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It could take 20 election cycles, ‘or 90 years,’ before House reaches gender parity, says Equal Voice

By Rachel Aiello      

Newly released findings from Equal Voice and Abacus Data reveal that 58 per cent of respondents believe the current level of female political representation in Canada is adequate, or even too high. Currently, women occupy just 26 per cent of the seats in the House.

Teanna Noel Ducharme, left, Daughter of the Vote delegate for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.; Canadian Teachers’ Federation Heather Smith; and Equal Voice's Grace Lore, Catherine Fortin LeFaivre, and Nancy Peckford, at the National Press Theatre on Monday, March 6, 2017. The Hill Times photograph by Rachel Aiello
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PARLIAMENT HILL—At the current rate of change, it could take 20 election cycles before women reach gender parity in the House, Equal Voice Canada is predicting, according to new data that reveals one-quarter of Canadians think gender parity in the Commons will never be achieved.

Equal Voice and Abacus Data released new, nationwide survey data on Monday that asked more than 2,100 Canadian adults about their opinions and perceptions of women in politics. The poll found that a majority believed it will take nearly two decades before the number of men and women in politics is equal. Another quarter of Canadians believed gender parity will never happen in the House.

“At the current pace of change it’s going to take much longer to reach parity than people think, unless we see substantive change. … At the current rate of change, it’s going to be another 90 [years] before we see an equal number of men and women,” in Canadian politics, said Equal Voice senior researcher Grace Lore. “Those surveyed by Abacus estimated that it would be another four election cycles, but I estimate 20.”

Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice—a multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in Canada—said on Monday that conscious steps need to be taken by political parties, and candidates themselves, to ensure more women appear on the ballot as a first step towards fixing this imbalance.

“Our political institutions have been largely male-dominated for so long that I think people have difficulty imagining them as gender-balanced institutions,” said Ms. Peckford, who went on to note that considering only one-third of political candidates were women in the last federal election, there’s “not even a chance” of getting parity.

The organization’s research also found that more than half of Canadians said they thought there are already too many, or an appropriate number, of women in Canadian politics—something Equal Voice said is a result of considerable overestimation of how many women currently hold elected office in this country.

However, 59 per cent of young (aged 18-36) female respondents said there are too few women elected, while young men were the most optimistic group about the prospect of reaching parity sooner. Fifty-eight per cent of young male respondents said they believe the current level of female political representation is adequate, or even too high.

Currently, there are 88 female MPs in the House making up 26 per cent of the seats of the Commons.

“As a researcher, what is particularly striking to me … is the gap between the perception of women in politics and the reality,” said Ms. Lore. “It’s clear to me that in a country that values equality and democracy, Canadians think we’re doing better than we are. But we remain 63rd internationally when it comes to women’s political representation.”

Ms. Lore added: “Every single group surveyed, based on party, age, region, and gender, overestimated the number of women in politics.”

The study found that the average estimate for female representation in the House of Commons was 31 per cent.

Just 40 per cent of those surveyed said they’d recommend a woman they know to run for office, while 22 per cent said they wouldn’t advise it.

As for why people believe women are discouraged from entering elected life, 30 per cent cited politics’ adversarial nature; 28 per cent said it is because parties don’t recruit enough women; and 26 per cent said it was because of family obligations.

“The findings today are very important because it shows where Canadians are currently at in their attitudes and their views around women and politics,” said Teanna Noel Ducharme, a member of the Nisga’a Nation and Daughter of the Vote delegate for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C., who joined Ms. Peckford, Ms. Lore and other representatives at the National Press Theatre mid-morning on March 6 to discuss the survey’s findings.

Monday’s release of the data launches several days of Equal Voice activism on the Hill in the lead up to the March 8 “Daughters of the Vote” event that will see 338 women aged 18 to 23 take the seat of their MPs in the Commons on International Women’s Day in order to communicate their vision for Canada.

“How do we compel parties to make it a priority to attract a higher number of women to run on a continual basis? How do we attract emerging young leaders to play key roles in campaigns, and run themselves to be their parties’ candidate?” asked Ms. Peckford, noting these are some of the questions they’ll be putting to the delegates this week.

According to Abacus, the margin of error on the survey is plus or minus 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20, and the data was weighted according to census data.

The Hill Times 

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