More women needed in political life here: it’s time to take the plunge

‘You, lady, have an opinion, you have a voice. Now you can make a difference by getting involved.’

Myrna Driedger, MLA Winnipeg Manitoba Progressive Conservative (PC) caucus
Myrna Driedger
Broadway Journal

The following inventions have a common denominator. Read through them and guess what that common denominator might be.

Car heater (in 1893)
Beer (no date)
The fire escape (1887)
Residential solar heating (1947)
Game of Monopoly (1904)
Modern electric refrigerator (1914)
The computer algorithm (1842)
The ice cream maker (1843)
The dishwasher (1887)
Closed circuit television security (1969)
Modern paper bag (1871)
Central heating (1919)
Kevlar (1965)
Computer software (1940s)

If you guessed that women were the inventors you guessed right. All the above inventions have had a profound effect on our lives. These smart, capable women saw a need and did something about it. One hundred years ago Nellie McClung and her peers saw a need, and they went about doing something about it. They worked together as a team and with a lot of determination, work and perseverance fought for the right to vote. It is true that not all women were given this right back in 1916, but where would any of us be if this group of five women had not had the courage to start and get this movement going?

Fast forward one hundred years, and more women are graduating from university, more women are in politics and more women are financially secure on their own, and yet there is still a reluctance to enter politics. Although women have made great strides in the political field there is still a great need for more women to come on the scene.

When I have asked other women about entering politics many of them do not feel qualified. Typically, men have been more the risk takers, maybe also not qualified, but willing to step up. Women tend to be harder on themselves and there is this idea that women must be perfect. Nobody is perfect. Nobody, when starting a new job, is perfect. Everyone learns from experiences, some good and some not so good, but at the end of the day those learning experiences make one stronger and you recover and move on.

I have heard many women say, “I don’t know anything about politics, I am not political.” If you have a discussion around the table with your friends and you are discussing childcare, elder care, education in schools, medical procedures, crime, whether you know it or not you are discussing politics. You have an opinion, you have a voice and now you can make a difference by getting involved.

There is a great need for the voices of women to be heard. We need to be in a position of influence to help develop good policies that help improve the quality of life for all, but especially for women. It is not that men don’t want a better quality of life for women, but they may just not think or be as knowledgeable about how to achieve that. We bring those skills to the table when we take a seat at the table.

Women are as capable as men, and if willing to take the opportunity can make a positive difference to both their communities and to themselves. With more women in leadership roles, their roles become more visible and that in itself can encourage other women to join in. The thinking then is that “if she can do it I can do it”. Women have to encourage each other and become mentors to assist other women seeking a role in politics, and take some responsibility for the success of the mentee.

With this in mind it is very timely for Manitoba that a local chapter of “Equal Voice” has just started. Equal Voice is a national, multi-partisan organization working to promote women in politics. Thanks to the hard work of three long-time, experienced Manitoba politicians: Anita Neville, Dorothy Dobbie and Judy Wasylycia-Leis, there will be a new re-energized focus to encourage women to think about a career in politics.

The local chapter was launched on Nov. 22, and over 100 people attended the session at the Convention Centre. The founding members gave speeches on the importance of women in politics and guests were treated to a play by Sarasvati actor, Jane Burpee. The women attending were all ages. There was a great energy in the room.

I started a political career after being a nurse for many years. I would like to see young women thinking of a political career while they are still in school or university. There are also many ways of being involved in politics without being a politician. One can volunteer for an election, working behind the scenes to learn the ropes before stepping into the political arena.

If you have a curiosity about politics or are thinking you would like to be involved, why not become a member of Equal Voice Manitoba? The $50 annual cost grants members access to any upcoming Equal Voice events. Among the proposed events will be workshops geared towards women who would like to learn about becoming political candidates as well as workshops for women who are aiming to get involved behind the scenes. There will be notable speakers for wine and cheese nights. Events will take place monthly beginning in January. Check out the website Equalvoice.ca for more information.

In closing, and I know I am dating myself, but I can’t get that seventies song sung by Helen Reddy out of my head. The words are as relevant today as they were back then: “I am woman hear me roar in numbers too big to ignore…I am strong, I am invincible I am woman.” Besides if Nellie McClung could do it and I could do it, you can do it. Not because it is 2017 but because women are capable. Think about the possibilities… .

Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood and Speaker of the legislative assembly.

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