A new Nanaimo group is offering to throw support behind political candidates vying for seats in the upcoming civic election. The catch? You have to have an xx chromosome.
The non-partisan Women in Politics launched this year to turn up talk about gender representation in government and encourage more women to run for all levels of political office. It’s offering a continued network of support whether candidates win or lose, equipping women to campaign and connecting them to experienced female politicians.
Slightly more than half of Nanaimo’s population is women, which is currently represented by two female leaders at the council table. It’s a similar story at the provincial and federal levels where Equal Voice, a national organization encouraging more female participation in politics, reports women are represented at levels of 25 per cent or less – statistics the national chairwoman calls not good enough.
According to those involved in the local and national push for more female politicians, often women need to be asked to get involved, which is one of the barriers to participation, but citizens benefit when they do. They say women bring different leadership styles, perspectives and issues that may resonate with female voters.
“It just makes sense even if you don’t buy that women see things differently or women bring different things to the table. You have to recognize we are 50 per cent of the population and we should be occupying 50 per cent of the institutional seats,” said Coun. Diane Brennan, who has connected with women candidates through the new network.
The group is the brainchild of Ashwak Sirri, owner of the Grand Hotel, and Pat Bugera, public relations specialist, who wanted to explore the issue of women in politics, especially with the upcoming civic election. A panel on the issue, held earlier this year, drew more than 100 people and dozens turned out to hear experiences of female politicians and get tips on creating campaigns.
It struck a nerve, said Bugera.
“We’re going to watch carefully to see if any of the prodding we did, any of the discussion we had, had an effect in what goes on in this municipal election, but good, bad or otherwise we’re just going to keep having that conversation,” she said. “We don’t see this having a sunset.”
Brennan has already noticed the group helping to facilitate conversations, including from candidates wanting to know what the issues are, what they could encounter during a campaign and sign slogans. She says she could also help connect prospective candidates to organizations likely to give support and back those who encounter difficult people in a campaign or on council.
Karen Hovestad, a Nanaimo civic election candidate, would like to see the network seek out other qualified female candidates. At a recent forum by Progressive Nanaimo she noted 16 candidates and three were women.
“I think it’s going to be a real tough slog if there’s only one or two women. We really need more,” she said.
For Raylene Lang-Dion, national chairwoman for Equal Voice, a group of any size generating awareness about women in politics and encouraging more women to run is great. Equal Voice plans to launch a campaign next year to equip 5,000 women in five years to run for all levels of political office.
“It’s healthy democracy,” she said. “How are we supposed to be represented when we’re constantly under-represented in terms of our numbers?”
For more information, please contact Bugera at 250-618-8831.