Civic Empowerment of Women in Canada

In order to look at the issue of a women’s political party, a brief review of historical facts are needed to put this issue into context.

Civic empowerment of women in Canada

In 1917, The Military Voters Act established that "women who are British subjects and have close relatives in the armed forces can vote on behalf of their male relatives, in federal elections." Early in 1919, through the Act to confer the Electoral Franchise Upon Women, the right to vote was extended to all women in Canada. Except for Quebec (who did not do so until 1940), the remaining Canadian provinces quickly followed suit.

In 1928, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not “persons” and could not be appointed to the Senate. This was overruled in 1929.

In 1977, despite the Canadian Human Rights Act giving equal rights to all humans, women’s basic salaries were still 30% lower than men for similar jobs. In 2004, the average base salary rate for women was at 71% of their male counterparts. In 2005 it was at 70.5%, with 64% for non-white women and 46% for Aboriginal women. This has not changed much over the past five years.

The February 22, 2010 document ‘Reality Check: Women in Canada and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Fifteen Years On’ provides us with shocking information. On page 31 we read that, “Between 2006 and 2008, the word “equality” was removed from the mandate of Status of Women Canada (SWC), 43% of the budget was cut, 12 out of 16 regional offices were closed and approximately 50% of its staff were laid off, despite a national outcry from women’s organizations, unions, opposition MPs, academics and other community members and leaders.

In 2008, the word “equality” was officially returned to the SWC’s mandate but without any corresponding substantive commitment to achieving women’s equality through this institutional mechanism”. During Women’s International Day 2011 celebrations, many Canadian voices have held up the inconsistencies surrounding women’s issues, programs and agendas[1].

For example, an entire section concerning women has been eliminated in the new 2011 census. Why? Furthermore, no one can deny the current systematic erosion of women’s rights, mainly through the defunding of women and children’s programs, such as day care, child care, and all the areas where the majority of women (67%) are employed: teaching, nursing, related health occupations, administration, clerical, sales and service occupations.

The re-emerging ‘F’ word

The feminist movement in North America is generally categorized by analysts as happening in three waves: the first wave was in 1919, with the legal aspect around the right to vote. The second wave was during the 1960’s and 1970’s, when, apart from addressing such issues as inequalities, official legal inequalities, sexuality, family, the workplace, and, perhaps most controversially, reproductive rights, one of its major achievement was to create ‘positive’ images of women in order to act as a “counterweight to the dominant images circulating in popular culture and to raise women’s consciousness of their oppressions."[2]

This wave is often perceived as a middle-class white women’s perception of their own status in a white male dominated environment. The third wave in the 1990’s concentrated on gender, race and social class. It was an attempt to include other voices and widen the definitions of what feminism and the feminine are.[3] Third-wave feminism also dealt with issues that seem to limit or oppress women, as well as other marginalized identities, related to the portrayal of women as sexualized objects.

We are now in the midst of a fourth wave. This fourth wave, while looking back and acknowledging the progress of the past 40 years, looks critically at what remains to be done. It asks the question: to what extent have we as women achieved the goals of inclusion and synergy that will build a sustainable community where men and women see themselves as partners in bringing to maturity the next generation? Ultimately, at this point of our history, it is not about competing over different perceptions of what is or what is not feminism, but about replacing the dominant top-down culture of war and aggression.

The creation of the concept of feminism is an on-going process, fluid and unstructured. It is about changes of perception which, because we are dealing with 50+% of the world’s population, is nothing less than a transformation of paradigm. To think that only women need to reinvent themselves and that this will somehow restore fairness and balance is naïve. It is repeating the old idea that women are only women in reference to men. What we see as the fourth wave is an invitation by history itself for society as a whole to step into a new perception of ‘community’ and to focus on what women are in community as opposed to what women are not.

We need a revolution and we need it now!

The old paradigm that has us stagnating in a never-ending cycle of reactionary discourse on identity is based on militaristic and hierarchical values. Women in general, who are essentially nurturers and care givers, are not able to operate comfortably in this environment. People often say that women are not in politics because they do not wish to do politics, or that they are not tough enough to play by the (dirty) rules. The question to explore is not whether we are to accept this as fact, but rather to ask ourselves why this is so. Men, too, are victims of this model, fighting to get on top or branded as ‘losers’ and ‘wimps’ if they do not depict the aggressive dominating behavior patterns that characterize this model. Those men who find themselves at the bottom of the pyramidal ladder are lied to and pressured to use up all their energies to scale to the top, at tremendous costs to their health, well-being and relationships.

