Putting more women in Legislature
U of S students breaking down the barriers for women in politics
The Saskatchewan Legislature has 58 seats. Of those 58 seats, only 11 are held by women.
Students at the University of Saskatchewan are looking to change that.
The Women in the Legislature program, founded by U of S students Shira Fenyes and Heather Franklin, is looking to bring at least half a dozen female students to the legislature to get a taste of politics.
Paula Steckler, director of communications and fourth-year political science student at the U of S, explained that the idea came from a political science professor, Loleen Berdhal, who brought them the idea in class.
“There were about ten of us girls that met together and she kind of pitched the idea to us,” Steckler said. “McGill has a Women in House program, where they go to parliament. We wanted to start something here, but at the provincial level.”
Women in the Legislature got started over the summer, but began to take off in September. Its opening event took place Jan. 25 at Louis’, the campus bar. The group offered attendees free appetizers and hosted a panel discussion between four women, including Berdhal, current Saskatoon MLA Jennifer Campeau, former Saskatoon MLA Judy Junor, and Saskatoon city councilor Tiffany Paulsen.
“They all had 15-20 minutes to talk … and the topic was how has being a woman in politics affected you, how did you get where you are, and stuff like that,” Steckler explained. “We had a bunch of people come, more people than we thought. It was packed; people were sitting on the floor and we were really excited about that.”
Although the idea came from McGill University’s Women in House program, some changes had to be made. McGill’s Women in House program has a two-day event, which includes some shadowing.
“We originally wanted to do that, but there were some red-tape issues about privacy and stuff like that, so we couldn’t exactly make that happen,” Steckler said. “That was really difficult for us because it was something we were really excited about. It was one of those day-in-the-lifes of who we wanted to experience.
“We’re just trying to establish ourselves then hopefully grow into something where we could possibly do shadowing with MLAs.”
Aside from the elimination of the prospect of shadowing MLAs and other setbacks, the Women in Legislature program has so far been nothing short of successful. It has received support from not only the political studies department and the University of Saskatchewan, but also from government officials across Saskatchewan, including the Honourable Rob Norris, the Minister of Advanced Education, who has funded a portion of the Women in Legislature’s main event: the trip to Regina.
On March 13, the Women in Legislature will bring its selected applicants to Regina for a visit to the Legislature.
The fully subsidized trip will include a tour of the facility, visits with two different panels – one with women MLAs and another with women administration – as well as an open luncheon and question period.
“We’re hoping to get 10-13 women to come on our trip with us from the University of Saskatchewan,” Steckler said. “At the very basic, we want them to get a look at politics and to see what its like and for them to think about a role in politics.”
Steckler says the ultimate goal of the group is to raise awareness about the underrepresentation of women in politics in general, but also particularly in the Saskatchewan Legislature, where the number of elected women MLAs is about 20 per cent.
“We’re trying to encourage young women to get involved in politics, to get interested in politics, and to realize, ‘Hey, this is a career I can choose,’” she said.
Beyond that, the group hopes to address the reasons why women are so underrepresented in politics. Steckler suggests that family is a large part of why women don’t get involved with politics.
“I know that women have the ambition and the will to do it, but why they don’t go all the way to the top to be elected, I don’t really know,” she said. “I honestly think family is a big part of it, and maybe a little bit of intimidation.”
Steckler also explains that the female politicians who have been supportive of the initiative have also been inspirational and helpful with their experience and insight.
“Judy Junor talked about how she was really intimidated to go in and be elected and go into the legislature, but she said its not intimidating,” Steckler explained. “Its not as difficult as people think it would be.
“I think it is traditionally a man’s role to be elected into politics, and men have less barriers, less challenges, towards getting into office, not necessarily because they are more likely to get elected, but I think they are more likely to run.”
The women also hope to someday form a partnership with the University of Regina.
"As we have more events, we want to bring awareness as far as we can,” Steckler said. “I think it would be great to set up a partnership with Regina; that’s what we’ve always wanted to do, bring awareness to Regina and expand it as far as we can.”