The District of Kitimat and the Town of Smithers are working with community partners to increase the representation of women in northwest B.C.’s local governments.
Kitimat and Smithers each received $10,000 from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), to implement gender and equity goals in the area.
A steering committee consisting of several female elected officials from northwest B.C. including the District of Kitimat, the Haisla Nation, Witset First Nation and the Town of Smithers, are working to launch an “Elect Her” campaign. They will work with Tamitik Status of Women in Kitimat and Social Planning Committee in Smithers to further the goals of this project.
The ‘Elect Her’ campaign targets municipal governments of Kitimat, Terrace, Stewart, Prince Rupert, Port Edward, Daajing Giids, Port Clements, Masset, Hazelton, New Hazelton, Smithers, Telkwa, Houston and Burns Lake as well as the regional districts of Kitimat-Stikine, North Coast and Bulkley-Nechako
First Nation councils that are part of this campaign include Haisla, Heiltsuk, Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum, Lax Kw’alaams, Metlakatla, Old Masset, Skidegate, Gitlaxt’aamiks, Gitwinksihlkw, Laxgalts’ap, Gingolx, Gitanmaax, Gitanyow, Gitsegukla, Gitwangak, Glen Vowell, Hagwilget, Kispiox, Lake Babine Nation, Witset, Iskut and Tahltan.
An inaugural meeting hosted on Aug. 24 in Kitimat saw several members of the public in attendance.
“The Federation of Canadian municipalities said that they wanted to support projects across Canada aimed at increasing the number of women elected to municipal councils because currently we’re only about 20 per cent of councillors and 30 per cent of mayors,” said Kitimat Coun. Lani Gibson, adding the same applied for First Nation councils in the area as well.
Gibson is the sole woman on the seven-member Kitimat council. Neighbouring municipal governments have similar low numbers too, with two women on the Terrace council, no women representative on Prince Rupert council and one on Port Edward. The only council in the region that approaches gender equity is Smithers with three women, including the mayor.
According to Gibson, the number one reason why there are not many women in local politics in the area is women often don’t see themselves in that role; it’s a sphere that has always been dominated by men.
Gibson also said that based on statistics, women in politics get personally attacked more than men do.
“So [women] often are under a microscope about things such as their hair and attire … there’s lots of evidence to show that women in media and in social media are often criticized and attacked and intimidated by the public more than men.”
Barriers around childcare, eldercare and low pay are some other factors that contribute to under-representation of women in northwest local politics, she said.
In the coming months, the Elect Her project also aims to form a support network for women who are already elected officials in the northwest.
The project will also reach out to communities, to educate and inform them that what happens in local government is important and touches all aspects of life, Gibson added.
The campaign is more informative and does not advocate for any candidate, however, if somebody wants to get involved in local politics, the organizers will help connect them with appropriate resource groups.