Women in Local Government: Getting to 30%

Following Ontario’s Fall 2010 municipal elections, both the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario did follow-up reporting on the results. The numbers for women participating in the process weren’t exactly glowing:

Among the 173 municipalities that answered a question about the gender of candidates in AMCTO’s post-election survey, 5½ times as many men as women ran for head of council positions; and 3½ times as many men as women ran for councillor positions.

Still, AMO reports that the total number of female candidates increased from 1292 to 1484 in this election. And, the number of women elected has grown slightly, too – from 23.85% in 2006 to 24.25% in 2010. Women now hold 24.25% (700 seats) of the province’s 2886 total positions on council, up from 23.85% in 2006. (In some communities, of course, the representation of women is significantly greater: more than 50% in The North Shore, Opasatika, City of Waterloo, and Mississauga.) In the role of head of council, however, women take the lead in only 69 municipalities, compared to 167 in 2006. In Ontario, there are currently 50 municipalities that have no women on council.

During the Standing Committee Forum on Increasing Women’s Participation in Municipal Government at the recent conference of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities held in Halifax this month, many women expressed frustration at what they say sometimes feels like a “backward slide” on the issue. Today, although women make up over 52 per cent of the Canadian population, FCM reports that only 23 per cent of our elected municipal representatives are female. On the international stage, Canada ranks 46th out of 189 countries for the number of women in politics. Dismal.

But, despite numbers that, on the whole, still seem weak, progress is being made. And, with funding from Status of Women Canada, FCM is about to launch a series of workshops across Canada aimed at helping women overcome the barriers that prevent them when running for municipal office in greater numbers. The goal is to hold workshops across the country before municipal elections in each province. The first workshops is set to run in British Columbia: June 11 to 12, 2011 in Prince George; June 18 to 19 in Whistler; and June 25 to 26 in Esquimalt. Information on future workshops – and a contact to help arrange one if your community is interested – is available on the FCM website at http://www.fcm.ca/english/View.asp?x=1620

Toronto Councillor Pam McConnell, chair of the FCM committee, notes that “FCM´s program will make a meaningful contribution to help us reach the United Nations target of having a minimum of 30 per cent female participation in government.” Canada will need 1,710 more women elected to municipal office – an increase of more than 100 women every year for the next 17 years – to reach the 30 per cent target. (McConnell’s committee has been working towards that objective since 2005-2006, when FCM held a series of workshops and events across the country to explore ways of improving women’s participation in municipal government. At that time, she says, the number we needed was 2,000. So, there’s progress.)

Pam McConnell (a six-term city councillor herself, with 12 years as school trustee before that) spent some time with me following the forum at the FCM conference, to talk about the “Getting to 30 percent” program, the barriers for women, what we all can do to help tear them down.

Watch the video on YouTube:

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