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Barriers to Women in the Canadian Political System

Info: 3879 words (16 pages) Essay
Published: 16th Mar 2021 in Politics

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Historically, women’s representation in the political system has been limited, due to societal norms and a well-recognized phenomenon of gender bias. The gender bias is evident as politics has been heavily dominated by men.[1] Gender bias is the discrimination an individual face, on the bases of their gender such as the preferential treatment men receive over women in the political system.[2] A democratic country such as Canada should integrate aspects of representative government, by electing an equal number of women and men to their political institutions[3]. The ideology of representative government suggests, that people who are elected to represent their society should be elected fairly and equally. Moreover, since Agnes Campbell Macphail, the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons in 1921, there is an increase of female participation in the political system; Yet women only represent 35% of all the government in Canada.[4] This enforces the concept that the political profession is still a man’s domain and women still struggle to gain electoral positions. Furthermore, women encounter barriers at all steps of their electoral journey such as: before recruitment, at recruitment, and after election to fully participate in legislation.[5]

The scope of this paper will discuss the barriers which inhibit or delay women’s entrance into the Canadian political system are: the socialization process, the political institutions themselves and, the sexualization of women. The socialization process of women highlights the engraved stereotypes and discrimination in the political system.

Further, political institutions restrict and limit female inclusivity and the sexualization of elected women officials, serves to inhibit their ability to progress to higher levels of government. Even though women face many obstacles in their path to become elected officials, the Canadian political system has made significant changes to include women.[6]

 The socialization process of women differs greatly with the socialization process of males. The process itself serves as barrier for women to participate in the political community because women are socialized to foster traits labelled as “nurturing, caring, cooperat[ing], …spiritu[al]”[7] whereas, men foster “competitive and powerful” attributes[8]. Through the socialization of both genders, they are implicitly and explicitly taught to indulge in behaviors that promote the growth of masculine and feminine characteristics. Since society assigns masculine traits as powerful, men have received higher status and power in public spaces such as the political system [9] and feminine attributes are not associated with power and strong political leadership[10]. The gender specific attributes reinforce the disparity in power and the perception of female competence for women entering the political system. Conversely, women who are in the political system are viewed as more masculine than women in general, yet, less capable than their male political counterparts.[11]

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Furthermore, knowledge of politics is a vital aspect that contributes to the participation of women in the political system. Political socialization occurs when specific “values, attitudes, and beliefs of the political culture are transmitted to the [public].”[12] This suggests that the majority of political knowledge is distributed by government to members of society. Therefore, the portrayal of male leaders by the government latently enforces the notion that men are more politically competent than women. Furthermore, the family significantly contributes to the political socialization, because children are socialized at a young age to acquire those political attitudes.[13] Therefore, the lack of political knowledge is enforced by a continuous cycle that is passed on from generation to generation; thus, women are less likely to be informed about political culture as their socializers (the mothers) were also inadequately informed.

Political ambitions are also fostered through media’s gender-biased depiction of women candidates can incite negative stereotypes about women in politics, therefore, posing as a barrier for other women to participate.[14] Moreover, the belief that women lack the political knowledge highlights as “women [themselves] are hesitant to identify themselves as potential candidates.”[15] This contributes to the on-going assumption that women are less capable of handling the pressures of the political system.

Historically, the development of gender stereotypes have situated women in the private sphere as home makers, yet when women process in the public sphere as elected officials are faced with two sets of expectations: one from their private family lives and the other from their affiliated political parties.[16] This highlights that men and women are held to different standards in the profession of politics due to the different gendered expectations placed on them. Female politicians tend to be more hyper-criticized than their male counterparts due to the attached gender expectations of behavior and attributes; thus, female and male candidates are evaluated differently for the same occupations.[17] Yet, the experience a woman gains from motherhood or as a childcare activist, does not prepare her for service in the political system.[18]

Overall, when women take on political roles, they often categorize their political leadership as different from male leadership, it depicts the male view as the accepted norm and reinforcing the gendered participation in the political system.[19] This significantly highlights that women and men have internalized gender roles and norms that instruct their life careers and when women enter male- dominated professions, they are considered to be anomalies. Moreover, the political institution itself poses a barrier for women to be elected as politicians.

