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Many obstacles still hinder the participation of women in politics


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Despite the progress made in terms of gender equality, we are still a long way off when it comes to the proportion of women in Canadian political life. With only the third of the seats in the House of Commons held by womenParliament still has a long way to go to reflect the diversity of the people it represents.

This article is part of a series of live interviews with the country’s top social sciences and humanities scholars. Click here to sign up for In Conversation With Semra SeviMarch 15 at 1 p.m. (Eastern Time). This is a virtual event co-hosted by The Conversation Canada/La Conversation Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Several factors contribute to the persistent disparities between men and women in politics. Research on the subject has identified many obstacles that hinder women’s participation, three of which stand out as the most determining.

Three obstacles to the entry of women into politics

The first concerns the presence of gender bias within the population. Thus, for various reasons, voters might prefer to vote for a male candidate rather than a female candidate.

The second is a lack of female interest to stand as candidates. They are more reluctant to take risks when it comes to campaigns and elections, or they may have less confidence and political ambition than men.

The third is that even when women want to get into politics, parties tend to choose men rather than women. This can be explained by the fact that it is estimated that the chances of victory for men are higher. In other words, if parties have the tools to diversify candidate lists and address electoral under-representation, in effect they can prevent it.

Only 30% of the seats in the Canadian House of Commons are held by women.

Verify theories with data

I spent several years collecting data and conducting experiments to analyze the theories that explain the underrepresentation of women in politics.

I made up a longitudinal dataset which has been tracking all candidates in Canadian federal elections since 1867. It is the first comprehensive and publicly available data on the electoral results of candidates in Canada.

These data include all those who ran in federal elections and include socio-demographic information such as gender, age, whether or not they were incumbents, occupation, Aboriginal origins, the LGBTQ2+ community, etc. I also compiled similar information for the Ontario provincial elections.

I used this data to determine if women got fewer votes than men at the federal level And at the provincial level in Ontario.

I see that if women got fewer votes before, this is no longer the case today. Women who show up are as likely to win as their male counterparts.

However, if we assume that voters are biased against women, we should expect this to remain the case after the election. That’s why I tried to find out if the advantage of incumbents was sex-linked. Again, I found no evidence to suggest that voters are biased against women who have already been elected.

Many obstacles still hinder the participation of women in politics.0&q=45&auto=format&w=754&fit=clip
Canada’s only female Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, speaks at the Daughters of the Vote event organized by Equal Voice Canada at the House of Commons in Ottawa in 2017. Ms. Campbell served as prime minister for about four months in 1993.
The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick

More recently, I re-examined with my thesis supervisor, André Blais, the second explanation, namely that women are more reluctant to take risks during campaigns and elections. We designed an online lab experiment at the height of the pandemic. This was an interactive experience with three elections: 1) a draw election without a campaign; 2) an election with votes, but without a campaign; and 3) an election with votes and campaigning.

We find that women are as likely as men to run for all three types of elections. Thus, women do not seem less willing to stand for election with campaigning.

Party Recruitment

In summary, my research appears to show that the under-representation of women in politics is not due to a lack of qualified female candidates or voter bias against women candidates. By elimination, my future work will examine whether the gender gap persists because parties tend to favor male candidates over female candidates.

The memoirs of politicians seem to bear witness to this state of affairs.

We know, anecdotally, that women are less likely to be encouraged to run for office than men. Memoirs written by politicians in Canada reveal a consistent pattern. They show that male politicians, in addition to being convinced that they were born to lead one day and wishing to realize their dream, are more likely to be recruited by multiple sources to run for office.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to report having entered politics because of a specific political concern and, in cases where they have been recruited, it is through fewer sources and on fewer occasions.

Unlocking the bottleneck that keeps women out of politics requires a closer look at the party recruitment process. By identifying the barriers women face, we can pave the way for a more inclusive Parliament.

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