UPDATE: The Fredericton City Council has adopted recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Committee on Gender Diversity. You can read about the adopted recommendations on the City of Fredericton website.
Fredericton councillor Kate Rogers said being the only woman on city council can be isolating.
“Men interact in a different way from women, they often talk about different things, but they also interact in a different sort of way. It’s sort of jokey, teasy, it doesn’t feel as personal … It’s been quite an unnatural experience from that perspective,” she said.
Rogers, a University of New Brunswick grad, has served on the council since 2012. She said this is the only time she’s worked in an environment where she’s the only woman at the table.
More than a hundred people gathered at Fredericton City Hall on Jan. 18 for the annual Women’s March. Rogers was one of them. This year, Fredericton’s march focused on women in politics. The route ended at Wilmot United Church on King Street where an open mic session was held on that topic.
“There hasn’t been a lot of women who’ve been involved in municipal governance in the city of Fredericton,” said Rogers in an interview with The Aquinian.
“I bet you could count on your fingers the number of women who’ve been in elected positions.”
Rogers said this is partly because women aren’t seeing themselves represented in politics, so they can’t picture themselves in these positions.
“I think that they think it’s not a place where women either are welcome or would be comfortable.”
But Rogers thinks a new Fredericton committee, the Ad Hoc Committee on Gender Diversity, is a step in the right direction.
The committee is composed of two members of city council recommended by the Mayor, two community members with expertise in gender issues and one City of Fredericton staff person. Rogers is one of the city council members.
The committee reported its recommendations at the Fredericton Council-in-Committee Open Meeting on Monday. The Aquinian was not able to report on the meeting because it occurred after our print deadline.
Rogers spoke about some changes that could be made in advance of the Monday meeting. She said they could include sensitivity training, requiring a balance of representation on all standing committees and on all the committees to which the city appoints people.
“If we follow through on those recommendations, we could get it right. It would go a long way, it’s not the end solution, but it would go a long way in making some changes.”
Rogers said they can’t determine the diversity on council because members are elected in, but they can determine the diversity on all the committees. However, Rogers would like to one day see a balanced council, one with “different ethnic cultural backgrounds, different socioeconomic backgrounds, different ages, different orientations.”
“We need all of that diversity so we have a diverse perspective, because we’re making decisions that affect the whole city, that affect all of these people. So we need the voices there.”
Fredericton MP Jenica Atwin also participated in the event and the march. She’s the first woman to be elected in the riding of Fredericton, and the first Green Party MP to be elected outside of British Columbia.
Atwin said women are valuable at the political level because they provide a different perspective.
“We know how to apply different lenses, the empathy aspect of it, the heart, we’re not afraid to bring emotion into our conversations as well. And we’ve been so afraid to go down that path, I think in traditional politics, but now things are starting to change because we have a few more women involved.”
Event organizer Susan O’Donnell, an adjunct professor at the University of New Brunswick, thinks the election of Atwin means people are ready for change.
“We’ve had this kind of cognitive dissonance happening. We have people ready to elect a woman in the highest position basically, and then at local governance level, we’ve just got one woman on council? What the heck.”
O’Donnell, along with Rhonda Connell, co-organizer of the Women’s March, started a group in October to support women in municipal politics.
O’Donnell said Connell contacted her on Oct. 21 after Atwin was elected to “get something going” at the municipal level.
“We’ve got to be talking about it. And we’ve got to be showing support for each other. And I think that’s what we did today.”
O’Donnell said the group is now taking action to plan a school for women who are interested in politics. They want to teach them what’s involved in creating a successful campaign like fundraising, knocking on doors and canvasing. She said maybe this would make some women decide to run.
“Let’s have this whole string of progressive people all the way from municipal all the way up to federal. That’s what I want. I think Fredericton’s kind of at a turning point,” said O’Donnell.
“I just want to know that there’s more voices around the table so that however the city grows in the future, it actually better represents the people who live here. That’s going to mean a lot to me.”