Women Legislators and Women's Issues in British Columbia

By Lore, Grace | Canadian Parliamentary Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Women Legislators and Women's Issues in British Columbia


Lore, Grace, Canadian Parliamentary Review


Women in Canada, like women world wide, have been historically and consistently underrepresented in the world of politics. Struggles for fair and equitable representation, as well as the academic exploration of the issue are relatively new. Although grand strides have been made since the expansion of the franchise to (white) women m 1920, women in Canada remain among the least represented in the world. Although 68 women were elected in the 2008 federal election they still constitute only about 20% of the members of the new parliament. The current British Columbia Legislature is comprised of 46 British Columbia Liberal members, and 33 members of the New Democratic Party, with 17 women comprising approximately 21% of both caucuses. This article looks at the participation of women in the British Columbia Legislative Assembly.

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The levels of representation in provincial Legislatures are similarly insufficient, and British Columbia is no different--women make up just 21% of Members of the Legislature. While their under-representation is irrefutable, the extent to which this poses problems for women, the democratic process, and the resulting government policy is heavily debated. One way to investigate this issue is to explore whether there exists a connection between numeric representation and substantive representation. In other words--do low levels of women in the provincial Legislature translate into low levels of representation for the women of British Columbia?

The approach this paper will take is to examine whether women vocally and actively bring attention to women's issues. If women raise these issues more frequently than their male counterparts, one may conclude that fewer women in the Legislature result in these issues being raised fewer times and receiving less attention. Statements by Members (Standing Order 25B) from the beginning of the 38th Legislature (after the May 2005 election) until the adjournment of the fourth session, May 29th, 2008 will be used in this study. A comparison will be made between the proportion of the statements made by women that address women's issues and the proportion of statements made by male MLAs that address these issues.

Statements are a useful (although imperfect) tool for examining this issue because they give private members an opportunity to speak on behalf of those they represent in the house and are expected to be non-partisan in nature. What exactly a 'women's issue' is, and even whether such a thing exists is heavily contentious. Providing a strict definition can quickly erode the important differences that exist between women and their diverse needs, interests, and experiences. This paper will attempt to use the least controversial measures of 'women's issues' possible. Issues concerning the occurrence or prevention of violence against women, the prevalence of eating disorders in young women, breast and ovarian cancer, funding for women's centres, pay equity, polygamy as it effects women, and the acknowledgment or recognition of either a women's day or women in the community who have furthered women's issues, will all be counted. These issues are mostly non-contentious -few women would argue that domestic violence or inequity of pay should not be resolved, or that women's cancers do not constitute a problem for their gender.

Throughout this study, a non-partisan, non-political approach will be used. Neither the names of the parties nor the names of MLAs will be used while references statements or results. The under-representation of women in British Columbia is a non-partisan issue (with women making up equally low numbers of women in both caucuses), and it would be a mistake to make it one.

Between the first session after the election in 2005 and the adjournment of the most recent session, women made more statements on women's issues than their male colleagues, both in the actual number of statements given and in the percent of their total statements that addressed women's issues.

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