Where are all the women in politics?
So here we go again, it is 2012, and Vancouver has only four women councillors, six men and another white male Mayor.
After 125 years, you would think it would be time for a change in Vancouver. But no, another city election and three more years of the same. Who is going to stand up to ensure equity at City Hall?
But wait, perhaps it is different in the rest of B.C. or in the rest of
Canada. Perhaps it is only British Columbia which still lingers in its
pioneer past and where women are still expected to only run the kitchens.
Sigh, no -- just checked: in the Greater Vancouver Regional District, women make up just 34 per cent of councillors and 28 per cent of mayors. In Canada, that number drops to 25 percent of councillors and 16 per cent of mayors.
At least, you think, we are a wealthy nation so we must be better than other countries and with time the situation will slowly improve here. No.
The United Nations gender gap index has shown Canada dropping from 14th in 2006 to 25th in 2009. The World Bank has just released a first with their report “World Development Report on Gender”.
In a great read, Shahra Razavi, in her critique on the UN website “News and Views", says that the “going against the “growth is good for gender equality’- type of argument put forward by World Bank economists in the past …[is invalid , and the report] acknowledges that gender equality will not occur automatically as countries get richer”.
So is there anything happening in cities in the rest of the world ?
Based in Montreal, the Metropolis Women International Network links city organizations and shares policies and programmes.
In India, the Nationalist Congress Party, which has local representation, has called for a “Women Friendly Cities” poll in the Feb.16, 2012 elections in response to a call from a number of nonprofit women’s organizations.
India already has a 30 per cent requirement for women in local government which has proven very successful. In South Africa, Janine Hicks, a Commissioner with the Commission for Gender Equality in South Africa has just written an article “Bringing women into local governance: a review of enabling mechanisms in South Africa” (Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal 2011). In South Korea, Seoul won the 2010 United Nations Public Sector Award for their Women-Friendly City Project.
There are some other outstanding examples such as London, England which has put the necessary gender and race lens on some of their work.
But wait: Surely women in Canada must be fighting back? We are watching our social standings slide backwards and our incomes drop. Our daughters are wondering where they will find jobs let alone housing. I mean, just because Harper only invites less than 30 percent women into his cabinet doesn’t mean women are willing to give up on democracy, does it?
We do have a woman Premier in B.C. We even have three across Canada.
Aren’t there any organizations or women doing something about cities? Well, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities now has a Standing Women’s Committee which has established a campaign called "Reaching for 30%."
But last I checked, women were over 50 per cent of the population. The committee worked with Femmes et Villes (Women in Cities) to produce a document called “A City Tailored for Women, The Role of Municipal Governments in Achieving Gender Equality” available in three languages, which I presented at the World Urban Forum 2004.
They have supported a Safety Audit for Cities as well as many other good things, though they struggle with almost no funding. Right -- more unpaid work.
Women in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver are regrouping at the city level and have started some amazing organizations such as Femmes et Villes/Women and Cities International, Equal Voice, Ottawa Women Plan, Toronto Women’s Alliance and Women Transforming Cities.
Why should we even care about women and cities?
Think about it -- cities are the closest level of government to women. What women want is real equality which means at least equal numbers of women in all levels of government who can make equity happen, income levels, safety, affordable public transit, child care, good schools, ESL, community centres, affordable housing, accessible sidewalks and strong neighbourhoods.
Yes, those really are city issues and women pay attention to those issues because it makes a difference to our lives and the lives of our families. Women think that democracy means equality for women.
Want to know what we can do?
Don’t miss the next column in Women Changing Cities, coming to the Vancouver Observer from former Vancouver City Councillor Ellen Woodsworth.