Political institutions themselves create limitations for women’s representation in the political system as they are unwilling to adapt to the current society. In the political institution, the political parties each have their own beliefs and mandates which revolve around the idea of gender equality in their selection of candidates.[20] For example, the parties who fall right of the political scale believe that men and women should compete for a “riding’s nomination” based on their merit, conversely, parties left of the political scale, such as the New Democratic Party (NDP), have rules which commit to the inclusion of diverse candidates.[21] This suggests that a woman’s eligibility for nomination as a candidate depends on the party she affiliates with. Contrastingly, political parties may not be open to electing women representatives in some ridings due to the belief that they would do better with a male candidate.[22] This further reinforces the idea that men understand politics better than women and their leadership can take the party up to win the electoral seat. Gender inclusivity could often be a façade when female candidates are selected to run for ridings in which they cannot secure any seats.[23] This strategy of riding placement undermines a female candidate’s ability to surpass the negative stereotypical expectations placed on them as leaders. Further, it misleads the public into believing that some political parties are more progressive than they truly are.

The barriers of female representation continue in the candidate recruitment process. The initial process of recruiting candidates depends specifically on candidate search committees that direct their efforts to find qualified individuals to be nominated by their party.[24] In order for candidate search committees to find qualified female candidates, the committee members have to be open to the inclusion of women into their political party.[25] If the committee holds the belief that women are not suitable candidates, the representation of women in the political system cannot increase. In contrast, if their efforts to recruit were equally distributed to men and women, the gender gap in government could gradually decrease.[26] However, if during the recruiting phase, there are few women who meet the basic requirements and participate in the political system, then the search committees are limited to recruiting from the male candidates. [27] As previously mentioned, the continuous cycle of inadequate political socialization reveals its effects in the recruitment process. Thus, if women lack adequate political knowledge through socialization, then it limits the number of women eligible for party recruitment which results in the disproportionate figure of women candidates as a whole. Further, women in government, who have already been elected could serve as role models and act as resources for women entering the political system.[28]

Women who hold higher electoral positions can mentor entrance level female candidates to build their confidence, and skills and provide guidance for a successful career in politics.[29] As young women might see these women, there could be an increase in female participation because those women represent examples of successful women regardless of the barriers. Conversely, if elected females are mistreated and discriminated against on the basis of sex, then it can also act as a deterrent.[30] Therefore, it suggests that women may refrain from participating in the political system due to fear of being attacked and defamed nationally by the members in and out of the political system.

 In addition, incumbent candidates can pose as barriers to new candidates. For instance, if the incumbent of a party is male that has been successfully re-elected, then the only way women can enter the riding if the male incumbent retires or is replaced.[31] However, if an incumbent is a woman, female participation in the political system increases as there is the perception of an equal race among female opponents as oppose to female-male competition.[32] As previously mentioned, this idea refers to the unequal balance of expectations placed on women and male candidates running against one another because women are held to a higher standard for the same position due to politics being a male oriented profession. In addition to these factors, the lack of financial resources received by female candidates also acts as a barrier. Women have difficulties while raising money to run for the office at lower levels of government because they have to spend more time and energy than their male counterparts.[33] The difficulty while raising money can reinforce the idea that women cannot somewhat be efficient political leaders due to the historical exclusion of women in politics. Further, people donate money to parties which they are affiliated with regardless of the candidate. However, women’s involvement in upper level politics is but a recent phenomenon; therefore, party donations have historically been given to male candidates.

 The sexualization of female politicians in media, have also acted as a deterring factor contribution to the lack of female representation. Women candidates receive more criticism for their physical appearance from the media than their male counterparts.[34] The emphasis and discussion surround the appearance and bodies of these women, depicts them as objects as opposed to rational beings, therefore, suggesting that women are “outsiders” to the political system[35]. This criticism has little to do with a female candidate’s political background or policies and can deter women from entering the field as they may feel that what they wish to implement falls short of how they dress. For example, Globe and Mail journalists negatively commented on a female candidate’s body when that female was closer to winning power and exerted the masculine attribute of “competitive[ness]” and journalists expressed their “discomfort” with women as “influencers” in the political system.[36] Also, Globe and Mail judged the clothing of a woman candidate to reinforce feminine attributes in politics for women whereas male candidate’s clothing indicated how serious they were as a political candidate.[37] The reinforcement of femininity suggests that women are to conform to different standard of evaluation than their male counterparts. This evaluation mocks the participation of women in the political system and praises male participation. Sexualization of women in politics through media downplays their ability to be trusted and the ability to perform duties [38]

