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Why don’t women run for the Students’ Union?

By Melanie Woods, March 1, 2016 —

Have you seen a lot of dudes’ faces plastering the walls of campus this past week? It’s not just you — significantly more men run for leadership positions in the Students’ Union than women.

In the past three years, 29 men have vied for executive positions on Students’ Legislative Council. In comparison, only 13 women campaigned for executive positions during that time. Only one has run for president.

With around a third of SU executive candidates being women, that runs pretty much on par with the 2015 federal election’s female candidate count of 33 per cent.

While gender parity is a hot-button topic at all levels of government — as Justin Trudeau would say, it is 2016 — it’s not an issue that can be solved by gender parity in the cabinet. If we want more women representing us in politics, be it in the SU or the Canadian government, we need more women to run.

And one of the big reasons women don’t run for positions in government is because of how women in power are treated. Elected positions require acting as a public figure, speaking out and having your voice heard. And it’s not that women don’t want these things — it’s that we face greater scrutiny and more negative consequences for doing them.

Think back a few months ago, when Alberta Premier Rachel Notley received countless graphic and misogynistic death threats over a government policy. Her press secretary was quoted as saying “this kind of social media or correspondence activity is not unusual in any way” and that this was “normal.” Former Tory Premier Alison Redford faced similar sexist comments and threats, so this can’t be blamed on partisan politics.

Ed Stelmach and Jim Prentice, Alberta’s other two premiers from the past 10 years? Not a word.

SU elected officials aren’t usually subject to this level of harassment. But a young woman considering going into politics of any kind and seeing this kind of terror definitely isn’t going to be encouraged by it.

On a smaller level, women face harassment, criticism and scrutiny for sharing their opinions online through forums like Twitter. If you speak your mind and have five anonymous Twitter eggs calling you sexist slurs, I doubt that will encourage you to speak your mind in a public sphere.

It’s not the same for every woman. Every person who considered running for an elected position but didn’t will have a different reason why. They were too busy with other things. They didn’t want the position. They were worried they would lose.

But there are reasons women often don’t even try running for these kinds of positions, and it stems from societal barriers.

This all feeds into a vicious cycle, one that needs to be broken by encouraging women to enter politics at all levels of government. The more women running for positions of power — even those in the SU — the more women will be encouraged to run.

So to other women — if you’re thinking of running for student government, do it. Seriously.

Melanie Woods is a third-year English student. She writes a monthly column about modern social justice movements called Social Justice Cleric

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