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Barriers To Seeking Office Should Be Studied: R. M. Councillor

“They don’t have the barrier of tradition.”

– kristine janz, r. m. of argyle councillor

A resource

In 2009 the FCM’s Canadian Women in Municipal Government committee launched a social marketing campaign on Facebook, where women can ask questions and get advice

from peers about service in local government. The site is found at http://tinyurl.com/fcmwmg.

Kristine Janz ran and won in a municipal election in 2006. Today the Baldur-area woman says she might have done so years earlier but lacked confidence.

She suspects many more women also think about seeking election too, but do not. The question is, why not? Janz’s R. M. of Argyle council believes it’s one the Association of Manitoba Municipalities should start asking.

They’re bringing a resolution before the AMM’s annual convention later this month that calls for an AMM to create a committee to look at the reasons more women don’t seek office.

Knowing what women’s barriers to seeking office are could help address them, Janz said.

She agrees men also face challenges when deciding to run for office, “but they don’t have the barrier of tradition,” she said. “That’s a big one.”

Female representation has increased across rural Manitoba, but women still make up a very small percentage of the total number of reeves, mayors and councillors in Manitoba’s 198 municipalities.

Just 17 per cent of councillors in this province’s villages, towns and rural municipalities are female. That’s sharply below the national average of 22.9 per cent and also far from the modest goal set by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) of increasing women’s representation in local government to 30 per cent by 2026. Just eight per cent of mayors are female and even fewer reeves.

Long-serving female municipal leader Shirley Kalyniuk says she’s never been clear about what keeps women out of local government. Kalyniuk has served as a councillor and mayor of Rossburn since 1983 and is in her third year as urban vice-president on the AMM board. She often asks women, “Why don’t you run for office?”

“They say, ‘I have to raise my kids,’ ” or that they have no time, she said. “Or they say they’re just not interested.”

There is a perception that councils’ work remains focused on mundane matters “like grass cutting and culverts,” she added.

Which could not be further from the truth, both she and Janz stress.

Janz said women need to know local councils are dealing with key issues women care about, such as local health care and opportunities for education in their communities.

“There’s a lot more strategic planning and a lot more awareness of social planning as well to make rural communities stronger,” she said.

Despite low numbers on councils, the AMM has made progress on other fronts. This year an election of another woman to the association’s board of directors brings its female representation up to 32 per cent. Six of 19 directors are now women.

Back in 2005 the Municipal Leader devoted an entire issue to the topic of how to encourage more women in politics. “Is your council truly representative of the communities it is mandated to represent?” it asked.

Another article in the 2009 autumn issue states the association needs to “strongly advocate for a much higher female representation on municipal councils.”

Municipal elections take place in Manitoba in 2010. The AMM’s 11th annual convention takes place Nov. 23-26 at the Keystone Centre in Brandon.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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