Elm Street Magazine
Summary: A women’Äôs group in
Canada discusses full representation (proportional representation)
as a means to allow more equal representation for women in
Parliament, and discuss the state of the women’Äôs movement in
Elm Street Magazine, Canada
The Unjust Society
By: Judy Rebick
July 3, 2003
has come to fight, not just for women's equality but for a system
that stops disenfranchising those who have not.
When I ran into
Alexa McDonough a few months ago at a women in politics gathering in
Ottawa, she was back to her old self - relaxed, passion-ate and
witty. This wasover the Charlottetown Accord, the one who wiped the
floor with Pat Carney on The Journal, arguing with wit and humour
that 50 percent of senators should be women.
Ten years ago, women's
representation in a proposed elect-ed Senate became a topic of
national interest. But today, the abysmal under-representation of
women in politics is as much of a dead issue as the Triple-E Senate.
At the end of March, the National Association of Women and the Law
(NAWL) sponsored a round table to try to restart the debate about
improving the number of women in Parliament through proportional
representation. PR, as it is known, is a system in which parties are
given seats according too their percentage of the vote, rather than
by our method of winner-take-all in each riding. PR is used by most
of the world's democracies.
McDonough and I were there with a
representative array of women's groups and individual women
interested in the subject of women's political representation.
NAWL's intention was to develop a feminist position on PR. But what
happened was dra-matically different. At least half of the women
there had little interest in discussing electoral politics. They
wanted to talk about the survival of the women's movement and, even
more urgently, about the literal survival of the women they
"In British Columbia, by the end of the year, it will be
next to impossible for abused women to access welfare," said the
leg-endary anti-violence worker Lee Lakeman. As in Ontario, the B.C.
government plans to restrict welfare so much that Lakeman says it
will collapse the province's shelter system, with profound
con-sequences for women. "What are we doing about it ?" she asked.
"We've lost hope," said Joyce Green, an aboriginal academic from
the University of Regina, adding that "a full measure of
cit-izenship is not expected nor experienced [by aboriginal
people]." This reminded me of a recent speech delivered by Catherine
Frazee, a former chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights
Commission. Frazee, who herself uses a wheelchair, called the
experience of marginalized people "precarious citizenship." She said
"the social contract ideas in which we have invested so very mucho
faith are premised on the fiction that we are, as John Locke argued,
'free, equal and independent.'"
Frazee noted that, in our
neo-liberal world, the old social contract is pretty tattered.
Instead of a true democracy, as Locke envisioned, we are creating a
large underclass of people who don't even expect a minimal level of
income support and social services. The policies of the past fifteen
years (cutbacks, privatization, deregulation, and tax cuts) have
significantly widened the material gap between the middle-class and
poor women, able-bodied and disabled women, and white and aboriginal
PR is an important reform, but the idea that more women in
Parliament could change this reality is hard for women on the
margins to see. What we need is a change in the system-eco-nomic and
political. In the battle for equal treatment, we really need a new
beginning. The fight is not just about women's inequality. What's
needed is a frontal assault on the idea that a privileged elite can
run society in its own interests with little care for those who get
left behind, the collateral damage.
The women's movement, I was
reminded at the round table, though on its knees, understands what
needs to be done. The anti-war movement, vital and active, needs to
expand its mandate to include opposition to inequality and
injustice. Peace is not just an absence of war, it is a presence of
justice. We are a long way from peace.