Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Iqaluit September 07, 2012 - 7:32 am

Iqaluit workshop aims to bring more women into politics

"There’s an all boys club no matter what level of government you’re looking at”

DAVID MURPHY
Fewer than a third of Nunavut's mayors are women, like Iqaluit's outgoing mayor Madeleine Redfern, who stopped by a Sept. 6 workshop on encouraging more women to enter politics. (FILE PHOTO)
Fewer than a third of Nunavut's mayors are women, like Iqaluit's outgoing mayor Madeleine Redfern, who stopped by a Sept. 6 workshop on encouraging more women to enter politics. (FILE PHOTO)

Don’t be surprised if you see a few extra women on the ballot in Iqaluit’s upcoming Oct. 15 municipal election.

That’s because on Sept. 6, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities dropped by the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum for a workshop to inspire women to overcome obstacles and run for office.

Ten women showed up to the almost four-hour workshop, put on by Jennifer Mowbray of the FCM.

She’s been around politics for a while, being heavily involved in the Liberal Party of Canada when Stéphane Dion led the party. Now she’s managing the “Women in Local Government” project.

The workshop was designed to teach women the basics of surviving in politics, from how to handle slander and libel and what you need to do to be eligible to run, to the more complex issues such as ethical dilemmas and campaigning.

The project’s goal: getting women to make up 30 per cent of municipal councils by 2026. But right now, the numbers aren’t so good.

Based on current FCM statistics, only four jurisdictions — British Columbia and all three territories including Nunavut — have reached that goal.

The number of female councillors in Nunavut is 36 per cent, but the number of female mayors falls short of the one-third goal at 24 per cent.

And only one woman is currently serving as an Iqaluit city councillor — Mary Ekho Wilman. This needs to change according to Wendy Ireland, head of the executive director of the Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtit Society.

Ireland attended because she’s interested in knowing more about politics, and to relay some information to a member of the disabilities society who is thinking of running for council.

Despite Nunavut’s apparent success by the numbers, she feels the city and territory could be doing better.

“I think it’s great that we have the female leaders that we do, but it would be nice to see more women on council,” Ireland said. “Sometimes it’s disappointing how few women are in politics.”

“I find that there’s an all boys club no matter what level of government you’re looking at, and it’s really heartening to see these kinds of events,” she added. 

Iqaluit Mayor Madeleine Redfern, one of Nunavut’s female mayors, stopped by to answer questions and provide information on what it’s like to run for mayor.

She thinks there are still many who believe politics is a “male dominated arena” and that “women don’t belong in politics.” Redfern wants to break that mold, however.

“My goal was to be a role model. I followed Elisapee Sheutiapik, my predecessor,” Redfern said. “Ideally [women] make up 50 per cent of the population. So I hope in my lifetime that we see a greater proportional representation.”

It wasn’t an easy road to the mayor’s chair, however. Redfern said she’s been subjected to harassment, and even physical threats in positions of power before she was elected due to her gender. 

And starting a career in politics is tougher in Nunavut than in the rest of Canada, in terms of balancing work and a family.

“We have a greater proportion of children. The average Canadian household houses two children, but in Iqaluit it’s common to have five to six in a house, plus two or three generations in there too,” she said. 

Redfern, who said she is excited about the possibility of younger women coming into politics, visited Inukshuk High School Sept. 6 with Mowbray to talk politics with the students. 

“We want to break down the unknowns and the fear of prejudice and stereotypes early on so young women can [see that] the more information they have, the less scary it is,” Redfern said.

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