Greater Sudbury aims to bring more women into the political ring

The city of Greater Sudbury is trying attract more women to the political ring — and councillors are expected to back a new initiative to encourage female leadership.
Of the Greater Sudbury city council members elected for the 2014-2018 term, only a few were women. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)
Featured VideoWhy are women still under represented in politics? We invited Greater Sudbury city councillor Deb McIntosh and Rachelle Niemela who chose to do work for the community without running for office to talk about the issue.

The city of Greater Sudbury is trying attract more women to the political ring — and councillors are expected to back a new initiative to encourage female leadership.

Nine per cent of candidates who ran for a seat on Sudbury city council in the last election were female.

Lynne Reynolds, who was one of four women elected, told CBC News there is a reason the average age of female councillors is higher than her male colleagues.
Ward 11 councillor Lynne Reynolds says barriers preventing women from entering politics are gender stigma, cultural attitudes and work life balance. (Lynne Reynolds)

"Women will tend to set aside their political aspirations until their children are older."

Janet Gasparini didn't wait for her kids to grow up when she ran for council more than a decade ago — but said she couldn't have done it without her husband's help.

"Really he became the primary parent," she said.

"There were many days when I was away from home for 14 hours in a row."

Work-life balance isn't the only issue.
Rachelle Niemela, who is chair of the Sudbury cyclists' union, says she doesn't want to give up the work she's doing to focus on running for municipal office. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC )

Rachelle Niemela, who is involved in a number of community roles, including the Sudbury Cyclists Union, said she's thought about running for office. But she said she's not willing to give up the work she's currently doing.

"I like the idea that I can focus on the things that I feel are really important to me as a resident and a citizen."

Male vs. female?

Gasparini said it's not always easy being in the public eye — and sexism is sometimes a problem.

"There was a way of being told that you talk too much and put off as though your opinion didn't matter quite as much," she said.
Former Greater Sudbury city councillor Janet Gasparini started out in politics as a school board trustee. She says she felt what she learned in school board politics could be transferred to city hall. (Jenifer Norwell/CBC)

"I would notice men never told each other that they talked too much. If you went back and listened to the tapes, the men were certainly talking as much as I was talking."

Reynolds agreed.

"Women in politics have to be prepared for some still gender stigma because it does still happen and some cultural attitudes about gender roles," she said.

But McIntosh, who is relatively new to the council table, said she doesn't think there is much of an "old boy's club" at city hall.
Ward 9 Greater Sudbury city councillor Deb McIntosh says having younger people in politics is just as important as having women in politics. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

"Sometimes what you think is the old boys club is actually very supportive of women running," she said.

Reynolds noted that women "bring something different" to the council table.

"We reflect the needs of all of our citizens, including children and seniors, the poor, the underrepresented," she said.

"And I think that brings a little bit different perspective to council decisions."

'Significant changes' needed

The city is trying to bring more women into politics by planning networking events. They will happen this fall if council gives the green light at a meeting on Tuesday.

Gasparini said one thing she would like to see the city do is put term limits on councillors to have more turnover.

But to make politics more attractive to newcomers, "I think that there have to be some significant changes in how politicians act, how we treat politicians, how we engage each other in community, how we treat each other," she said.

"So it's a big picture and I don't know if just a campaign to get more women in politics is going to fix any of those things that I think we're struggling with in our system."

Get youth involved

McIntosh noted that having younger people run for office is just as important as having women in politics

"It's important that there be some balance at the table. And it's important that young women see women in roles of leadership, so that they see that it's possible," she said.
Ward 12 Greater Sudbury city councillor Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said she decided to run for council after she requested assistance for a man who was left for dead in her neighbourhood. She says she wasn't getting anywhere with requests for aid, and decided to do something for herself. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Long-time Ward 12 councillor Joscelyne Landry-Altmann said it's important to remember that all goals in politics are gender neutral, and that "if you want to do something, if there is a situation that you feel is not being addressed, then deal with it. Do something about it. Just don't talk about it. Do it."

Women in Government report