The parliamentary system of Canada has experienced many changes throughout history. In 1867, the House of Commons was established when the British North America Act created the Dominion of Canada (Canadaka, 2005). The Dominion of Canada consisted of four provinces which were Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and lastly, Nova Scotia. The House of Commons was based on the parliamentary system of the United Kingdom also known as the Westminster system. Many intellectual political scholars have proposed that the House of Commons also known as the Lower House is the most dominant and powerful branch of parliament. For example, the Senate rarely rejects bills passed by the House of Commons. Many concerns and issues have been raised in the House of Commons in relation to women. Critics have said that women do not get enough voice in parliament, are under-represented and discriminated upon. For instance, "Canada now has fewer women in parliament than most of Europe and many other countries in the world" (Equal Voice, 2010). Also, many see women unfit for careers in the political field such as MP'S because they believe women cannot handle the pressure and fulfill duties as men can. "Politics is a man's game and you are not welcome" (Equal Voice, 2010). "Women make up 20.8 percent of the members of Parliament: 64 of 308" (CBC News Interactive, 2010). One could decipher that this is not a huge percentage compared to statistics of males as members of Parliament. Therefore, many obstacles are being faced by women when trying to establish careers in the political arena. An important obstacle women face is when seeking elected office. Barriers include, stereotyping, media imbalances, inadequate amounts of training and support. An important example of media imbalance is MP Ruby Dhallas unfortunate experience with the media which will be further discussed. As one could understand, Canada has undergone many changes to achieve equal opportunity for women but is still experiencing difficulties since under-representation of women is still increasing in the House of Commons.
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In today's society, under-representation of women in the House of Commons has not yet been resolved. There is a fewer number of women as members of the parliament in the House of Commons. For instance, statistics have shown that there is a slow progress of females being represented in the lower house compared to men. (See Graph 1) This demonstrates that even though women were present in the Canadian House of Commons since 1984, there is not a drastic change in the number of seats occupied by women every four years. Women are being under-represented in the House of Commons for many reasons. Firstly, women are stereotyped and underestimated. For example, many believe careers in the political field should be left for men since women cannot handle the intense pressure that comes along with the job. Secondly, media imbalances leave women with less chances to find a career in the Commons. For instance, the media gives female candidates a negative image. MP Ruby Dhalla is a good example. Thirdly, women do not get the same amount of training as male candidates do which leads to under-representation in the lower house. Lastly, critics claim that the electoral system needs reform in order for the under-representation rate of women to decrease since many argue the electoral system is not fair. In Canada, women are being under-represented in the House of Commons due to continued stereotypical views, media imbalances and lastly, little or no training to prepare women for positions in the House of Commons.
Firstly, women in today's society are often victims of gender stereotype. Women are under-represented in the House of Commons because they are either stereotyped or underestimated. Many individuals believe that women are unfit for being members of the parliament and would not be capable of handling the pressure deriving out of the House of Commons. For instance, there are more male MP's in the lower house than female MP's. "Since 1918 a total of 4,670 Members have been elected to the House of Commons. Of these 292 (6%) have been women and 4,378 (94%) men" (CBC News Interactive, 2010). In Wicks and Lang-Dions article, "Women in Politics: Still Searching for an Equal Voice" it has been discussed that the stereotype that politics is a man's job prevails. "The sentiment that politics is something "men do" still exists" (Lang-Dion & Wicks, 2008). A study was conducted by two political scientists known as Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox who examined the gender gap between men and women in parliament. They concluded that women are less confident than men when running for office due to the stereotypical views which leaves women to underestimating themselves. Lawless and Fox said,
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"Even when men and women possessed similar qualifications, women were more than twice as likely as men to believe they were not qualified to run for office. Christy Clark, British Columbia's former Deputy Premier observed this gender gap first hand. Ms. Clark who was responsible for candidate recruitment said, "Ask a woman to run for office and she'll say, 'Why are you asking me?' Ask a man, and he'll say, 'I can't believe it took you so long to ask' (Lang-Dion & Wicks, 2008).
Women are being stereotyped in the Commons and therefore, are not given the same opportunities as men. For example, individuals say women politicians just care about their appearance rather than political issues. A Canadian journalist known as Jenn Goddu studied three female politician lobby groups over a course of fifteen years. She discovered that,
"journalists tend to focus on the domestic aspects of the politically active woman's life (such as "details about the high heels stashed in her bag, her habit of napping in the early evening, and her lack of concern about whether or not she is considered ladylike") rather than her position on the issues" (Media Awareness Network, 2010).
Also, suggestions and opinions put forth by male MP's are considered and took into account while the ones made by women are ignored. This again, is the stereotype that "men know more about politics than females." Denis Moniere a political analyst proved this stereotype. "He observed that women's views were solicited mainly in the framework of "average citizens" and rarely as experts, and that political or economic success stories were overwhelmingly masculine." (Media Awareness Network, 2010). All together, one can conclude that women are consistently under-represented in the House of Commons due to the stereotypical views people present about female MP's.
