Sexism on the campaign trail: 3 female candidates in civic election speak up

Edmonton’s 2017 civic election saw twice the number of female candidates elected to council — though it was from one to two.

Nafisa Bowen, Brandy Burdeniuk and Dawn Newton agree campaigning was otherwise rewarding

From left to right: Dawn Newton, CBC Radio's Portia Clark, Brandy Burdeniuk and Nafisa Bowen. This photo was taken during their first political panel before the election. (Brandy Burdeniuk/Twitter)

Edmonton's 2017 civic election saw twice the number of female candidates elected to council — though it was from one to two.

As advocates push for more women to run for office, women who were on the campaign trail hope their experiences, both positive and negative, can help more women get involved.

Three women who ran for office, Nafisa Bowen, Brandy Burdeniuk and Dawn Newton, told CBC's Radio Active Thursday that while the campaign experience was rewarding, they still faced incidents of sexism.

"You know how there's the Don Iveson reads mean tweets?" said Burdeniuk, referring to a campaign-style event Iveson held where he read rude messages sent to him on Twitter in front of a live audience.

"I think that a lot of us have enough material now to do Women out door-knocking. 

"A lot of us shared some common stories of the number of shirtless or pantless men."

"I had my own pantless situations," said Bowen, a Ward 5 candidate, who eventually lost to Sarah Hamilton.

Newton, who also ran in Ward 5, said she also experienced sexism while door-knocking — though she said it was rare.

Counc. Sarah Hamilton likes the idea of free admission to all outdoor pools this summer. (CBC)

Newton said one man, after she explained some parts of her platform, told her she had "really smart manspeak."

"It took everything not to visibly respond to that," she said. "The fact that he actually said that was 'smart manspeak' kind of blew my mind."

Burdeniuk said there is an unwritten rule for female candidates to not go out door-knocking alone. "Unfortunately, that is both a safety and a security issue, but it's also to make sure that there's somebody there to witness."

Bowen said she had a GPS tracker on her cellphone for her family to monitor her while she was door-knocking.

'So positive, so rewarding, so exhausting'

But despite the sexism, all three women view their time on the campaign as valuable experience.  

"Out door-knocking was one of the best experiences that we had — aside from the conversation [about sexism] we just had," Burdeniuk said, adding that she has committed to running in the next election.

You know it's going to be hard, and you get into it and it's harder than you could have expected, and it takes over your life.-  Dawn Newton, former Ward 5 candidate

Newton compared running for council to a parent having their first child.

"You know it's going to be hard, and you get into it and it's harder than you could have expected, and it takes over your life in some ways," she said. "In the midst of it, it does feel like asking a pregnant woman if she's going to have more children while she's in the middle of labour.

"But you also learn a lot along the way."

Even though the number of female members of mayor and council doubled, two still isn't enough in a city where, according to the 2016 census, women make up 51.5 per cent of Edmonton's population.

All three women hope that changes.

"This is important for us to really spread what we've learned to other women who run in the next election," Bowen said. "This journey was so positive, so rewarding, so exhausting at the same time, but I'm energized and I'm excited for what else this path leads me on."

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the afternoon crew on Twitter @CBCRadioActive.