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More women needed in municipal politics, says political panel

CBC News with Joanne Wright 13 July 2019

More women are needed in municipal politics was the consensus reached on this week’s CBC New Brunswick political panel.

The political panel looked at the number of women involved in municipal politics and how to increase that number.

This comes after Fredericton councillor Kate Rogers raised concerns over the lack of female representation both on council and city hall committees.

Rogers is the only woman serving this term.

Joanne Wright, a political scientist and the dean of UNB’s arts faculty, said any real change requires a significant percentage of women participating.

“Political scientists talk about a 30 per cent minimum,” said Wright.

“You can’t have any real change in the culture of an institution or a body without roughly 30 per cent or more women in place. You’re just not going to make that change in the culture.”

Wright said many women do not feel welcome in council environments. When stories emerge about women not being valued by an institution, that lowers the appeal even further.

Institution ‘foreign’

Rogers said many of her male colleagues don’t understand that the institution can inherently put many women off.

“They’re all saying, ‘Well, if women wanted to be here, they’d just come, they’d just run, they’d be here,'” said Rogers. 

“I’m saying, ‘I don’t think you guys get how foreign this actually is … for a woman. And it really wasn’t designed for us and we can feel that.”

Rogers said the environment feels foreign even to her — someone from Fredericton with a degree in political science.

She said women are often seen as one-dimensional, where men are viewed as having a breadth of experience.

She said she’s been pigeonholed when seeking out appointments to committees.

“It was said to me, ‘Well, you’re the arts and culture girl,'” said Rogers.

“I am a person with a master’s in political science. I’m a woman who owned a business for 10 years … I’ve been the executive director of three organizations … I might point out I don’t even have formal arts training.”

Leah Levac, a former Fredericton city councillor and a political scientist at the University of Guelph, said there are concrete things councils can do to make them more attractive to women candidates.

“Seriously considering even things like the structures and timing of meetings, of the kind of support services that we offer to councillors in exchange for the work that they do,” said Levac. 

“I think that even though it is always contentious I think we seriously have to consider whether or not we are comfortable continuing to ask people to do effectively full-time work for honoraria type [of] remuneration.”