The lack of female rural candidates running in provincial and municipal elections this fall is raising concern in some quarters.
Equal Voice, a non-profit organization that focuses on gender parity, said women make up 26 percent of MLAs in the Saskatchewan legislature, 23 percent of rural ridings are represented by women and only 13 percent of mayors in the province are women.
In a province that is 51 percent female, that is unacceptable, said Municipalities of Saskatchewan president Gordon Barnhart. It is time to encourage women to put their names on the ballots, he said.
“They are capable, they are contributing members of our community, and it’s so important for us to give them encouragement.”
April Phillips is the only woman sitting on the City of Melfort council, in a city that has never had more than two female councillors at a time.
“There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of women that want to get involved. I know other communities have quite a few women and some have almost all women on. We just haven’t seen that in this community.”
Phillips would like to see more mentoring, not only to get women involved, but also to help them understand that they have more to contribute than they know.
The towns of St. Walburg and Hudson Bay are rarities in Saskatchewan with the majority of town councillors being women; both have five female councillors out of six seats.
Town of St. Walburg deputy mayor Nancy Schneider plans to run for mayor during the upcoming November election. The seat is currently vacant. If successful, as far as she knows, she will be the first female mayor of St. Walburg. It is an honour and a privilege to serve her community in this way while also tackling some interesting issues, she said.
“It is truly neat to be able to talk to people and hear their perspectives. I have to say it’s been an extremely positive experience.”
Elvina Rumak has been a part of the Hudson Bay town council for 26 years, as a mayor and city councillor.
Gender diversity is not the only thing that Rumak said is needed to make up a good council. Getting more young people involved, as well as creating a space with professional diversity is important for problem-solving and making decisions, she said.
As a former social worker, Battlefords-Lloydminster member of Parliament, Rosemarie Falk, was not preparing for a career in politics but knew she wanted to make meaningful changes to federal policy. When the seat opened up during a byelection and she vied for the Conservative Party nomination, she remembered feeling unfounded push back. She won the nomination on the third round of preferential voting but was only 11 ballots away from winning it in the first round.
As someone who was elected to the seat before she was 30 years old, her family and her children have always been a part of the equation but was never a political deterrent, she said. Her youngest was born while she was a sitting MP.
She said her husband has made a major difference in her ability to work out the balance between family and party needs by taking on many household and child-raising responsibilities.
“I’ve missed every single one of my daughter’s ballet recitals, which is OK; I signed up for it. I’m not complaining at all but my husband is the one that dresses her up, puts her makeup on, and gets her hair in a bun.”
If women want to run, Falk encouraged them to do so.
“Even having that change in culture and society of just having women encourage women would do wonders with women putting their name on a ballot.”
Humboldt-Watrous MLA Donna Harpauer said she didn’t expect to win her first election because she was running against a Saskatchewan cabinet minister. Since then, it has been a steep learning curve to understand issues that impact Saskatchewan people but she is proud of her achievements.
As a female politician, she said she wants to set an example for other women who want to get involved, including her three daughters.
“Women can do what they set out to do … never assume that a woman can’t accomplish whatever she chooses by putting in the effort.”
Many resources exist for women to connect with questions, concerns, or to find encouragement about running in an upcoming election.
Provincial organizations like Municipalities of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities and Equal Voice said they are willing to speak with women who are exploring the possibilities.