Secondly, the media plays an important role in politics since it enlightens the society of what is occurring. "It is the primary information link between the Canadian population and the political sphere" (Siegel, 2010). The media has a positive influence on the public. Positive because media tries to explain the goals of the government to its citizens. However, the media also has a negative impact on individual(s). The media can put a politicians reputation in jeopardy. The media tends to broadcast unnecessary stories, twist and add their own parts and lastly, exaggerate issues with little or no matter. This is why the media is a factor which contributes to the under-representation of women in the House of Commons. Members of the parliament that are females are more likely to be targeted and victimized by the media. This is because more attention is focused upon female politicians rather than males. For example, the way they act in office, how they dress, how they behave and interact with other fellow members.
An important example of media jeopardizing an MP's career is Ruby Dhallas experience with the media. Ruby Dhalla is an MP representing Springdale located in Brampton and the surrounding area. A male individual known as Charanjit Sihra went to the media and said he has a film featuring the MP and released posters and photos of Ruby. However, Dhalla argued that the posters and photos released were altered and that the body was not hers. This little issue attracted negative media attention towards this female Member of Parliament. For example, the South Asian community began to lose respect for Dhalla and began to think that she is unfit to represent the citizens of Springdale. It also developed controversy in the House of Commons. Questions such as should Dr. Ruby Dhallas seat in the House of Commons be taken away? Is she a positive role model? And will it give the House of Commons a bad image? were discussed. "She claims the producer and distributor in India are "opportunists" trying to exploit her status as a politician" (Rowland, 2009). All in all, one can conclude that media is a factor that contributes to the under-representation of women in the House of Commons.
Thirdly, the representation of women in the House of Commons has not made a significant progress throughout the years. Many barriers and obstacles need to be abolished in order for women to have an equal chance in the Commons. Women not receiving sufficient amounts of training and financial funding has contributed to the under-representation. Male candidates are of central focus when it comes to politics and are given adequate amounts of training to prepare themselves for the political parties. Also, male politicians are given more funding and support from organizations and individuals. For instance, male candidates are given more support from the public during election period while females are ignored which gives them a less chance of obtaining seats in the House of Commons. One can decipher while examining graph two that more male candidates were nominated and elected than female candidates in 2006. (See Graph 2) This demonstrates that male candidates receive more support and funding during the nomination process from political parties which leads them to victory during election period. Many political parties do not have organizations that can help prepare women for a career in the House of Commons. "Political parties need to be pro-active recruiting and training women candidates" (Lang-Dion, Wicks, 2008). Many studies have been conducted regarding women and the political training they lack. Kate Coyne-McCoy believes that under-representation of women can be reduced if their political skills are strengthened. McCoy a faculty member of "iKNOW Politics" stated,
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"Research findings and surveys indicate that strengthening women's skills in political campaigning can be a key step in advancing women in politics at all levels. Kate Coyne-McCoy, points out the importance of trainings for women candidates especially in fundraising, message development, working with the media, building voter contact programs, writing campaign plans, and designing targeted methods of voter communication" (iKNOW Politics, 2009).
The obstacle women face of inadequate amounts of training in politics has been abolished in many countries. This results in a greater representation of women in their particular parliament. Statistics of training given to women can be compared to countries that have programs to attract female candidates. For example, Iceland introduced an awareness campaign which educated and trained women. "Five year awareness campaign which included: a humorous, attention-getting advertising program, training courses, education, communications networks, public meetings, and mentoring programs" (Lang-Dion, Wicks, 2008).The rate of under-representation of women decreased dramatically after one year of the program being in affect. "Women's political representation increased from 25 percent to 35 percent after the campaign had been in operation for one year" (Lang-Dion, Wicks, 2008). All in all, the lack of training facilities available for women candidates has contributed to the under-representation of women in the House of Commons. This is because it discourages women to run for elections and seek position in the House of Commons.
All together, Canada has a low number of women in the House of Commons. Statistics have been compared by many political analysts who have concluded that there are more male members of Parliament than women. "Women remain under represented in nearly all governments; women constitute less than 20% of elected representative in the majority of countries" (Lang-Dion & Wicks, 2008). This demonstrates that the Canadian House of Commons is in need of greater female MP's. Women are faced with many barriers and obstacles that they have to overcome in order to seek equal representation in Parliament. Barriers include stereotypes, negative media attention, inadequate amounts of training and support and a unjust electoral system. There are three barriers women face to the election of more female MP's. "They need to select themselves, they need to be selected as candidates by the parties and they need to be selected by the voters" (Cool, 2008). Women lack self-confidence to select themselves and many individuals have more confidence in male candidates therefore, even when female politicians run for election, they do not get enough votes. Women are often victims of stereotype. This contributes to the under-representation of women in the Commons. Many individuals still believe that politics is a mans job. Others believe women are not strong enough to deal with the pressure resulting from politics and only care about how they look. Media is an important yet negative factor which discourages women to seek positions as members of Parliament. Women involved in politics are often the ones that are focused upon the greatest in the media. At times, the media twists and alters the story and adds their own submission to it which can gives the female candidate(s) a bad reputation. A prime example is Ruby Dhalla and her experience with the media. There is not enough training provided to female candidates. This increases the rate of under-representation of women in the House of Commons because if training is not provided than they do not have the skills needed to be a member of Parliament. Therefore, if training and support is given to women, the rate of women in the House of Commons will increase. Canada's current electoral system is in need of reform due to the fact that many individuals believe it is unfair and lessens the chance of women being members of Parliament. In conclusion, Canada has consistently under-represented women in the House of Commons. In order for women to have equal representation and become members of the Parliament, the obstacles and barriers need to be eliminated.