Sunday, December 04, 2005

Why Women Don't Run

Every election, women journalists write articles complaining about the lack of women candidates, as though there were some vast misogynist conspiracy to keep too many women from getting elected, and as though democratic legitimacy demanded that both sexes be represented in equal numbers.

Linda Diebel's article in the Toronto Star is unusual in this regard, because it actually talks to high-profile women who've been asked to run and realize that politics just isn't for them:

Sherry Cooper, 55, chief economist for BMO Nesbitt Burns, was wooed by federal Liberals. Among her reasons for declining was the need to spend time with her husband and child, her passion for work and the spectre of earning less money than in the high-flying financial sector. Moreover, she talked about the tawdriness of it all. "What's happening in Ottawa is very unpleasant ... It's very dirty campaigning," she says.


Many women find party discipline problematic. The parliamentary system requires MPs to vote along party lines, unless released by the whip. One would think that high-profile candidates would be courted for cabinet posts — as most men are — but, still, several women raised the issue.


Lorna Marsden, 63, Liberal policy chair under Pierre Trudeau, a former senator and president of York University, made it clear to the Liberal party from the beginning that she wouldn't "make the huge sacrifice" of leaving her family.

"You give up your privacy, you give up your family, and for some people that's fine, but if you look at the rate of failed marriages among politicians, it's not for me," she says. "I admire people who do it."


Internationally, Canada has slipped from 43rd in terms of women in politics to 44th after new rules in Afghanistan resulted in greater representation by women.

It's tough to look at all the male faces, says Speirs. Prime Minister Paul Martin with the premiers — all men. With the mayors of the biggest Canadian cities — all men. Women were supposed to go so far but, instead, a generation of women got burned, says June Callwood. "For the most part, they felt used."

Women clearly do not lack the opportunity to seek office; it's just not in their nature for many of them to do so. If both sexes aren't equally represented in a particular profession, that doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem. Men and women have different priorities and interests; it doesn't take a political scientist, or a journalist, to figure it out.

Many men don't think they can afford the sacrifices of a career in elected office. It's no surprise that more women think the same way.

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