Today is an important day for every woman in Canada- young and old alike. Eighty-one years ago today (October 18, 1929) the British Privy Council declared “And to those who would ask why the word “persons” should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?” Prior to this ruling, though women had been given the vote in 1917, they were still not permitted to sit in the Canadian Senate. Four months after the British Privy Council’s ruling William Lyon Mackenzie King’s government recommended Cairine Wilson of Ontario for appointment as Canada’s first female senator.
We owe much to the tireless efforts of those known as the Famous Five (Irene Marryat Parlby, Nellie Mooney McClung, Louise Crummy McKinney, Henrietta Muir Edwards, and Emily Murphy – whom my daughter is named after) who fought to ensure that women are represented in Canada’s upper house of parliament. Today 37 (35%) of the house’s 105 senators are women.
Though 35% is a far cry from non-representation, it continues to be an even farther cry from equal representation. How is it that 81 years after women were permitted to sit as senators that we are still not equally welcomed or appointed? How is it that 93 years after women were given the vote that of 308 members of parliament only 69 (22%) are female- a record all time high set in the last 2008 election ? There are many factors that impact these results. One of them continues to be that women believe they are less qualified to hold office than their male counterparts. Another without a doubt is voter apathy. According to the Globe & Mail only 59 percent of voters cast ballots in the last federal election, 53% in the last Ontario provincial election and a paltry 38% in Winnipeg’s 2008 municipal election.
Awareness of a situation is all good and well, but it does nothing to alter the circumstances. It takes action to create change. The action is voting, and ensuring our daughters, mothers and girlfriends do the same. Additionally if Canadian women truly wish to have equal opportunities we must also be willing to support those women who step up and are willing to represent us at all levels of government. Waterloo Region’s campaign school for women (hosted by Kitchener’s Zonta International Club and the YWCA) is just the type of initiative in need of widespread adoption. A place where woman can learn from experienced politicians and media personal that they are indeed qualified for office and that they will be supported for their efforts. Run one in your community and of course, remember to vote.