For women in Canadian politics, there is no universal experience

Women in politics seem to be speaking out about their experiences like never before. That's good. But we need to remember that not all women experience sexism and misogyny in the same way.

We need to remember that not all women encounter sexism and misogyny in the same way

Each account of sexism or misogyny can be as different as our fingerprints, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that women of colour are encouraged to share their stories. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

To many, 2016 seemed like a groundbreaking year for women in Canadian politics. 

The 88 women who were elected to the House of Commons in 2015 — the greatest number in Canadian history — marked their first full year of governing, along with Canada's first gender-balanced cabinet. B.C. Premier Christy Clark became Canada's longest serving female premier, and women in politics seemed to be speaking out about their experiences like never before.

Indeed, in April of 2016, Calgary MP Michelle Rempel wrote an op-ed that revealed the "everyday sexism" she experiences from her male colleagues. Her revelations sent Canadian media into a firestorm, and was followed by public testimonials from Calgary MLA Sandra Jansen, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Newfoundland Finance Minister Cathy Bennett — all of whom shared similar stories of online and verbal harassment and threats from both within and outside of their parties.

It many respects, it was a monumental time for women in politics, with one major caveat: most of the stories we were hearing were those of white women. The public's reaction perpetuated the idea that sexism and misogyny are experienced identically by all women in politics, but, to put it bluntly, they are not. That's why it's so important that we acknowledge intersectionality — in politics, and otherwise.


The term "intersectionality" was coined back in the 1980s by U.S. civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, and she discussed it recently in her latest TED Talk. During the session, Crenshaw emphasized the importance of confronting both race and gender in situations of systemic discrimination. Crenshaw argued that in order to adequately identify and offer solutions in these scenarios, we have to recognize that just as the experiences of white men and men of colour differ greatly, so too do the experiences of white women and women of colour. 

With increasing racial diversity in legislatures across the country, 2016 did see a notable increase in racialized and Indigenous women in prominent decision-making roles, including House Leader Bardish Chagger, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, Ontario Education Minister Mitzie Hunter and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. But women of colour are still represented in far fewer numbers than white women in Canadian politics, and we so rarely hear about the specific injustices they face on a day-to-day basis.

Diverse experiences

Part of creating that environment means discussing sexism and misogyny as a set of diverse experiences as opposed to one. Doing so acknowledges the multiple experiences of our elected officials who come from various backgrounds and ethnicities. Each account of sexism or misogyny can be as different as our fingerprints, and it is our collective responsibility to ensure that women of colour are encouraged to share their stories.

If we truly want to increase the representation of women in politics, a public discussion on the experiences of women of colour is necessary. Let 2017 be the year where intersectionality is at the forefront of Canadian political discourse; where comprehensive solutions are derived from hearing, interpreting and understanding a great number of diverse experiences.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


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