Balance for Better –Nevertheless we persisted, again

Balance for better is the theme for International Women’s Day 2019.The latest research by the World Economic Forum indicates that it’s going to take more than 200 years to achieve gender parity at work.It almost seems insurmountable, 200 years is an excuse to make it never, and for women around the world, that is a problem.

Here in Canada many of us have spent the past few weeks watching some pretty unbelievable events unfold in Ottawa. 2 powerful women have left Trudeau’s Cabinet (Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott), and another outspoken Liberal MP has chosen to not seek re-election (Celina Caesar-Chavannes). I can’t help but think about the phrase balance for better, look at the way these women have been treated both by men within their party, and in the media, and lament at how much work needs to be done. Regardless of whatever the motivating circumstances were, where the real truth in this mess actually lies, these women are standing up for what they believe in, individually, not because of the sexist implication that the reason is that they are “friends”.

When Trudeau was elected leader, he made a promise to do politics differently, “Real Change” became the tagline of the 2015 campaign. Candidates were recruited under that banner along with “add women change politics” which became a popular hashtag.For the first time, we saw a Liberal Party slate that was truly reflective of the diversity in our Country. For many people it signaled a shift, one where diverse voices would be valued and respected, and in turn policies shaped that would make our country better. That created a wave of Canadians optimistic that their future and the future of the next generation would be better as a result. The events surrounding the departure of Jody Wilson-Raybould and the fallout have tarnished that. For many, it’s shown the same old game being played, but it’s also showing that people, mostly women, are standing up and saying enough is enough, and that is a powerful message.

Women don’t want to be props, quotas to show how “progressive” a party is; we want to be trusted to do the work

We have a long way to go to achieve balance for better. Women don’t want to be props, quotas to show how “progressive” a party is; we want to be trusted to do the work. I’ve been involved in politics for over 20 years, have held public office and have sought higher office. I will never forget the first time a man questioned why I wasn’t wearing makeup, or attending an event and wondering who in the room would touch me inappropriately (I’ve lost count of the number of times this has happened). I’ve had to stand by while women who supported me faced attacks by men of an opposing candidate. My stories, while not often talked about outside of close friends, are not unique;they are virtually universal for every woman in politics. We are taught that if we speak up we will be viewed as a “whiner” and that it signals that we aren’t ready to play this game with the boys.

I am anunapologetic idealist, I can’t change who I am and I understand the game of politics better than most. Still, here’s the change I hope to see: we need a Cabinet table that is gender-balanced, but more than that, I want every voice around that table to be free to speak their truths. We need a Cabinet committed to learning, to being good allies, to listening to the stories of others and developing policies that reflect that learning. Will it always be perfect? No, but nothing ever is, equity-seeking work is hard and constant.I was speaking with a newly elected school trustee this week at an International Woman’s Day event who feels that by standing up, these three women are making politics better for all of us. Maybe that’s the way we should all be looking at this, what have we learned, and how are we all going to work towards balance for better in the future. That will ultimately lead to safer spaces being created, which in turn, will lead to more women running for office.

Jennifer Arp is a Principal at Aurora Strategy Group and is the former Vice Chair of the Toronto District School Board.