 Even though, women have found a path to higher success in their careers, they still continue to compete with their male counterparts. Further, women have acquired more higher levels of education in various disciplines, they are still underrepresented in professions which historically belonged to men. Some Barriers mentioned above can suggest why there is a lack  of female representation in the Canada Political system due to the concepts mentioned above such as the socialization process, the political institution themselves, and the sexualization of women in media

Bibliography

  • Breux, Sandra1, Jérôme Couture, and Royce Koop. “Influences on the Number and Gender of Candidates in Canadian Local Elections.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 52, no. 1 (2019): 163–181. doi:10.1017/S0008423918000483.
  • Cool, Julie. Women in Parliament. Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, 2011.  https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05664a&AN=lang.b1248308&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  • Eric Mintz, David Close, and Osavaldo Croci, Politics, Power, and the Common Good: an Introduction to Political Science, 5th Ed. Toronto: Pearson, 2019.
  • Everitt, Joanna. “Gender and Sexual Diversity in Provincial Election Campaigns.” Canadian Political  Science Review 9, no. 1 (2015): 177-192. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edo&AN=112084921&site=eds live&scope=site.
  • Galandy, Jennife, and D. Scharie Tavcer. “Improving gender representation in Canadian federal politics and parliament.” Canadian Parliament Review, (2019): 14-19, https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.langara.ca/apps/doc/A590651566/CPI?u=vanc85972&sid=CPI&xid=4ddf0a67.
  • McGregor, Catherine, and Clover Darlene. “Unsettling the Gendered Power Paradigm: Discomfort, Dissonance and Dissention among Women in Local Government.” Canadian Journal of Education / Revue Canadienne de l’éducation 34, no. 1 (2011): 248-281. https://searchebscohostcom.ezproxy.langara.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsjsr&AN=edsjsr.canajeducrevucan.34.1.248&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  • Smith, Julia K., Miriam Liss, Mindy J. Erchull, Celeste M. Kelly, Kathleen Adragna, and Katlyn Baines. “The Relationship between Sexualized Appearance and Perceptions of Women’s Competence and Electability.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 79, no.11–12 (2018): 671–682. doi:10.1007/s11199-018-0898-4.
  • Thomas, Melanee. “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation in Canada.” University of New Brunswick Law Journal 64 (2013): 218–233. https://search-ebscohost com.ezproxy.langara.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=113999015&site=eds-live&scope=site.
  • Thomas, Melanee.“The Complexity Conundrum: Why Hasn’t the Gender Gap in Subjective Political Competence Closed?” Canadian Journal of Political Science / Revue Canadienne de Science Politique 45, no. 2 (2012): 337-358. doi:10.1017/S0008423912000352.
  • Trimble, Linda and Jane Arscott, Still Counting: Women in Politics Across Canada Peterborough, Ont. :Broadview Press, 2003.
  • Trimble, Linda, Daisy Raphael, Shannon Sampert, Angelia Wagner, and Bailey Gerrits. “Politicizing Bodies: Hegemonic Masculinity, Heteronormativity, and Racism in News Representations of Canadian Political Party Leadership Candidates.” Women’s Studies in Communication 38, no. 3 (September 2015): 314–30. doi:10.1080/07491409.2015.1062836.
  • Vecchio, Karen. Elect Her: A Roadmap for Improving the Representation of Women in Canadian Politics: Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. House of Commons Canada, 2019. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05664a&AN=lang.b1825946&site=eds-live&scope=site.

 


[1] Linda Trimble, and Jane Arscott, Still Counting: Women in Politics Across Canada (Peterborough, Ont. : Broadview Press, 2003), 13.

[2] Trimble, and Arscott, 3.

[3]  Trimble, and  Arscott, 4.

