Merit without misogyny

For fairer representation and diversity of thought, we need more women in politics

Merit without misogyny

Following the record-breaking number and historic diversity of women who have recently formed the 116th Congress in the US, there has been renewed conversation about the relationship between gender and politics.

Here in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau formed the first gender-balanced cabinet in the country’s history upon his election in 2015. The Liberal government undoubtedly took major strides in proportional female representation in politics, given that women make up a little over half of Canada’s population. However, there is still much to do on this front. 

The disproportionality problem

Only 26 per cent of the candidates elected from all parties in the 2015 federal election were women. This imbalance serves as a deterrent and discouragement for women pursuing political careers. 

Something certainly needs to change. After all, gender underrepresentation in positions of power is not exclusive to politics, but is mirrored across many sectors of society, including at U of T. The Varsity recently reported on the lack of women among full-time tenured and tenure-stream faculty and Governing Council members.

Ideally, improving female representation in politics will set an example for industries, institutions, and organizations to do the same. It is an excellent starting point to make a difference. 

It must be said that there is no dispute that candidates for office must be chosen on merit. However, the currently male-dominated Canadian government is not functioning better than it would be with the inclusion of more women. 

There are countless women who are as qualified for governmental leadership as their male counterparts, but are systemically overlooked for elections. This is rooted in a history of misogyny that we have yet to fully overcome. 

In a perfectly meritocratic society without misogyny, the gap between women in politics and the overall population would, at the very least, be much smaller.

Everyone benefits 

The importance of women in politics goes beyond the ideals of representation and demographic equality. Women have capabilities and perspectives that are fundamental to the success of government. 

A recent study conducted by U of T professor Carles Muntaner and University of Waterloo assistant professor Edwin Ng, titled “The effect of women in government on population health,” highlights this importance. 

Women in politics tend to be more collaborative and more willing to work in bipartisan ways relative to men. They are more likely to employ more democratic styles of leadership and take important steps to dismantle the toxic polarity that stands in the way of effective decision-making. 

They have also placed emphasis on spending for medical and preventive care, social services, postsecondary education, and equal-pay initiatives — all of which play a significant role in improving the quality of life for Canadians. 

Including more women in politics will bring increased diversity of thought and important perspective to decision-making. This diversity is key to innovation in government. 

Harnessing the power of women is not only a social imperative, but an economic one. A 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute reported that efforts to reduce gender inequality could result in a $150 billion increase in Canada’s incremental gross domestic product, as women would be able to use their capabilities to their full advantage in positions of power and leadership.

This increase would be equivalent to the effect of adding an entirely new financial services sector to the country. Women are an essential resource that age-old misogyny prevents from being capitalized upon. Holding back women equates to holding back the Canadian economy.

The input of female leaders is also important when it comes to conversations, conclusions, and policy decisions about distinctly female issues, such as maternity leave and the gender pay gap. Policies about women and for women must be influenced by women. 

Feminism beyond gender

Furthermore, to have women equally represented in government is to honour the very principles of democracy itself. From its Ancient Greek etymology, democracy means  ‘rule by the people.’ Unlike the government, the population of Canada is not mostly male. Canadians are diverse in a multitude of facets, including gender. It is imperative that the Canadian government mirror this diversity. 

To this end, expanding the concept of feminism is necessary. Feminism is only superficially the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes. However, in 1989, Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights activist and scholar, built on the foundations of activists before her and coined the term ‘intersectionality.’ 

Gender issues are complex, layered, and nuanced by class, race, ability, age, religion, and sexuality, among others. When applied to feminism, intersectionality acknowledges those different opportunities and perspectives that come with the diverse identities of women. 

Equal representation in politics does not simply mean having an even split of men and women sitting on Parliament Hill. True representation means the inclusion and equality of opportunity for women from all classes, abilities, sexualities, ages, religions, and races. 

It means improved decision-making, bipartisan collaboration, strengthened economies, and faith in government. This applies to the gaps that exist at U of T too. 

It is easy for the Trudeau government to sit complacently behind the guise of a gender-balanced cabinet, but much more progress is needed. Hopefully, all political parties take the upcoming 2019 federal election as an opportunity to combat gender inequality and embrace the powerful capabilities of women — of all kinds. 

Isabella Giancola is a first-year Rotman Commerce student at Trinity College.

Op-ed: The Canadian government should take in Rohingya refugees

A message from a student who started a petition calling for action on the crisis

Op-ed: The Canadian government should take in Rohingya refugees

Students at the University of Toronto must put pressure on the Canadian government to pursue key policies to address hardships faced by the Rohingya people. As a student, I have created a petition on the House of Commons website listing a number of calls to action for the Canadian government, including taking in stateless Rohingya refugees.

