Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you all for having me here today.
It's an honour to come before you today and speak on this topic. As a woman and also a volunteer in politics who hasn't actually held a paid role in this environment, I'm looking forward to developing how we can improve the representation of women in politics as we move forward here.
As a volunteer who's been involved in nomination campaigns, leadership campaigns, and general election campaigns, I don't want to be here reciting statistics and studies. I want to tell the stories of women and what they're experiencing on the ground when they're campaigning, and most importantly, I don't want my comments here to be interpreted today as partisan. Although I do come from one particular partisan background, I think these experiences can be appreciated and understood across all political parties.
In my opinion, we are failing women in the candidate recruitment and nomination process, and this is largely due to the inherent biases that we as a society still hold today. I have door-knocked and campaigned for both men and women over the past 10 years, and in my experience and the experiences of the women I've spoken to over the last little while, women receive prying questions that men do not seem to get at the door, questions like, “Are you married?”, “What does your husband think about you doing this?”, and “How are you going to take care of your children if you're an elected official?”
I recently ran for the board of directors of my own provincial political party and I received similar prying questions at party AGMs and party board meetings. Men who were also running for those positions didn't seem to get questions about their marital status or whether they had children or how old they were.
While these questions may appear innocent and while men do sometimes receive these questions, I was receiving them when male colleagues were not. Female candidates often receive these questions when male candidates do not, and I found that when I was attending events with male colleagues or friends, or when women go door-knocking with men, they don't receive these questions as often. These women have also told me on the nomination campaigns and general election campaigns that they receive a better response at the doors when they're with a man. They can focus on policy, they can focus on politics, and they don't have to answer questions about the personal life choices they have made to get to the point of running for office.
These are women in their thirties. They have young children oftentimes. They're bright, brilliant, smart women who would represent their ridings well, but when they get these questions, they start to doubt their ability to do their jobs because of their personal situations. It's almost as if they're asked why they never thought about this in the first place or why they haven't asked these questions.
The bias I see here is that society still thinks that a woman's main role in society or in the family unit is as the caregiver. We default to assuming that the man is the politician and maybe the woman is not, a lot of the time. Society is still very surprised to see women in politics and has no problem verbalizing that surprise. This is why we need to be speaking out about this issue. We need society to start recognizing that it's normal to see women in politics, and that we should expect to see more women in politics as well.
A friend recently told me she didn't realize how much attention would be directed at her ability to be a mother when she was campaigning, and she felt a lot of guilt about that and about her family's decision that she run for office. I think what's even more surprising is that when I'm door-knocking, I often hear women at the door say, “My husband isn't at home, and he usually makes the political decisions in our family.”
When we hear these things, we're constantly being reminded that politics has historically been a man's game and it's a surprise for women to be making those decisions or for women to be at the door campaigning. Politics is a daunting exercise. I don't need to explain that to anyone here, but these kinds of questions can seriously cause someone—anyone, but particularly women—to seriously doubt their ability to do the job, because society is questioning it.
In my experience, women have had to work harder to earn that respect that men seem to get naturally, and I think there are a number of things we can do about this. A lot of these biases are generational. If women can continue to look past these comments and put their names forward, we will see more women in politics. They will win elections, and it will be common to see women in politics as well.
I got involved because when I was growing up my MP was a woman and a minister, and I looked up to her. Looking back, I have no doubt that she received a lot of scrutiny that her male colleagues did not and had to work a lot harder than the men to be taken seriously, but I didn't realize that until I started getting involved myself.
On the other hand, I don't want to hold up the female politician as the poster child for success or what could happen for other women. We all come from different stories and different perspectives, and I think to say that one woman is the homogeneous example or the role model that we can all strive to emulate does a disservice to the cause as well. We can't assume that everyone is going to come in with the same experiences or will have the same experiences in politics.
When I speak to women about this issue, they're often surprised to hear that other women going through the nomination process have experienced the same thing. This goes back to what I was speaking on earlier, about how we're not talking about these issues. So many women experience these barriers or these judgments at doors, but they don't talk to other women about it, so it's not known that it's as common as we may think it is. We need to be able to talk about these issues without being told that we're complaining, that we're not tough enough, or that we need to suck it up. I think these are real issues that we need to be talking about without judgment.
We also need to be calling out people when we experience these biases. I've been so lucky to have the support of both men and women through the political process who are really good at steering that conversation away from personal matters and towards the politics itself. If you are asking someone a question, I think we all need to be asking ourselves if we would ask that question to a man.
To support women, I think we really need to be supporting them: donating to them, knocking on doors for them, and selling memberships for them, and not just saying, “I support you”, but really putting actions in place of words if we want to help women achieve success.
We don't really need to talk about why diversity is a good thing; we all know why it is such a good thing—