A Woman’s Place is in the House (of Commons)

Monday’s by-elections achieved a significant milestone – it will be the first time in history that Canada will have 100 female Members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons.

Although this is grounds for celebration, there is still much work to do.

Old political wisdom would say that the reason women are not running for office is because they have kids, or because Ottawa is too far away. The real reason for the lack of women is due to years of systemic gender bias which has disproportionately benefited men while restraining the participation of women in electoral politics. This can be seen through a party’s willingness to select and support female candidates, and through significant financial barriers.

A key hurdle that women have faced for generations is that parties are still not putting forward enough female candidates, which leads to the lack of women being nominated. It has been proven that once nominated, women tend to win elections at similar rates to men. Clearly then, the issue is not with the electorate, but with the parties themselves.

However, once nominated, women are more likely than men to find themselves running in hard to win ridings instead of in party strongholds. This creates the unfortunate cycle of men who have been elected to continue to run again and again – which actively shrinks spaces for women. This leads to a lack of representation and off puts other women from running as they believe these spaces do not belong to them.

Finally, financial restraints are another key reason for the lack of elected women. The CBC found that women received less money from their party and riding associations to fund their campaign than men. On average, across all parties, women received $35,838 in campaign funds compared to $40,162 for men. This is coupled with the perception of socioeconomic gender gaps that women do not have as many large donors and may not be as comfortable in asking for money.

The gender imbalance in Canada has become more apparent over time, but changes are in place throughout party positions and policy. Justin Trudeau committed to maintaining a gender balanced Cabinet, implemented the use of Gender Based Analysis in federal budgets, and started the Invite Her to Run initiative to encourage women to run. This shift was also on display in the Conservative party in the most recent federal election where they fielded more women candidates than ever before.

100 women in the House of Commons is worthy of celebration but we must remember that with 238 male Members of Parliament, that it only represents 30%. We can and must do better.

Next year will mark 100 years since the first woman was elected to the House of Commons and with a potential election on the horizon, here’s hoping that records continue to be broken.


Nivitha Jeyakumar is a Consultant at Ensight Canada.