Women well rep­re­sented on Nova Sco­tia's mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils

The Victoria Standard - - Commentary - GUEST ED­I­TO­RIAL

In light of the The Strait Area/cape Bre­ton/unama'ki School for Women in Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment that Mayor Brenda Chisholm-beaton and Coun­cil­lor Perla Ma­cleod have re­cently formed, The Stan­dard thought it ap­pro­pri­ate to run the fol­low­ing ed­i­to­rial that was orig­i­nally sub­mit­ted for In­ter­na­tional Women's Day on March 8, 2017, by Lau­rie Mur­ley, then Pres­i­dent of the Union of Nova Sco­tia Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has since been re­named the Nova Sco­tia Fed­er­a­tion of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

In 2005, the Union of Nova Sco­tia Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties (UNSM) be­gan spear­head­ing a Women in Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Project aimed to:

-iden­tify op­por­tu­ni­ties to bet­ter in­volve women as ci­ti­zens and politi­cians in mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment;

-rec­om­mend mea­sures to in­volve women in all their di­ver­sity in con­sul­ta­tion and en­gage­ment ac­tiv­i­ties of mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment;

-reach the tar­get of at least 30 per cent of mu­nic­i­pal elected of­fi­cials across Nova Sco­tia be­ing women.

The Oc­to­ber 2016 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions re­sulted in women com­pris­ing 38 per cent of the may­ors across the prov­ince. Of the 377 mu­nic­i­pal elected of­fi­cials, 101 are fe­male, rep­re­sent­ing 27 per cent of all coun­cils.

Re­search has shown the many bar­ri­ers women face for those in­ter­ested in serv­ing as elected of­fi­cials. These in­clude time con­straints, fi­nan­cial con­straints, fam­ily re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and lack of con­fi­dence.

UNSM of­fered cam­paign schools for women in 2008 and in 2012. The Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil on the Sta­tus of Women of­fers a cam­paign school ev­ery two years for women in­ter­ested in run­ning for fed­eral, provin­cial or mu­nic­i­pal of­fice. In 2016, the Prov­ince funded Springtide Col­lec­tive to run a se­ries of mu­nic­i­pal cam­paign schools open to any­one in­ter­ested in run­ning for mu­nic­i­pal of­fice. This or­ga­ni­za­tion ac­tively sought to re­cruit African Nova Sco­tians, women, and peo­ple liv­ing with dis­abil­i­ties. Our ex­pe­ri­ence shows about one-third of those who par­tic­i­pate in a cam­paign school run for of­fice.

So why is it im­por­tant that women be rep­re­sented on mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils?

The United Na­tions states that women need to make up at least 30 per cent of de­ci­sion-mak­ing bod­ies, like mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils, be­fore they can af­fect change. This will en­cour­age more women to voice their opin­ions on is­sues of im­por­tance to them.

Women make up more than 50 per cent of Nova Sco­tia's pop­u­la­tion, which should be re­flected in the make-up of our politi­cians. Women of­fer dif­fer­ent and valu­able per­spec­tives when mak­ing de­ci­sions that af­fect en­tire com­mu­ni­ties. They en­gage in the com­mu­nity in dif­fer­ent ways, and hold a wealth of knowl­edge about their mu­nic­i­pal­ity that is of­ten over­looked. In­creas­ing the num­ber and di­ver­sity of women who make mu­nic­i­pal de­ci­sions will en­sure the needs of women and men of all back­grounds and abil­i­ties are met. Mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ments need their tal­ent, knowl­edge and skills.

UNSM would like to con­grat­u­late not only the women who were elected in the 2016 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion, but also those who ran but were not suc­cess­ful this time around. Run­ning for of­fice is not as easy task; serv­ing as an elected of­fi­cial is chal­leng­ing. We cel­e­brate your in­volve­ment.

Cre­at­ing more di­verse coun­cils will lead to bet­ter de­ci­sion-mak­ing that re­flects the broader pop­u­la­tions and com­mu­ni­ties we serve. While there is cause to cel­e­brate the per­cent­age of women may­ors across the prov­ince, there is more work to do to pro­mote broader di­ver­sity in mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment. We have a small num­ber of mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors who are African Nova Sco­tian, First Na­tion and per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties−we need to do more to in­volve these com­mu­ni­ties in all as­pects of mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment. We en­cour­age our di­verse com­mu­ni­ties and all Nova Sco­tians to vote in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, par­tic­i­pate in pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions, serve on mu­nic­i­pal boards and com­mit­tees, con­sider mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment as a ca­reer op­tion, and run for coun­cil.

Lau­rie Mur­ley is Past Pres­i­dent of the Nova Sco­tia Fed­er­a­tion of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. She has served on Wind­sor Town Coun­cil for twelve years. She is cur­rently the Deputy Mayor.

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