Lifelong Learning:

It’s Essential

 
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Increasing Women's Representation in Elected Office

Happy International Women’s Day on March 8! For me, International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the opportunities I have available to me — I can attend university, I can vote, I can buy a house, and I can do all these things wearing pants (if I want to) — and to celebrate the women that helped make these things possible.

But it’s also a day to ask questions. Questions such as: Why do women, who make up nearly half of the population of the NWT, make up only 18% of our territorial Legislative Assembly? Why doesn’t the Legislative Assembly of the NWT have a policy about an MLA becoming pregnant during her term? How can only two women in our legislature represent the diversity of NWT women’s voices and issues?

I had the perfect opportunity to reflect on some of these questions recently at Daughters of the Vote NWT, a three-day conference encouraging women aged 18-23 years to consider entering politics. It also celebrated the 100th anniversary since women in Canada started to get the vote. (In the NWT, women could not vote in territorial elections until 1951, making us the last jurisdiction in Canada to grant voting rights to women. Many Indigenous people in Canada were not able to vote in federal elections until after 1960.)

At the conference, I had the opportunity to speak with current territorial MLAs, Julie Green and Caroline Cochrane, and former MLAs, Jane Groenewegen and Sandy Lee. These women had interesting insider perspectives on the challenges faced by female politicians in the NWT and offered inspiration to young women looking to run for election. However, their presence also highlighted a sobering reality — sitting in the room with these four women, I was in the presence of one-third of the women who have ever been elected to the NWT Legislative Assembly. In the history of our legislature, only 12 women have ever been elected to serve as members.

Why is this?

Although women in Canada have the right to vote at all levels of government — municipal, territorial/provincial and federal — we still face many barriers to running and being elected to political office.

One of these barriers is political literacy. In our lives, we use many different kinds of literacies, and we may be fluent in some and not so fluent in others. For example, when it comes to canoeing, I am very literate, but when it comes to computer programming I’m not very literate at all! Likewise, running for political office, at any level, requires its own specific set of literacies. You must understand the responsibilities of the different levels of government. You must know how to interpret the legal language of bills and acts. You must be able to account for your campaign finances. And the list goes on…

So, if you are interested in running for political office, at any level, here are some resources to help boost your political literacy:

Happy International Women’s Day and happy campaigning!

— Emily Smith

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NWT Literacy Council © 2016