For Dr. Linda Trimble, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, her passion for gender equality began in elementary school when she did better on a math test than a boy and he said he would never marry a girl that was good at arithmetic. Since then, the subject matter has shifted from mathematics to political science, but the passion remains.
In the time since Dr. Trimble began her journey conducting research surrounding women in politics, she has seen some big changes in terms of women representation. She notes that “women representation started to take off in the mid to late 1980s and really increased in the 1990s.” However, in her coauthored book Still Counting, published in 2003, Dr. Trimble predicted that the glass ceiling for women in political office would be 25% for the foreseeable future. That prediction has held up.
Although a lot of progress has been made, there seems to still be resistance, or potentially some factors, that either prevent parties from nominating significant numbers of women or that deter women from stepping up as candidates.
Of particular interest regarding women who do step up as candidates is the issue of clumping. Although she’s unsure why it occurs, Dr. Trimble finds it interesting, and a bit troublesome, that even though there are far fewer women candidates than men, the women candidates tend to run in the same ridings as one another. Clumping is an unfortunate issue as only one candidate can ultimately win the riding, further limiting the number of women in political office.
According to Dr. Trimble, studies show that when women are in power they serve as very powerful role models. There is also evidence that when women are in public positions they do change attitudes in society about who can be a political actor. The presence of women in positions of authority challenges the idea that men take charge while women take care, disrupting the public-private gender binary.
There is a lot being done to encourage women to run for office and support them in that, but it is time for parties to do more. In Dr. Trimble’s opinion, “it is time for parties to effect some form of internal gender quotas, because they have to have targets or else we are not going to see any substantial increases.”
Regardless of gender quotas, women don’t just need to be asked, they need to be supported. They need to be told, “this is what the party is going to do for you, I know you have no experience but you’d be great, let’s talk about how to do this.”
Equality in representation is a matter of democratic fairness, and the quality of representation will increase with the diversity of legislatures. People need to be represented by people who look like them and have similar experiences, issues, and concerns. While men can represent women, women should be representing themselves in political office.
Amanda McIvor is a second-year scholar with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College and has been working with ParityYEG for her summer stretch experience.