The Library of Parliament has released two background papers respecting parliaments and gender: Gender-Sensitive Parliaments: 1. Advancements in the Workplace [PDF] and Gender-Sensitive Parliaments: 2. The Work of Legislators [PDF]. The papers adopt the Inter-Parliamentary Union (ITU) understanding of a gender-sensitive parliament as:
a parliament that responds to the needs and interests of both men and women in its structures, operations, methods and in its work. Gender-sensitive parliaments remove the barriers to women’s full participation and offer a positive example or model to society at large.
Part 1 of the report looks at gender sensitivity in the parliamentary workplace (how procedures, policies, budgets etc. bear on the needs of men and women working within parliaments), Part 2 at how parliamentarians can work to bring about greater gender sensitivity in the society at large.
For anyone who’s given serious thought to the problems faced by women in our society — and in our political structures specifically — there’s not a great deal that’s new here. Even so, these reports are good reminders that Canada has no reason to be in the least bit smug about our situation. It’s informative, though by no means the full story, to look at Canada’s ranking among countries with respect to the percentage of members of parliament who are women. The ITU has a detailed chart and data going back to 1997. Currently Canada is tied with Australia in 46th position, with 24.7% of seats being held by women. Interestingly, in 1997 our 20.6% representation earned us 17th place.