Don’t blame women for point­ing out prob­lems with pol­i­tics

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Editorial - Gina Hart­mann At­lantic regional co-or­di­na­tor Equal Voice

Former Fi­nance min­is­ter Cathy Ben­nett re­cently stepped down from the House of As­sem­bly to re­turn to pri­vate life.

Her an­nounce­ment comes on the heels of a va­ri­ety of ha­rass­ment claims which led to the removal of both Dale Kirby and Ed­die Joyce from cau­cus and cabi­net. Both mem­bers are cur­rently un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and on paid leave.

These in­ci­dents led to a dis­cus­sion re­gard­ing bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment within the provin­cial gov­ern­ment that in­cluded Ben­nett com­ing for­ward in a pub­lic in­ter­view to dis­cuss her ex­pe­ri­ence with bul­ly­ing, not only on a pub­lic plat­form but also within the House cham­bers.

Ben­nett spoke about the in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour she ex­pe­ri­enced and wit­nessed by elected of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing gaslight­ing and iso­la­tion. The former MHA didn’t pin­point any­one, but stated it was a se­ri­ous is­sue within her cau­cus.

Since an­nounc­ing her re­tire­ment from pol­i­tics, there has been some con­tro­versy around her ac­tions, in­clud­ing a va­ri­ety of state­ments about whether Ben­nett could han­dle the “blood bath” that is pol­i­tics. How­ever, shouldn’t the ques­tion re­ally be why have we ac­cepted pol­i­tics to be such a haz­ardous and hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment? This com­pla­cency has fos­tered a toxic work­place that the av­er­age per­son would not ac­cept in their own place of em­ploy­ment.

As the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment was orig­i­nally built on poli­cies that re­flected an all-male en­vi­ron­ment, there has been a shift in the dis­cus­sions, call­ing for up­dated reg­u­la­tions to ad­dress the di­ver­sity dis­played within the leg­isla­tive house. This im­pend­ing move­ment has to ex­pand be­yond the House to the pub­lic, who should de­mand a be­hav­iour deemed ap­pro­pri­ate from their rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Ben­nett’s early re­tire­ment is re­flec­tive of an un­for­tu­nate trend within pol­i­tics. Women are forced out of po­si­tions be­cause of an en­vi­ron­ment that re­sists them per­form­ing their best, as well as rep­re­sent­ing their con­stituents to the full ex­tent. A con­stant bom­bard­ment that in­cludes iso­la­tion, ex­clu­sion and gaslight­ing pre­vents any­one from do­ing their best work. Rather, it be­comes a con­stant fo­cus that not only hin­ders one’s abil­ity to pro­duce ef­fec­tively, but is also a dis­ad­van­tage to their con­stituents.

Un­for­tu­nately, women in pol­i­tics are more likely to step down from pol­i­tics for nu­mer­ous rea­sons, while re­cently a new and on­go­ing trend is politi­cians step­ping down due to ha­rass­ment claims against them. Nearly each provin­cial leg­is­la­ture, as well as the House of Com­mons, has faced a va­ri­ety of ques­tion­able ac­cu­sa­tions. These on­go­ing ha­rass­ment and bul­ly­ing claims are ev­i­dence that the sys­tem is cor­rupt, yet, we are turn­ing a blind eye and ques­tion­ing vic­tim­ized politi­cians who choose to step down, stat­ing they “can’t hack it.”

But why does one have to tol­er­ate such on­go­ing be­hav­iour? How has that be­come the trend­ing crit­i­cism, rather than the bul­ly­ing?

There is a ten­dency to for­get that pub­lic fig­ures are hu­man. We view them as some­how sep­a­rate from the rest of so­ci­ety, a class of priv­i­leged of­fi­cials who have no rights, but they ex­ist to serve the pub­lic. Though, they rep­re­sent their rid­ings, they shouldn’t have to trudge through thick, muddy waters to pro­duce ef­fec­tively. Who ex­actly ben­e­fits from this dy­namic of ha­rass­ing be­hav­iour? Forc­ing women out of pol­i­tics ac­tu­ally hin­ders the pub­lic. The United Na­tions states that 30 per cent of women are needed in rep­re­sen­ta­tive plat­forms to best suit the needs of women and fam­i­lies. Ac­cord­ing to re­search ob­serv­ing the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in Amer­ica, women put through more bills, they in­vest more money in their dis­trict and they pri­or­i­tize is­sues that are im­por­tant to women, who are half the pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to an Abasca sur­vey, re­spon­dents found that women have lead­er­ship qual­i­ties that vot­ers ad­mire.

When it comes to women in pol­i­tics and the at­mos­phere in gen­eral, there is crit­i­cism against those who want the sys­tem to change. The cur­rent toxic po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment is not ap­pre­ci­ated by those within it, yet it is ac­cepted and com­pla­cent to al­low ha­rass­ment and bul­ly­ing, and crit­i­cal of those who speak against it. It blames women for not be­ing able to “tough it out” in­stead won­der­ing why one should ac­cept an un­healthy work en­vi­ron­ment.

Rather than ques­tion­ing Ben­nett, it’s time we con­cern our­selves with the work­place she spoke against and the be­hav­iours that have been tol­er­ated for way too long.

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