Empowering women in politics: Making a difference on campus and the world

(WIlliam Cumming/AQ)

We all have a badass female political leader we look up to. Margaret Thatcher, Cleopatra, Catherine the Great, Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton or even Leslie Knope — you name it. Nevertheless, if Beyoncé asked in 2018 who runs the world, the answer would not be girls.

According to the United Nations Women website, only 11 women are serving as head of state and 12 are serving as head of government across the world as of Oct. 2017.

If we live in a progressive and modern society, then why are there still more men than women in major political positions across the world?

The Huffington Post published an analysis by Jennifer Lawless, a member of the Brookings Institution and director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University.

Lawless analyzed data from a 2011 study that surveyed a sample of men and women working in law, business, education and politics — the four main fields where potential political candidates come from in the United States.

She discovered although people believe familial duties are the reason women don’t run for political positions, that’s not always the case.

According to Lawless, the main reason women don’t run for political positions is because they are not as encouraged or considered to be potential candidates to run for those positions when they become available.

“Political gatekeepers tend to recruit from their own networks, and those are men who tend to operate in pretty male-dominated networks,” says Lawless.

She says there is not an actual bias against women running for political positions — it’s just their names don’t come up first because political recruiters are not surrounded by them.

According to Lawless’ study, women are perfectly capable of being successful candidates alongside their male counterparts.

The only problem is they don’t believe it themselves.

“When women run, they actually perform just as well on election day. But what we found was that women who are well-situated to run for office don’t know that and don’t think that,” Lawless says.

“So they believe they’re not qualified because they think women have to be twice as good to get half as far.”

She says those who recruit political candidates also have this same mistaken idea in mind when looking for potential candidates.

Women in student government

Haley Maclsaac is vice-president advocacy for the University of New Brunswick Student Union and the only female on the six-person team.

Maclsaac believes the fact she is the only woman in her executive team reflects the current society the world faces.

Brianna Workman, the current vice-president education of the St. Thomas University Students’ Union, was recently elected as STUSU president for the 2018-19 academic year, but she is currently the only female in her executive team.

She believes her being the only female in this year’s STUSU executive team is just a matter of different combinations.

However, she says the fact there are less women in politics overall says something about society, and it can sometimes be reflected in student governments as well.

Workman admits she has faced some hardships as a female political figure.

“I have experienced some frustrations in my position,” she says.

“There are certain individuals who talk to the rest of the executives but not talk to me, and I notice that.”

Workman says even though the micro-aggressions are very subtle she is always aware of them and it is a challenge to constantly confront them.

“Sometimes it’s a big thing and it’s really obvious and you are like, ‘That’s really not okay,’ but sometimes it’s very, very subtle, but that doesn’t make it anymore okay,” she says. “Eventually, those little things can pile up and become a big thing.”

She believes one of the biggest struggles is to figure out when to address those types of situations.

“There are things that male candidates don’t have to deal with that female candidates do,” she says.

“There certainly needs to be a shift, it’s inheritably more difficult for women to run for leadership positions.”

Workman says she has pointed out to people when they have treated her differently, and as soon as she does, they become very apologetic.

To combat the stigma of women in politics, Workman hopes to make some changes with her newly-elected 2018-19 STUSU team, which is three quarters women.

Empowering women

Both Workman and Maclsaac feel motivated about being political leaders in their communities because they are passionate about advocating for the student body.

“It is extremely rewarding to hear when a campaign or project has made a positive impact on a student’s experience,” says Maclsaac.

Maclsaac is passionate about making a positive impact on her community and directing change toward building a more equal community.

“This passion carries into my daily life through the work that I do as vice-president advocacy.”

Maclsaac believes one of the ways to have more females involved in political positions is through mutual encouragement.

That is, powerful women should encourage other women to get involved with politics.

“It will only be through collective efforts that more female leaders will start to emerge and make their mark on campus and around the world,” she says.

Maclsaac also believes women should encourage other women to achieve their goals and dreams, as scary as they may seem. For her, empowerment between women is a great support system.

Workman also says it is very important to “let women know they can do it.”

She thinks a good way of encouraging women to get more involved with politics is by giving them the information they need about the positions so they can decide whether or not they want to go for it.

Also, she says it is important to allow more opportunities for women to get involved.

“Lifting each other up, I think women themselves should do that more,” she says.

Maclsaac and Workman both believe it is important for women who want to be in political roles to be persistent and fight for their aspirations, even if they are shut down multiple times.

Also, it is key they never doubt themselves.

“Never be afraid to put your name out there,” says Workman. “We need more women in politics, by all standards.”

MacIsaac says hard work and core values are key.

“Your efforts will be recognized and hopefully this will allow you to invoke meaningful and powerful societal change.”


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