Group continues goal to encourage women to enter politics

NANAIMO – With two female councillors, Nanaimo has one of the lowest representations by women in civic government among 10 major cities.

Elections results might now show it, but a new Women in Politics network has made inroads, according to co-founder Pat Bugera.

Nanaimo voters elected two women to office on Nov. 15, maintaining the status quo despite an effort by Women in Politics to raise the profile of gender representation in local government and equip more women to run for office.

Across 10 of B.C.’s largest municipalities, 40 per cent of those elected to council are women and female politicians take up half the seats in cities like Surrey, Vancouver and Victoria. Nanaimo didn’t fare as well, with the fewest number of female candidates vying for seats and one of the lowest percentages of representation by women in civic government, according to statistics compiled by University of B.C. doctoral candidate Grace Lore.

Bugera is disappointed in the numbers, but said the group didn’t see a drop in the number of women elected and has been able to start conversation and momentum around the need for more women to get involved in politics. The group plans to keep people talking with a debriefing on the election this January and information sessions on politics. It could also take the conversation about women and politics Island-wide.

“I’m more enthused. I’m more dedicated to it. If one wants to look at and say you didn’t improve it, I disagree … I think that we raised awareness,” Bugera said, adding they can’t let the momentum go. “We are at the bottom of the pile when it comes to provincial statistics in the Nanaimo area, but that doesn’t mean we don’t do anything about it.”

The group, which started this year, reflects a national push for more female leaders. According to those involved in the local and national effort, women often need to be asked to get involved in politics, but citizens benefit from different leadership styles and perspectives when they do.

Lore said there is a good increase in the overall percentage of women candidates and councillors elected Nov. 15 and incremental gains at the provincial and federal level, which she says is promising.

But the results in Nanaimo also show the need for a network like Women in  Politics, which she says creates a community that can facilitate women in politics getting elected and help some women make the choice to put their name on the ballot.

Coun. Diane Brennan, who was re-elected, says women are “seriously underrepresented” and continue to be, but she also points out that Women in Politics held its meeting earlier this year.

If it continues to work together, she hopes the next election sees more women, she said.

“There’s lots of people who it takes a couple of times to get elected, so I hope those women come back and know there is support for their campaigns and we’ll work with them to figure out ways for them to get more votes,”she said.

Brennan plans to maintain her own contacts within the network and says she could also look to it for support during her term.

For more information, or to get involved in the group, please contact Bugera at 250-618-8831.