The petition has been sponsored by Member of Parliament Niki Ashton, and has successfully reached the goal of 500 signatures that is required for it to be presented in Parliament. I strongly encourage Canadian students at U of T to add their names to the petition and voice their concerns for the Canadian government to take actions that will alleviate the hardships faced by the Rohingya people.

According to a November 2017 poll by the Angus-Reid Institute, almost half of Canadians polled oppose prioritizing those fleeing Myanmar when it comes to Canada’s refugee acceptance policy. Furthermore, the fact that some Canadians are opposed to allowing refugees into the country on principle, I believe, indicates a profound sense of ignorance on the part of Canadians.

The Rohingya people are a Muslim minority in Myanmar and have been oppressed by the state for decades. The Rohingya people, under the nation’s 1982 citizenship law, are not recognized as citizens of the country, effectively leaving them stateless.  Furthermore, the Rohingya people have endured human rights abuses including restrictions on movement, limited access to healthcare, education, shelter, as well as experiences of arbitrary detention and forced labor.

Since the 1970s, there have been several crackdowns on the Rohingya minority by the state resulting in hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries. During such crackdowns, according to Al Jazeera, Rohingya refugees were subjected to torture, arson, and murder by Myanmar security forces.

The recent resurgence of violence against the Rohingya people was triggered after nine border police were killed in October 2016, and troops started pouring into villages in Rakhine state.  

The government blamed an armed Rohingya group for the killings. Subsequently, the Myanmar army proceeded to launch  a crackdown on villages where Rohingya lived. During the crackdown, the government troops were accused of committing egregious human rights abuses ranging from extrajudicial killings, rape, and arson — allegations which the government has vehemently denied.

Since the violence escalated, it is estimated that more than 500,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. Although Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor of Myanmar, does not have control over the actions of the military, she does have the ability to criticize and condemn the military’s actions against the Rohingya people. This is something San Suu Kyi refuses to do: she even said the term ‘Rohingya’ should not be used when talking about the persecuted minority group; lobbying this view to the US government in 2016. Currently, nearly half a million Rohingya refugees are residing in camps located in Bangladesh under deplorable conditions.

Despite the overwhelming human rights atrocities being committed against the Rohingya people, many citizens of western nations like Canada are opposed to the country taking in Rohingya refugees, citing that they are an economic burden to the country. Aside from the clear humanitarian reasons for taking in refugees, the reality, which many Canadians do not realize, is that allowing more refugees into Canada can actually be beneficial to Canada’s economy. Take Canada’s Syrian refugee population: a report from Vancity Banking estimates that Syrian refugees to British Columbia will generate more than $500 million over 20 years for the local provincial economy.

In fact, Canada actually needs immigration to survive. This country has a rapidly ageing population. Statistics Canada predicts that by the mid-2030s, almost one in four Canadians will be 65 years or older, while the working population will simultaneously decrease by more than 10 per cent. Cities like Halifax have realized the need for more young labourers, and its Chamber of Commerce has called for a greater intake of newcomers. In fact, in 2014, the Conference Board of Canada predicted that Canada would need to increase annual immigration to 350,000 new migrants a year over 20 years.

Canada has witnessed the thriving of many communities consisting of individuals who initially came as refugees to this country. If allowed into Canada, the Rohingya population can be just as successful in positively contributing to Canada’s society and economy. For example, after the communist victory in Vietnam, Canada took in more than 50,000 Vietnamese refugees. Now, the Vietnamese community in Canada is thriving: consisting of accomplished doctors, lawyers, teachers, and community members who are actually creating jobs in Canada.

The Angus-Reid Institute poll also indicates that 55 per cent of Canadians believe the government should not intervene in the Rohingya crisis. I would argue that Canada, as a member of the UN, has an obligation to intervene under the Responsibility to Protect protocol. In addition to accepting refugees, my petition has highlighted a way in which Canada can intervene diplomatically in a manner where it might make a positive impact. The petition has called on Canada to put forward a UN General Assembly resolution calling on all countries to stop providing arms to the Myanmar military. This resolution, if passed, might compel Aung San Suu Kyi to put pressure on the military to halt its crackdown.

With the exception of Indigenous peoples, we are all immigrants and settlers on this land. Many students at this university have parents and ancestors who fled hardship in their homeland to come and live in Canada. As the children of immigrants, and of refugees who fled to Canada in order to escape persecution, students at this university have a collective responsibility to help those who are currently fleeing from similar or worse forms of violence.

U of T students must mobilize together and raise greater awareness of the Rohingya crisis, through engaging in activities such as signing petitions and participating in public demonstrations. Most importantly, we must put pressure on the Canadian government to make a commitment to take in stateless Rohingya refugees into this country.


Pitasanna Shanmugathas is a fourth-year student at Innis College studying Political Science and Criminology. He started a petition on the House of Commons website demanding, among other things, that the Prime Minister make a commitment to take in stateless Rohingya refugees into Canada.