Women's Campaign School breaks through politics' glass ceiling

When Vancouver City Councillor Adriane Carr told her mother back in 2000 that she wanted to run for the leadership of the BC Green Party, the initial response was hardly one of unwavering maternal support.

Why would you do that? her mother asked. People hate politicians.

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Voters are frustrated, Carr said, with the combative politics typical of Canada and the US where elected officials are predominantly male. But that frustration could pave the way for change.

That kind of real negative politicking, I think, is souring people and thats leading to people being more excited about women getting elected, said Carr.

Today, women fill a third of the seats in the BC Legislature a record 30 of 85 seats and a quarter of those in the federal House of Commons. (A record 76 female MPs were elected in 2011.)

Carr muses on why, despite a steadily increasing political presence, women continue to be underrepresented. They have a fear that getting involved in politics is not going to be easy, she said, its going to expose them, its going to be difficult within their private lives.

She hopes the annual Womens Campaign School, which she co-chairs, helps would-be female political candidates overcome these fears and grow confidence. Hosted by the Canadian Women Voters Congress, last fall more than 60 students attended a two-day workshop at SFU Surrey where veteran elected officials and campaign organizers shared their knowledge with women interested in running for office or working on a campaign. This years class is Nov. 29 and 30.

Raj Sihota, CWVC director, says the school has graduated more than 450 students since its inception in 1999. The goal is to demystify the political process and help women break through the proverbial glass ceiling that still exists in politics.

The idea was if you gave a format to women where they could support each other and learn from each other across partisan lines, you might be able to encourage more women to dip their toe into politics.

But getting elected is only half the battle. On the job, Carr says female politicians continue to face double standards.

Women have been scrutinized in a completely prejudicial and unfair way how they look, how their hair is done, what they wear, the demeanour of their voice. This is ridiculous that we are judging politicians on very sexist terms, and it persists.

Carr said elected females are also demeaned for their more cooperative and generous approach to politics. There are some that say, Youre too nice. Well, Im sorry, but isnt it time that we brought some niceness back into politics and worked more cooperatively?

Fellow campaign school co-chair, MLA Linda Reid, remembers knocking on doors in her first election bid in 1991, only to be told repeatedly that politics is not for a woman.

Reid, who has given birth to two children during her time in office, is hopeful the BC Legislature will reach gender parity within the next two elections.

Her advice? Find a fabulous mentor and learn the ins and outs of the job before diving in.

Women Campaigns School is Nov. 29 (evening) and Nov. 30 (all day) at SFUs Surrey campus. Fees are $200 for the full event, $100 for students or the underemployed and $20 for Friday nights opening reception. Go to WomenVoters.ca for details.

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