Men and women are invited to move out of this crippling model and embrace the community model - a space or mindset that liberates and draws us to become collaborators instead of competitors. In this respect, feminism in its fourth wave works together with men, exploring ways of being that are not based on the military model of aggression and conquest – the very model that is rapidly destroying our planet. It therefore concerns not simply the liberation of women as subjects, but the liberation of the feminine aspects of the human condition for the betterment of all humankind, and particularly in the interest of future generations, who are poised to suffer the most if the current paradigm remains unchanged.

Our government under the Harper regime is moving rapidly towards aggressive post-cold war militarization, where the weapons industry has staked a large claim of our national budget at the expense of our social services and environment. This can only be interpreted as an act of madness and desperation. Totally out of touch with reality, our governments are unable to read the signs of the times.

Contributing to this blindness are the strong lobbies of religious fundamentalists (the three monotheistic representatives: Christian, Jewish and Muslim) who feed into the myth of a suicidal race towards an apocalypse that only the chosen few will escape. It is not surprising that globalization is set up to re-create the prototype of empire, which, as anyone with sense knows, is just a change of the emperor’s invisible clothes.

In other words no change at all! In this ‘new’ global playground of transnational corporations, international banks and oligarchic families who have attributed to themselves the authority to shift enormous amounts of public resources and money to become the world’s power brokers, both of which carry on the male model of dominance, status and hierarchy.

Beyond the military might, war and weapons, which have always been the domain of men, the emancipation of women (most increasingly in societies that have a strong middle class, where women are more educated and thus less inclined to be dominated by traditional and patriarchal marriage and childbearing functions) is also challenging the role of men and their dominance in mating, sexual competitiveness and contracting. This shift has the potential to unite men and women in creating a new identity. Unless both women and men move together to define community, one or the other gender will be left out or disadvantaged. The survival of our species - of the entire planet - depends on us re-creating sustainable and inclusive synergic communities.

So what stops us from making those decisions or taking those actions that will take us out of the old paradigm into the new one?


John Stuart Mill, a reformist who argued forcefully in his essay The Subjection of Women for women to possess full and equal rights, wrote, “It is the Members’ [of Parliament] inability to identify with underrepresented individuals that degrades Parliament’s ability to empathize and thusly create public policies which are reflective of society. This concept of professional distance can also be applied to the issue of women in Parliament. In an assembly where so few women are represented, there is the possibility that Parliament will not be able to empathize effectively and make decisions with their best interests in mind”. With four times the number of men than women in Canadian politics, it is not surprising that the archaic model continues to dominate.

Acting together beyond partisanship: the sensible revolution

The Women’s Alliance Party sees three major actions that men and women of consciousness can effectively participate in and implement. These form the core philosophy of the name ‘women’s alliance party’.

Women

Creating a Gender Watershed in Canada, comparable to the ones in the United Kingdom and Mexico which have both experienced gender watersheds as a result of electoral changes.

“Canadian women are unfairly disadvantaged at the candidate selection level. Whether it is by virtue of a biased media, unrealistic leadership expectations or conservative riding association members unwilling to risk a woman candidate, Canadian women are facing undemocratic barriers at the candidate selection level.”[4]

Alliance

Creating alliances: enlisting political parties and joining interest groups in a collaborative effort to build awareness on what is good governance and democratic space.

“Small groups may not be fostering community as many of their proponents would like to. Some small groups mainly provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. The social contract binding members together asserts only the weakest obligation: Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everyone’s opinion. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied…”[5]

Party

Work towards electoral reform so that all marginalized groups are represented in the decision-making processes:

“For women to show support for a government or system, there is an argument that they must be represented effectively and equitably,” as quoted by Mill.[6]

To do this, it is essential that we act together and collectively acknowledge that the top-down model is not working. It perpetuates partisanship, with all its ‘dirty politics’, backbiting, slandering and name-calling that debases all Canadians and gives a bad name to government. It fabricates entertainment that stupefies, especially our youth, through a manipulating and manipulated media. It maintains a stagnant status quo that fabricates an illusion of democracy. It destroys community and neighborhoods. It sustains itself through an ever growing mass of powerless people whose sole purpose is to be consumers that feed the top echelons with their taxes, toil and fears.

Transformation of the way we do politics is not only necessary, it is vitally urgent. Let’s do it!


[1] http://www.straightgoods.ca/2011/ViewArticle.cfm?Ref=213
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-wave_feminism
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third-wave_feminism
[4] http://www2.parl.gc.ca/sites/lop/infoparl/english/issue.asp?param=198&art=1384 Canadian Parliamentary Review, Vol. 33 no 2, 2010
[5] Sharing the journey: support groups and America’s new quest for community Robert Wuthnow, 1994
[6] Awaiting the Watershed: Women in Canada's Parliament, by Matthew Godwin
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