By Nancy Peckford | Executive Director, Equal Voice
As Executive Director of Equal Voice, I am incredibly excited to plan for the celebrations surrounding Equal Voice‘s tenth anniversary. Equal Voice has come a long way since the days when Rosemary Speirs (Founding Chair and former journalist), and Libby Burnham (former fundraising chair and long time progressive conservative), convened a meeting at the home of Donna Dasko, current National Chair, about the state of women in politics. This meeting proved to be a pivotal launching point in the lead up to establishing a national organization. These efforts were initially entirely voluntary and fuelled by the commitment and passion of a few women who wanted to see significantly more women elected to the halls of power in Canada.
Ten years later, Equal Voice has a lot to celebrate in terms of the gains made. Through the establishment of six regional chapters, initially led by Janet Wiegand in British Columbia and Raylene Lang Dion in Ottawa (who subsequently served as National Chair), along with contributions from members of Equal Voice’s board of directors and advisory board, Equal Voice is a vibrant, pan Canadian organization.
Consequently, we have been able to work with all political parties, including: The Liberal Party, The Conservative Party, The New Democratic Party, Le Bloc Québécois, andThe Green Party, at the federal and provincial/territorial levels, as well as municipal governments, elected representatives, potential candidates and, more recently, with young women, many of whom we hope will run for office in Canada one day.
As we plan for our 10th anniversary year in 2011, we are using this blog to ask the following question: what must Equal Voice do now, and in the next ten years, to get Canada to a minimum of thirty percent- at all levels of government. In the last federal election (2008), more women ran for federal office than in any other election in Canada’s history. That number was nearly 29 percent but it was nowhere near where we need to be in order to significantly increase the number of women in elected office.
EV’s Anniversary planning co-chairs, Raylene Lang Dion (former National chair) and Louisa Morgan, former Youth Chair, have been consulting key members and stakeholders on how Equal Voice can celebrate ten years since EV’s founding and plan for success during the next ten. Now, it’s your turn.
The reasons for the founding of Equal Voice remain clear. In the years leading up to the organization’s establishment in 2001, it was obvious that the goal of attaining fifty percent women in any legislature in Canada could be a lifetime away. In fact, the percentage of women being elected federally in the late 1990s was stagnating around twenty percent and it was not clear if or how there would be a major breakthrough for women candidates and politicians.
At the same time, the United Nations was encouraging countries to undertake more efforts to increase female representation through the achievement of a critical mass. Critical mass means that a minimum of thirty percent of a country’s decision making body is comprised of women. Given that women’s representation in Canada at the federal level had been hovering around the 20 percent mark for several years, it was obvious that a national voice was required to better coordinate efforts to go beyond existing numbers.
With this in mind, Equal Voice was born. In the years after, Equal Voice has successfully coordinated federal and provincial challenges aimed at Canada’s political party leaders to seek their commitment in nominating and supporting the election of more women. We have launched Getting to the Gate, the only online campaign school of its kind for women in Canada.
Beginning in 2005, we have publically honoured numerous women who have made outstanding contributions to women in politics through our very popular EVE Award in Toronto and Ottawa. What’s more, Equal Voice embarked upon a National Awareness Campaign to change media perceptions of the impact of insufficient numbers of women to elected office. This resulted in enhanced coverage, particularly from the Toronto Star and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., who have covered Equal Voice’s early efforts to push the political leaders to ensure their parties nominated more women. This good coverage continues as was demonstrated earlier this year when the Toronto Star gave front-page coverage to EV Toronto’s Municipal campaign school. In 2009, Equal Voice also received a significant federal grant to establish mentorship and other programs for young women who may be interested in politics, if not now, one day. And in 2010, Equal Voice won the support of the Globe and Mail editorial board who agreed that the issue of electing more women was a key one in the upcoming election.
And, just this week, under the leadership of Giovanna Mingarelli, Equal Voice’s Communications and Membership Liaison, launched this new blog in order to promote more critical dialogue about the issues affecting women’s election to office.
We strongly encourage our members, our supporters, elected representatives past and present, current or previous candidates, as well as those of you who love, or despise politics, to tell us what YOU think it will take – in terms of programs, advocacy and support – to ensure that by the year 2021, we are celebrating the women and the efforts that will help us achieve a critical mass in the halls of power across the country.
We invite you to give us all you’ve got in terms of your ideas, your experiences, your perspectives, and your critiques. There is no bad idea and no voice that we will dismiss. Plus, we expect there are quite a few of you who’ve given this some thought already.
Now is your chance to make yourself heard as we plan for our anniversary and the next ten years.