[4]  House of Commons: Report of standing Committee on the Status of Women, Elect Her: A roadmap for Improving The Representation Of Women in Canadian Politics, by Karen Vecchio. 1st Session, Ottawa: House of Commons, 2019, 11.

[5] House of Commons: Report of standing Committee on the Status of Women, Elect Her: A roadmap for Improving The Representation Of Women in Canadian Politics, 3.

[6]Melanee Thomas, “The Complexity Conundrum: Why hasn’t the Gender Gap in Subjective Political Competence Closed?” Canadian Journal of Political Science 45, no. 2 (2012):340, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0008423912000352

[7] Eric Mintz, David Close, and Osavaldo Croci, Politics, Power, and the Common Good: an Introduction to Political Science, 5th Ed. (Toronto: Pearson, 2019), 80.

[8] House of Commons, 28.

[9] Jennifer Galandy and D. Scharie Tavcer, “Improving gender representation in Canadian federal politics and parliament” Canadian Parliament Review, (2019): 14, https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.langara.ca/apps/doc/A590651566/CPI?u=vanc85972&sid=CPI&xid=4ddf0a67.

[10] House of Commons, 28.

[11] Monica Schnieder and Angela Bos, “Measuring Female Politican stereotypes” (Paper delivered at Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Seattle, 2011) cited in, Melanee Thomas, “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation in Canada” University of New Brunswick Law Journal 64, (2013): 226, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=113999015&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[12] Mintz, Close, and Croci, 113.

[13] Mintz, Close, and Croci, 114.

[14] Sandara Breux, Jérôme Couture, and Royce Koop, “Influences on the Number and Gender of Candidates in Canadian Local Elections,” Canadian Journal of Political Science Volume 52 (2019), 163,  doi:10.1017/S0008423918000483.

[15] Julie Cool, “Women in  Parliament,” Library of Parliament, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, 2011.  https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat05664a&AN=lang.b1248308&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[16] House of Commons, 30; Thomas, “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation,” 224.

[17] House of Commons, 29-30; Thomas, “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation,” 225.

[18] Catherine McGregor and Darlene Clover, “Unsettling the Gendered Power Paradigm: Discomfort, Dissonance and Dissention among Women in Local Government,” Canadian Journal of Education 34, no.1 (2011): 261,https://linkgalecom.ezproxy.langara.ca/apps/doc/A271664331/CPI?u=vanc85972&sid=CPI&xid=fb84542b.

[19] McGregor and Clover, 266.

[20] Joanna Everitt, “Gender and Sexual Diversity in Provincial Election Campaigns,” Canadian Political Science Review 9, No. 1(2015):181, https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edo&

AN=112084921&site=eds-live&scope=site.

[21] Everitt, 181.

[22] Everitt, 180.

[23] House of Commons, 58.

[24] Thomas, “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation in Canada,” 228.

[25] Thomas, “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation in Canada,”228.

[26]Breux, Couture, and Koop, 168.

[27] Breux, Couture, and Koop, 168.

[28] Everitt, 179.

[29] House of Commons, 35.

[30] Everitt, 179.

[31] Everitt, 180

[32] Breux, Couture, and Koop, 178.

[33] Breux, Couture, and Koop, 168.

[34] Thomas, “Barriers to Women’s Political Participation In Canada,” 226.

[35]Linda Trimble, Daisy Raphael, Shannon Sampert, Angelia Wagner, and Bailey Gerrits, “Politicizing Bodies: Hegemonic Masculinity, Heteronormativity, and Racism in News Representations of Canadian Political Party Leadership Candidates,” Women's Studies in Communication38, no.3 (2015): 325, https://doi.org/10.1080/07491409.2015.1062836

[36] Trimble et al., “Politicizing Bodies: Hegemonic Masculinity, Heteronormativity, and Racism in News Representations of Canadian Political Party Leadership Candidates”, 320.

[37] Trimble et al, 320.

[38] Julie K. Smith, Miriam Liss, Mindy j. Erchull, Celeste M. Kelly, Kathleen Adargen and Katlyn Baines, “The Relationship between Sexualized Appearance and Perceptions of Women’s Competence and Electability.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 79, no. 11–12 (2018). doi:10.1007/s11199-018-0898-4

 

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