It is hard not to notice that the political leaders of this nation are old white men.* Yes, we have a few MP’s who are women (not many, and none in positions of power) and a few MPs from non-white minority groups, but all the rest are white men, including the leaders of the four federally-elected parties:
Even the contenders for the Liberal leadership, now that Dion is stepping down, are old white men :
This is not a coincidence. Who has the resources, education, and influence to rise to the top of the political pyramid? Typically, the demographic in a society that has ready access to these resources. And this power imbalance shows even in the inequality of labour resouces within marriage:
“… Male politicians have wives who are full-time homemakers, or who adjust the hours and other demands of their work to the needs of their husband’s political careers. But few female politicians are endowed with similar husbands.”Norms, Values, and Society, by H. Pauer-Studer, p. 85)
But of course, most of us take this “white male face of power” for granted and assume it to be both generous and benign — even the women of this country, who are left to “choose” among these single-demographic leaders who claim they “best represent” them. It is no coincidence that daycare, housing for poor families, paid maternity leave, and other issues that concern women and impact their lives are given only token nods (if at all) in party platforms. Many women know that they are “one divorce away from poverty.” Many single mothers struggle in poverty trying to keep their children without them being apprehended when Mom has choose between feeding the child and paying the rent. Many moms are on waitlists for 3 or more years before finding daycare for their child, or have to return to full-time work just weeks after their baby is born, during the time their infant needs them (and NOT a stranger) most.
What do you need to get into power? The exact opposite qualities of voters who are some combination of young, female, poor, or don’t have a palid pink skin hue.
According to the The Global Gender Gap Report 2008, Canada is ranked 60th out of 130 nations surveyed in terms of women’s political empowerment. Only 22% of our elected MP’s are women, nowhere close to the 52% of Canada’s population that is female.
A report by the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women states that 30-35% women is the critical mass necessary before legislatures address women’s concerns through public policy reform and before political institutions begin to change the way they operate.
And ultimately, this mismatch, this exclusion of women and women’s issues from the national (and provincial) agendas, affects the power of women to keep and raise their babies. When it is assumed that the male model of parenting (birth-onwards rather that conception-onwards) applies equally to women, when it is assumed that women can walk away from their newborns as easily as many men do (evident in the number of women left to raise children as soles-supporting single mothers), then little recognition or support is provided in public policy for mothers who are left vulnerable due to youth, poverty, disability, social injustice, or marital status.
Here is a thought exercise for you: The next time you see an “old white man” in front of a TV camera in House of Commons, remember that women in Canada make up over half of our population. For every one of those men, there is a woman out there who is NOT in the “corridors of power.” What is she doing? Why is she not there?
The next time a political party phones you or knocks at your door asking for donations or support for their candidate, ask them about the issues that concern you most as a woman. Ask them about what they are doing about the plight of mothers who have been abandoned in our society and who are being forced to surrender their babies or children for adoption due to punitive welfare or employment policies. Think about how our nation can be forward-thinking in supporting mothers, looking to nations such as New Zealand and Australia for examples, where the number of infants surrendered by desperate mothers are a miniscule fraction of what they are here. If other nations can do it, so can we. But it likely won’t happen as long as our nation is run by rich old white men.
* Yes, Harper (49) and Dion (53) are actually “middle-aged,” but the rest are elligible for “Seniors Day” at Zellers. And the average age of all six is 57.
- Pay the Rent and Feed the Kids (http://www.incomesecurity.org/paytherent)
- EQUAL VOICE (http://www.equalvoice.ca)
- Sistering (http://www.sistering.org)
- Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html)
- Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids: The Tragedy and Disgrace of Poverty in Canada, by Mel Hurtig
- Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
- BC CEDAW Group Submission: British Columbia Moves Backwards on Women’s Equality [January 23, 2003]
- WIN Canada: “Why Women Should Vote…“
- Women2000: Women and Decision-Making. U.N. Division for the Advancement of Women