Gender parity won’t happen on its own

Qualified women are currently discouraged from running for office by a culture that frowns upon female candidates


Special to Nunatsiaq news

As May 26 draws near, we’re hearing more and more about the proposal for gender parity in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly. However, a number of misconceptions persist: that gender parity will be too expensive; that it gives preference to women and is somehow undemocratic; and that if we vote yes for this proposal, we would be locked into it forever.

Firstly, Nunavut will have the same number of MLAs, whether gender parity becomes a reality or not. It will not cost a penny more.

Secondly, MLAs would still be elected on the basis of merit. The notion that gender parity opens the door to candidates who are less qualified is an insult to women. Generally speaking, women are better educated and have more job training and skills than men in Nunavut. Also, they are often the most active and involved members of their communities outside of the workplace.

Bad attitudes

Women are significantly under-represented in politics, not because they are less skilled or qualified than men, but because they face a range of barriers, including attitudes about women’s role in society, lack of support (financial and otherwise) and inadequate child-care provisions.

The notion that gender parity is unfair or undemocratic borders on the ridiculous. People will still be able to nominate, and vote for, both men and women. No one has to vote for someone they don’t support.

It is true that, under the proposal, women would not run against other men (as Manitok Thompson has lamented), but does a woman have to beat a man at the polls to win “with respect”? When Ms. Thompson ran for MLA, she did not run against candidates in other ridings, but I haven’t heard her argue that we should do away with geographic ridings because they limit the number of candidates one is “competing” against. A winning candidate in one riding may have fewer total votes than a losing candidate in another riding, but we accept this situation because we accept the principle of geographic representation.

I don’t know why is it so difficult for some to embrace the principle of equal gender representation. Women make up over half the population, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the legislative assembly today. I can’t count the times I’ve heard the question, “What if no woman, or only one woman, runs in a riding?” Yet I never hear anyone ask, “What if no man runs?” or “What if only one man runs?” This could (and does) happen; I doubt this will be any greater an issue with gender parity.

Candidates may win by acclamation and there will still be a need for byelections, but this is no different than the situation we have today.

No system is perfect. People are often elected for reasons that have nothing to do with ability or qualifications.

Must make choice

Unfortunately, well-qualified women lose votes for no other reason than that they are female. Some voters would rather vote for a man because they believe that women have no place in politics. Such attitudes discourage many women from running for election.

I’ve heard people say that they’re in favor of women in politics in theory, but that they oppose the NIC proposal. I’ve yet to hear them suggest another way of achieving equal representation by men and women. Regardless of how they feel about the issue, by voting no to gender parity, they will be casting their votes with those who believe that women don’t belong in politics.

Finally, there is no risk in giving this proposal a try. If there are problems, Nunavut MLAs will be able to make the necessary adjustments. We could find it’s something quite wonderful, a political model that other provinces and nations may someday seek to emulate. We’ll never know unless we give it a chance.

Kim Cummings is an instructor at the Young Offenders Centre in Iqaluit.

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