Reaching behind her desk, Jen Carter retrieves a framed newspaper page with a picture of her standing with the King’s University College sign.
She’d just won the 2013 student union presidential election for the Western affiliate but the headline took some of the thrill away: King’s gets a new Queen.
“The story wasn’t about my platform,” she said. “And the affiliates (Huron, King’s and Brescia) had never had election coverage, at least not in recent memory. It’s not consistent but prejudice against women still exists.”
Now the vice-president external of Western’s University Student Council (USC), Carter said Wednesday (June 11) the story was an example of the bias toward women in politics she learned to notice after becoming involved in the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ (FCM) Headstart for Young Women program.
Also the president of the Ontario Undergrad Student Alliance, Carter, 22, is one of the women in politics featured in a documentary being produced in London this summer.
“They way gender roles are taught in society, women aren’t encouraged to make that change,” Carter said. “I’ve met lots of talented women in London … this is a possible career and I encourage young women to (pursue it).”
The FCM plans to upload the half-hour film to YouTube, encourage partner municipalities across Canada to use it as a teaching resource and ideally convince girls as young as 16 that politics is a viable career option.
Ward 5 Councillor Joni Baechler coordinates the local Headstart program, one of seven in Canada.
“We wanted to make a film that could reach young women through an accessible medium … and talk to them about why it is important to have a female perspective at the table,” Baechler said.
Right now women hold 24 percent of all political offices in the country including all three levels of government. Baechler said according to the United Nations for a decision to truly reflect the perspective of everyone it affects, at least 30 percent of the people at the table have to be women.
With five women, London’s 15-member city council is above the threshold.
Baechler, first elected to council in 2000 and retiring this year, said it’s not about catching up or evening the seat score, it’s about improving democracy.
“We can’t even meet the minimum in a country that stands for equality in government policy,” she said. “There’s a perspective and thought process that’s different. So decisions about prostitution, which affect women, are being made by (bodies which are) 75 percent male. Democracy and society are better served when all perspectives are represented equally. If it were 75 percent women, I’d be arguing for men to have a greater voice at the table.”
The future looks bright. The 14-year council veteran said she was “extraordinarily impressed” with the Grade 12 girls she’s spoken to through Headstart.
With the video Baechler hopes to knock down a barrier in their mind by giving them trailblazing female role models to emulate.
“When young women don’t see women in political positions of influence it’s harder for them to see themselves at the table.”