Nova Scotia

'There certainly still are barriers': Book to shine light on shortage of female MLAs in N.S. history

Two Dalhousie University students are bringing to light a shortage of female representation in Nova Scotia's Legislative Assembly with a new book, which explores the stories of the province's few female elected officials.

'It's important to me that we also hear the stories of the women who have paved the way for women like us'

Grace Evans, left, and Sarah Dobson, right, are students at Dalhousie University who co-wrote On Their Shoulders. (CBC)

Two Dalhousie University students are shining a light on female representation, or the lack of it, in Nova Scotia's Legislative Assembly in a new book exploring the stories of women elected in the province's history.

Only 50 of the 800 members in the legislature's history have been women.

"It's important to me that we also hear the stories of the women who have paved the way for women like us who studied political science and are interested in politics," Sarah Dobson, one of the authors, told Information Morning in Halifax on Friday.

On Their Shoulders will be a collection of 50 stories about the female representatives past and present. Dobson, alongside co-author Grace Evans, interviewed 42 of the 44 living women, and the families of those who are deceased.

Gladys Porter was Nova Scotia's first female MLA in 1960. Since then 49 others have been elected and 16 of them sit today. 

A lot of the women talk about how when they enter a room with their male colleagues, it's assumed that they're the secretary, or the assistant.- Grace Evans, co-author

Dobson, who has an undergraduate degree in political science and is enrolled in Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law, said women have progressed in politics over the past 60 years, but it hasn't been enough.

"I think we've gotten to a point where sometimes we speak about women in politics like there's no more barriers, like we've made it," Dobson said. "You know, we have women in the legislature and we should be happy with that ... but there certainly still are barriers."

Evans, who is an undergraduate student studying political science at Dalhousie, said the women they interviewed discussed the societal pressures they faced, like needing to raise a family and financial stability. 

Even today, she said, women in politics are often seen as inferior. 

"A lot of the women talk about how when they enter a room with their male colleagues, it's assumed that they're the secretary, or the assistant, and that shocked me personally," Evans said.

In the 200 years of Nova Scotia's legislative assembly's history, more than 800 members have been elected to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly... but only 50 of the elected officials have been women. Two Dalhousie students have written a book about them, and their contribution to politics in Nova Scotia. 8:26

Dobson and Evans are hoping their book inspires young women to pursue a career in politics. One day, they want to see a female premier of Nova Scotia.

"We're one of four provinces that haven't seen that and we've come close," Evans said. "We've had female leaders of parties but we haven't had a premier and I think that that's something that Nova Scotia needs to do."

Dobson said the most common piece of advice she received from the representatives is that young women should go into politics to inspire change.

"'Don't do it because it's something you want, or you want to be in the headlines, or you want to be an elected official, but do it because you think it's the right thing to do,'" Dobson said.

"It was interesting to see that come out across all of the stories, across all the time periods." 

The book is expected to be completed by the summer and the proceeds will be put toward a scholarship for a woman from Nova Scotia pursuing political science at Dalhousie University. 

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