Original Published on Sep 28, 2022 at 14:53
‘DISTURBING’: AMM plans to investigate why so few women are choosing to run in municipal elections
By Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Of the more than 1,400 people running for or already elected to mayor and council seats in the upcoming municipal elections, less than 300 are women, a number some say proves there is still a lot of work to do to get more women running for positions in public office in Manitoba.
“Those numbers are disturbing,” Brandon University Associate Professor of Political Science Kelly Saunders said, regarding numbers found Wednesday morning on the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) election data dashboard that shows just about 20% of those who are running for or elected to council positions in Manitoba are women.
“Women make up just about half of the population in the country, so it comes down to representation, if people don’t see themselves represented in their elected officials, then they feel disconnected and feel their issues aren’t going to be reflected in government decisions.
“From a representation point of view, it’s very disturbing.”
Municipal elections take place Oct. 26 in Manitoba, while some have already been elected to council positions through acclamation or earlier-held elections, but as of Wednesday, a total of 1,420 people were listed as either running or already elected in Manitoba, with 290 being women.
Saunders said she knows that often when women run for or hold elected positions, they deal with things that their male counterparts don’t deal with, and that keeps some from wanting to jump into public life and the public eye.
“We have a lot of evidence to show the way that women are gendered in all areas of politics,” Saunders said. “The focus becomes about their marital status, or their appearance, or the sounds of their voice, and we know from evidence that most of those attacks come from men.”
And Saunders said women in politics are increasingly being forced to deal with comments, especially on social media, that go well beyond criticism.
“You see death threats, you see threats of sexual assault, so when you add on the violent rhetoric and the death threats that we’re increasingly seeing, that just adds another level to it,” she said.
“It is abuse, and what women would say, ‘I want to sign up for that?’
“It’s beyond the pale with some of what we are seeing now, and women are paying attention it.”
Cheryl Christian is currently running for mayor as the incumbent in the RM of West St. Paul, a community just north of Winnipeg.
During her first term as mayor, Christian said she dealt with harassment and threats, including threats made over the phone directed at her and her family that led to a man being arrested, as well as an incident where she and other councillors were verbally attacked and cursed at during a public Canada Day event.
Christian called the number of women running for elected office this elections cycle “concerning.”
“We want to make sure there is gender parity and diversity on all councils,” Christian said. “We know that women are often the ones that are concerned about certain issues related to families and children, and social issues, so we need those perspectives on council.
“It is so important to have women and men at all levels of government.”
AMM executive director Denys Volkov said he knows the current number of women holding or vying for municipal leadership positions in Manitoba is low, and, at about 20%, is below what the United Nations (UN) says should be the bare minimum of women in leadership positions.
The UN currently asks “governments, political parties, trade unions, professional and other representative groups to adopt a 30% minimum proportion of women in leadership positions, with a view to achieving equal representation.”
Volkov said once the October election is over, AMM will access the number of women that decided to run and who were elected, and see what they can do to get more women interested in running for political positions at the municipal level in Manitoba.
“We will have to reassess after the election as an association,” Volkov said. “We will be looking at what we have been doing, and what we can be doing better to attract more women to run.”