The case for gender parity has been made for years. Despite the insistence of some that equality has been achieved and there’s no real need for affirmative action in government, women are still woefully underrepresented in the public sphere. Governments and political parties have failed to address the problem.
The World Economic Forum has stated that “women are one half of the world’s population and deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation and earning potential and political decision-making power.”
Despite institutionalized sexism and countless seen and unseen factors that come into play to prevent and dissuade women from participating fully in the democratic process, some people, naively or optimistically, feel that things will eventually just fall into place.
If that were the case, suffragettes would still be waiting for the right to vote.
Gender parity in all fields is a vital step for women to achieve true equality, for democracy to truly be representative of all, and for the world’s largest untapped resource to finally be harnessed for everyone’s gain. I’ve written about the need for gender parity before, in creative fields and in the House of Commons, where progress is slow and sometimes purely symbolic, but still headed in the right direction. It’s a subject that continues to elicit doubt and fear because its political pursuit often raises more questions than it does answers.
Parity isn’t tokenism
That’s why books like Women and Power: The Case for Parity by journalist and columnist Pascale Navarro are so important. Recently translated into English by David Homel, this 80-page essay makes the case for gender parity in government in a concise, candid, and informative way. The book is a compilation of facts, statistics, and explanations that answer the hows, whys, and what ifs. It concludes that gender parity isn’t tokenism but a new and improved way of doing things that forces adaptation in the political process before, during, and after elections.
In pursuing gender parity, Navarro reminds us, Canada is far behind the hundred or so countries that have already made it obligatory, balancing political systems from which women were long excluded.
“But women aren’t excluded from the political process in Canada!” I can already hear you saying. Here’s where we disagree because exclusion can take many forms. It’s not enough to legally allow women to run for office. It requires a concentrated effort to dismantle the system that refuses to make it worthwhile for them to run. And make no mistake about it: there can be no real democracy where the concerns and issues of all are not represented.
Navarro underlines the role of the state in bringing about gender parity and emphasizes it’s a way to bring in a new era of gender partnership. In other words, this isn’t about women taking over (as many men’s rights activists allude to), but ushering in a true partnership that would mean real change and representative democracy for all.
“That’s the true value of partnership,” Navarro writes. “It implies a political will to inclusion and taking into account women’s perspectives in all fields, not just in areas deemed to be ‘women’s issues’ (health, education, family).”
Need men to step it up
The foreword for the English translation of Navarro’s book was written by journalist Sue Montgomery, known to many for her part in the #BeenRapedNeverReported Twitter campaign. Montgomery, who ran as an NDP candidate in the 2015 federal election, readily acknowledges what Navarro talks about.
“Getting elected means giving up a lot of personal time and requires support,” she writes.
You may say that applies to men as well, but in a world where working women disproportionately continue to be in charge of household chores, child rearing, and aging parents, and way too many men continue to refer to taking care of their kids as “babysitting,” it’s important to remember those unacknowledged barriers to women entering politics.
“We need men willing to use their networks — which tend to be vaster and better connected than women’s — to help women get elected,” Montgomery continues. “This isn’t a question of men versus women, but rather men working together with women to make our democracy stronger. It’s about making our government more caring and compassionate and reflective of the population. It’s about having the courage to break a very old patriarchal mold.”
As a final observation, and one that serves to remind us of why having women in key decision-making positions is so important, the book was published by Linda Leith, the founder of Montreal’s Blue Metropolis, the world's first multilingual literary festival. In Navarro’s own words, Leith “believed this book needed to be available in English.”
A friend of mine who is a professor at Acadia’s Dalhousie University caught wind that I was reading Women and Power (I posted a pic on Instagram over the weekend) and immediately asked me why I hadn’t recommended it for her curriculum. Well, here I am recommending it to Canadians — of all genders.