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Hot topic

April 23rd, 2006     by Nicole Cohen     Comments

Women in politics has been a hot topic in lately, likely because several women have recently been elected leaders of their countries (Michelle Bachelet in Chile, Angela Merkel in Germany, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, for example) and our own recent federal election’s failure to bring more women into Parliament — 20 percent of our Parliamentarians are women, ranking Canada in 44th place on this site, which classifies countries by the numbers of women in their federal governments.

There are many reasons to advocate for more women in government, one in particular is that female politicians are more likely to be sympathetic to issues women care about — women’s health and reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, gender equality among boys and girls and a national daycare program, for example. Of course, just because a politician is a woman doesn’t mean she’s a feminist, or that she’s an advocate for feminist concerns, but our chances for important gains for women are more likely with a woman in charge. (For more on this check out Equal Voice’s website.)

In the most recent issue of Shameless, Heather Cross wrote an insightful piece on an important reason why women are kept out of politics: the way they’re covered in the media. Often, a female politician will be in the paper because of what she’s wearing, not how she feels about Canada’s foreign policy. Have you ever noticed that reporters often describe what a female politician is wearing (especially if you’re Belinda Stronach) but will rarely comment on a male politician’s outfit (unless of course you’re Stephen Harper)?

But Heather Mallick notices another media tactic that quietens female politicians: ignorance. That’s right, just ignore women who are interested in politics and hopefully they’ll go away. Her column on the matter is worth a read.

There are many reasons why there are so few women in politics, including the dominant macho culture, sexism, money and the fact that women are still disproportionately responsible for the (usually unpaid) work of raising kids and taking care of the house, which doesn’t leave much time to get political. But being critical of media coverage is a good place to start.

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