One of the major benefits of going to a national event is hearing about what’s happening in other jurisdictions. That was especially true for me today at the Equal Voice Canada event in Ottawa. Equal Voice is a multi-partisan organization that’s working to get more women into all levels of political office in Canada.
The NWT is currently in an enviable position of having the near parity (47 per cent) of men’s and women’s representation in the Legislative Assembly, but the picture is not as rosy in Parliament, for example, where 29 per cent of MPs are women.
Harriet Harman, the longest-serving woman MP in the British House of Commons reminded us why these numbers matter. She was first elected in 1982 when there were just nine women MPs; now there are 220. “I was not prepared to have a Parliament of men making decisions about women’s lives,” she said in her keynote speech today. Having women in the House is a “democratic imperative” and together they have changed the public policy agenda to include a greater variety of issues.
Harman says the next step is change within the House of Commons to bring about equality of work experience. Key opportunities enabled women to push forward on child care for MPs and proxy voting for women who are about to or have just given birth. Cue the backlash from men both inside and outside of the House who have resisted these changes until the last moment. But change happened anyway, thanks in part to strong voices like Harman’s.
Equal Voice has a list of 10 recommendations for this kind of internal change in our Canadian legislatures. The first three have to do with a safe and respectful workplace that includes a robust sexual harassment policy, a security policy (for physical security and addressing online threats and social media harassment) and legislative decorum (ending heckling). The second set of recommendations have to do with family friendly measures including pregnancy and parental leave policies, child care arrangements and infrastructure, family travel arrangements and adjustments to the parliamentary calendar (to synchronize it with the school year) and sitting hours (to provide fewer late nights). The final group of recommendations is about modernization including proxy voting and remote participation, fixed election dates, and staff support and compensation.
I am proud to say we in the NWT Legislative Assembly have made a good start on this list, with a security policy and proxy voting as two outstanding issues we haven’t addressed. We’ve done so much good work in so short a time, we are leaders in this area of making legislatures more gender-sensitive (I know this is an inclusive term but I find it clunky). People at today’s event are keen to hear how we got to this place, and I am honoured to tell our story.