There are more women running in this provincial election than the last one, but the numbers are still well-below parity, according to the women's advocacy group Equal Voice.

The group says 33.9 per cent of candidates running for the PCs, Liberals, NDPs and Greens are women.

That's up from 30.4 per cent in the 2011 election, but Equal Voice wants to see more.

"You can't elect more women if they're not on the ballot," executive-director Nancy Peckford said.

Nancy Peckford

Nancy Peckford, executive-director, Equal Voice (submitted)

Peckford said new research shows it will take increased participation by female candidates in rural ridings and northern ridings to raise the numbers province-wide.

"Women's prospects in urban ridings tend to be significantly greater than in rural ridings," Peckford said.

Only 3 of 16 candidates in northwestern Ontario are women

The NDP is the only mainline party running female candidates in northwestern Ontario, and just in two of the three ridings.

In all, only three of the 16 people vying for office in northwestern Ontario are women.

"The challenges are actually quite profound when it comes to gender," said Mary Kozorys. "They are the challenges you think we would have overcome a long time ago — for example, criticism on the way a woman will dress, a way she comports herself, the way she is expected to act, to be aggressive."

Still, Kozorys said she feels privileged compared to other women whose voices she feels should be heard in mainstream politics.

Challenges 'amplified' for immigrants, Aboriginal women

"I really see the challenges amplified more when you look at women, for example, whose first language isn't English and Aboriginal women," Kozorys said. "There's still a great sense of discrimination on women becoming involved."

Peckford said research on women in politics shows economics plays a role in the shortfall of female candidates in rural ridings.

Women "may be more reluctant to run just because they're not in a position to compromise their economic security," Peckford said.

"That is true of many women whether you're from a city or a smaller community, but we see it in a really pronounced way in rural ridings," she added.

Peckford said all parties need to do a better job of investing time and resources in potential female candidates, if there is ever to be gender balance at Queen's Park.