Helping women find their political voices

Ward 31's Janet Davis participates in program that matches young women with female councillors

With 15 female members, Toronto city council has more women in the chamber than ever before — but the number in leadership positions has actually shrunk since last term.

That’s part of the reason female politicians such as Ward 31 councillor Janet Davis are taking part in the Toronto Regional Champion Campaign, which encourages young women to take the leap into politics.

“Women are underrepresented in political life, for a number of reasons, and I think it’s important for young women to understand that there could be a real role for them in politics,” Davis said.

Davis has been paired with dance choreographer Alexia McLean and Joanne Cave, a University of Toronto sociology and gender studies student.

McLean, who lives in Ward 44, has dreams of becoming Canada’s future prime minister. She said she was attracted to politics to help others.

“Hopefully I can actually make a difference,” she said. “I want to inspire others to do the same as well, to make our city and country the best it can be.”

McLean, a mother of two, said raising her children exposed her to some of the difficulties many Canadian families face everyday.

“I’m looking at my children living in a great country and having really good equal opportunities,” she said. “There are so many areas that need improvement … I really want to help create those possibilities especially for children, immigrants, basically the less advantaged people in society.”

Cave, who finishes her undergrad next year and currently works at a marketing consulting firm called the Mezzanine Group, said she entered the program to get a sense of what city hall is like on the ground.

“I’ve always known that my interests around social policy issues would align well with the municipal level, but since I didn’t have much exposure to city hall I didn’t really understand the processes they went through to take a citizens’ concern to the policy level,” she said. “So I was interested in seeing that on a more human level.”

The Ward 20 resident also said she wanted to see how gender plays out at city hall and what systematic barriers women face when entering politics.

“I think a lot of the time when we talk about women in politics, we talk about women building up the courage to run or addressing some of those internal barriers,” she said. “And I think that’s part of the conversation, but I think the bigger and more important conversation is how the system is set up to really make politics a less attractive career option (for women).”

She said women can provide a different perspective on certain political issues, such as accessibility for women with strollers and safety when travelling on the TTC alone at night.

Davis agrees and says many women excel at solving problems due to their experience managing a household.

“Women do approach problem solving differently,” she said. “I think at Toronto City Hall, the women are definitely the best organizers, the most effective at working with their community and listening to their constituents.”

While McLean and Cave entered the program with different objectives, both quickly formed a similar impression: the job of a councillor is no simple walk through city hall.

“I’m surprised at the amount of hours,” McLean said. “You really don’t have a personal life…. I didn’t think it was this intense.”
Despite the heavy workload, both women said they are encouraged to pursue a career in politics.

That’s good news for Davis, who says societal and cultural barriers have held women back from politics for too long.

“I think too often women are dissuaded from politics because there are structural barriers,” she said. “I think it’s really important that young women feel confident enough to say ‘Yeah, that’s something I’d like to do’.”

About this article:

By: Omar Mosleh
Posted: Jun 13 2012 6:20 pm
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto