women in poli

On Saturday, January 25, the Peterborough/Haliburton YWCA, along with the Trent University Politics Society (TUPS) and the Trent Feminist Society, will be hosting “Women In Politics: A Roadmap” at the Peterborough Lions Centre (347 Burnham St.).

The event will feature a panel of people who have run for office, a panel of students, and a presentation by a student on the female representation in various jurisdictions.

The workshop is the first of its kind by the YWCA, and will be both “inspirational and practical,” explained Executive Director of the YWCA Peterborough/Haliburton Lynn Zimmer.

With a number of important positions open in the upcoming municipal election, Zimmer hopes to see more people getting involved in the political process and more support for female campaigners as a result of the event.

“I don’t think that any individual woman is better than any individual man,” Zimmer explained. However, she stated that it’s a “no-brainer” that there needs to be proper “representation of the population,” which is 52 percent women. “I think [this event is] needed because women do perceive that there are a lot of barriers.” In Peterborough, only 1 in 11 positions is held by a woman.

That said, Zimmer remarked that “the greatest breakthroughs in our region have been in the townships.”

She cites a number of issues with the political atmosphere contributing to this problem. “Family responsibilities weigh heavily. [Women] don’t want to spend their time in that [negative] atmosphere … They don’t like who they have to become if they enter the political sphere. There are perceptions we all carry about what a leader looks like and sounds like, and we don’t always realize that these are formed on male models.”

For instance, Zimmer commented on how, while a male candidate can be called “commanding”, a female candidate may be called “bitchy” for acting in the same manner. Also, with the female voice generally in a higher range, women are often referred to as “screeching”.

“Even though our belief system may have shifted, we still may be carrying [discriminatory] notions,” said Zimmer, and added, “We are very hard on the women that do break through these barriers. Somehow you want her to be perfect.”

Instead of undue criticism, we need to “acknowledge what all the barriers are and help the people with the strength and courage to get past them.”

The YWCA hopes that “Women In Politics” will “start conversations that continue. Some of the issues will end up in the newspaper, some of the issues will end up on our website. I want people to talk around the kitchen table, over coffee with friends, for families to talk with their kids,” explained Zimmer. “That’s how you normalize: talking, asking questions, thinking about things.”

The event will involve practical discussion on the logistics of door knocking and what a campaign team looks like, as well as on the recruitment of younger people and what they can do to affect change. It will also focus on encouraging people to overcome cynicism with the political process and vote.

“How can we complain that we don’t like the result if we don’t even participate?” Zimmer asked. “We can gradually eliminate the barriers that stop women in participating … It’s only once women are present in numbers can we change the assumptions of the daily life of the politician.”

This workshop is just one step for the YWCA, who hope to learn from the experience and plan to do further events in upcoming years.

“Let’s be kind and tolerant of the women who get through,” commented Zimmer. “Legislative bodies will be enriched by having women there in greater numbers.”