Days ago while on a visit back to her home province, Minister Freeland and her staff were verbally harassed and threatened.
Rage, fear and hopelessness are all feelings that our board have felt in response because this experience is one that reflects our own and that of many women in politics and public facing roles and especially resonates with women of colour. Women in politics continue to be underrepresented but overexposed to harassment.
In 2021, the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) published the results of their investigation into the experiences and perceptions of individuals who ran in the 2017 municipal elections in Alberta. The study demonstrated that women’s experiences differed from men. Key findings included:
Women were four times more likely than men to note the overall tone of the election as mostly negative or sometimes negative.
Women respondents were four times more likely than men to report that the nature of criticisms received was always or almost always focused on themselves as opposed to their political platform
Women were three times more likely than men to report experiencing repeated discriminatory interactions with at least one individual, group, or media outlet.
63% of women respondents reported at least one misogynistic or discriminatory attack, with 43% reporting this as a regular occurrence.
ACWS used this data to develop the Women in Politics Power and Control Wheel (2021) to represent the breadth of tactics of violence directed towards women in the political sphere (below). This is a sobering reminder of the serious physical and sexual violence faced by women who enter politics and significant efforts must be made to address these tactics.
At the federal level, the Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (2019) identified 14 recommendations to address the gender gap:
That the Government of Canada increase funding to Statistics Canada with the goal of expanding survey data collection about the participation and engagement of diverse groups of women in political activities, including, but not limited to, women’s leadership in community work and women’s participation and engagement in volunteering and donating to a political party.
That the Government of Canada develop and implement a public education campaign whose goal is to positively shift how women in electoral politics are perceived.
That the Government of Canada, at the next meeting of Canada’s Federal, Provincial and Territorial Ministers responsible for Education and for the Status of Women, encourage all jurisdictions to incorporate the topics of gender equality, gender stereotypes and women’s participation in politics into their education curricula with the goal of increasing women’s political participation and building girls and young women’s confidence.
That the Government of Canada continue to strengthen the application of Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) in all federal departments and agencies’ programs, initiatives, and strategies.
That the Government of Canada increase funding for organizations and projects that:
support the political engagement and empowerment of diverse groups of women;
provide relevant training, both in person and online, for women interested in seeking elected office;
provide women with internships and similar opportunities in political workplaces;
provide mentorship, role modeling, networking opportunities and guidance to women in order to increase their confidence and willingness to take risks and encourage them to seek elected office; or
involve men in efforts to encourage women to run for elected office.
6. That the Government of Canada encourage elected officials to engage women in their communities by providing guidance, job shadowing and networking opportunities, including through local women’s councils and youth councils
7. That the Government of Canada, in collaboration with provinces and territories, consult and collaborate with diverse groups of women to develop a strategy to encourage women from diverse backgrounds to participate in electoral politics and a strategy supporting Indigenous women in electoral politics, and report back to Parliament on the implementation and outcomes of these strategies on an annual basis
8. That the Government of Canada consider making changes to encourage gender equality and diversity in electoral politics; to ensure more transparency and consistency in nominations processes; and to require registered parties to publicly report on their efforts to recruit female candidates from diverse backgrounds after every federal general election.
9. That the Government of Canada encourage registered parties and registered electoral district associations to set goals and publicly report on their efforts to nominate more female candidates, to achieve gender parity on their boards of directors, including in positions of leadership, and to establish search committees for candidates in federal general elections and by-elections.
10. That the Government of Canada create a financial incentive for all registered parties to nominate more candidates who are women in general elections and by-elections.
11. That the Government of Canada consider making changes to allow, with candidates’ permission, the collection of intersectional data on candidates in nomination races, including data on gender identity.
12. That the Government of Canada request that the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, at the next meeting of Canada’s Federal-Provincial-Territorial Status of Women Forum, urge all jurisdictions to discuss ways to make legislatures more gender-diverse.
13. That the Government of Canada develop and fund awareness campaigns and training programs to counter the negative effects of gender-biased treatment and harassment of female politicians, both in traditional and social media.
14. That the Government of Canada support data collection on the barriers faced by minority women and women from diverse backgrounds in electoral politics, and that this data be publicly available.
ACWS also offered a series of recommendations specific to changing the culture of violence towards women candidates in Alberta (2021):
Complete a study and Power and Control Wheel for Indigenous women in Politics, to ensure appropriate representations of diverse Indigenous governments and to support Indigenous ownership, control, access and possession of collected data;
Complete a study and Power and Control Wheel for women engaged in social advocacy and other politicized spaces;
ACWS complete an Equity and Accountability Wheel for women in politics in collaboration with electoral parity and women’s organizations;
Develop and promote toolkits to support and sustain safe spaces for women in politics and work with local and provincial organizations to ensure wide distribution and application;
Develop and deliver campaign schools for political candidates of all genders focused on anti-violent rhetoric and fostering constructive discourse; and
Work with governments of all levels to advance policies that foster equality and nonviolence in the public and private spheres.
Advocate to establish a campaign monitoring mechanism with consequences in the form of fines and/or expulsion.
Thank you to Dr. Lauren Albrecht for the compilation of these resources and for the work put into the preliminary scan highlighting the challenges as well as recommendations, strategies and potential solutions for advancing gender parity for intersectional women in elected office.
Canada Focus on the Results of the Survey in Canada. Call for a General-Equal World: A Roadmap for Action (2020). Link: https://focus2030.org/IMG/pdf/global_survey_gender_equality_canada_deepdive.pdf
Elect Her: A Roadmap for Improving the Representation of Women in Canadian Politics. Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women (2019). Link: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Content/Committee/421/FEWO/Reports/RP10366034/feworp14/feworp14-e.pdf
Lift her Up: Power and Control Wheel for Women in Political Office. (2021). Link: https://acws.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/2021-10-12_LiftHerUpReport.pdf