The Importance of Being Democratic
Gender is relevant in politics and this is recognized throughout the world. The United Nations provides a 33% guideline (critical mass) for countries electing women where the percentage of women elected will have an impact on the policies, direction and functioning of society. This is an issue of democratic representation and we are not there yet.
Women represent 51 per cent of the Canadian population. They are a huge voting force and issues that are important to women are important to the future of our country in general. Having women at the table in politics and government enhances the policy and political debates at both the Party level and in the legislature. The influence of women broadens the policy perspective of political parties and hence, the political discourse of the nation.
Today, more and more citizens support women’s representation in elected office. A 2004 study conducted by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada reveals that “strong majorities in every region support increasing the number of women in elected office in order to achieve a well-functioning political system.” And, the support crosses genders, with 90 per cent of younger men (18 to 35) indicating support for increasing the number of women in politics.
The Importance of Women Entering Government: What happens when a significant number of women are at the table?
Imagine that women, who make up 51 per cent of the population, were fully represented in the Parliament of Canada. What difference would it make if one-half of the MPs were women?
Comparative political research studies indicate that the presence of women in legislative bodies makes a significant difference not only in what gets discussed, but also in what kind of legislation is advanced. Women legislators are more likely to take a leadership role in advancing legislation dealing with children, education, gun control and health care – putting these initiatives at the top of their legislative agendas.
These “women’s issues” receive a higher priority and are more likely to be acted upon when you have a critical mass of at least 30% of women inpolicy-making bodies. The more women participate in political life – as voters, political party leaders or government officials – the more public policy reflects women’s concerns and perspectives.
Ken Dryden often cites a striking example of how women make a difference in politics. When he was Minister of Social Development facing the challenge of negotiating early learning and child care agreements with the provinces, the first three agreements were signed with Manitoba , Saskatchewan and Ontario . Those ministers’ first names were: Christine, Joanne and Marie. Would it have taken until 2005 to achieve this if there had been more women in politics? Would it have been so easy for the Conservative government to undo those agreements if there were more women in politics?
It can be argued that more women’s voices would strengthen public policy debates. Gender differences exist in perception, skills, life experiences and views about community needs. Women’s differences expand the information base upon which decisions are made and should result in higher quality decisions.