clinton’s won’t be one-offs. They’re systemic, and we won’t make the kind of progress that we all want without them. All of them.

It’s the kind of ground game we need around the globe.

Nancy Peckford is executive director of Equal Voice.

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