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Let's talk politics, shall we? Women make up approximately half the world's population, but you wouldn't know it if you opened the doors of global parliaments and looked inside. Only 23.5 per cent of the world's parliamentarians are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (in Canada, 26 per cent of MPs are women.) At this not-entirely-speedy rate it will take 50 years to reach gender parity in global politics.
I'm Elizabeth Renzetti, a columnist here at The Globe, and lately I've been thinking about the barriers women face in politics. These obstacles exist in all in all corners of the world, and, obviously, they're higher and more impermeable in some places: In Saudi Arabia, women only voted for the first time in municipal elections in 2015.
And then there's Iceland, home of glorious scenery, hot springs, very expensive dinners and an enlightened attitude toward gender progress. Its new prime minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, is a social democrat, feminist and environmentalist, whose many accomplishments are detailed in this Bustle profile.
Iceland also recently hosted an international summit for women in politics, which produced this truly delightful piece by the New York Times' Katrin Bennhold, about one of the lone male officials at the summit, the EU's Xavier Prats Monné, feeling a bit like a duck out of water (he handles this discombobulation with grace, it must be said).
Of course, Iceland is a tiny country, but being small in stature doesn't mean you can't be outsized in innovation and influence (look at Prince! Small but mighty.) Here, The Guardian's Alexandra Topping interviews the country's – and the world's – first elected female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, and looks at the ways that having more women in politics makes life generally better for everyone.
As Topping mentions, things are not as rosy for female politicians in the United States, where only 20 per cent of seats in Congress are held by women. The fact that the highest office in the land is held by a man who is accused of sexual misconduct and regularly makes demeaning remarks about women might be part of the problem. But, his comments – in this case, slurs aimed at Democrat Senator Kirsten Gillibrand – might finally be backfiring. Consider that the editorial board of USA Today wrote that Trump's tweet against Gillibrand make him "unfit to clean toilets in Obama's presidential library or shine George W. Bush's shoes."
Ouch! What will hurt more than those words, though, is the action of a record number of American women who are preparing to run for office in 2018, "harnessing their outrage at Trump."
No matter where they run, one of the issues facing women in public life is harassment, either misconduct in the workplace (our very own The Globe and Mail's Erin Anderssen and Laura Stone outline here) or vitriol aimed at them online (a subject I wrote about most recently here).
The hostility aimed at politicians can be enough to drive them out of the field, which may sound like the punchline of a joke: As research shows, by far the worst abuse is aimed at women of colour, and people from the LGBTQ community. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alluded to this when he spoke at the Women in the World summit in Toronto in September, making reference to the threats that Liberal MP Iqra Khalid received after launching her parliamentary motion against Islamophobia: "We're seeing a real challenge around retention," Trudeau said. "…Women who've made it, succeeded, gotten elected are now two years into it and wondering, 'Is this really what I signed up for?' Because of the nastiness and because of the negativity."
But, there are still many beacons of female leadership on the horizon. Here, Erica Lawson looks at the "uncertain but hopeful" future for women in Liberia following the 12-year reign of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa's first female elected head of government, and here is a lively Guardian story about Mona Prince, the Egyptian academic who has the unenviable task of trying to run against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
In addition to reading about women and politics, I've been reading Mary Beard's new book Women and Power. Beard, a classics professor at Cambridge University and a familiar face to British TV viewers, is internet famous for her battles with sexist online trolls. Her new book, slim and pithy, is a history of the way women's speech has been silenced in public for millennia – ever since Telemachus told his mom, Penelope, to be quiet and go to her room in The Odyssey. "It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they do not hear a voice that connotes authority," Beard writes, "or rather they have not learned to hear authority in it."
All the more reason, then, for more female voices to be raised in parliaments around the world.
What else we're reading:
Also from the Guardian comes one of my favourite political stories of recent times, the fast and energizing rise of New Zealand's new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, "former Mormon and occasional DJ." Eleanor Ainge Roy writes that Ardern only took over as leader of the Labour party in August – after refusing the offer seven times. She "repeatedly said her anxiety precluded her from taking on the top job," an admission of vulnerability that should touch all the politician-loathers out there.
Someone once told Karen Dubois that people don't volunteer for altruistic reasons – instead, they generally volunteer because there is some benefit in it.
"Well, for me, the greatest thing is getting to know people in your community," Dubois said in a recent phone interview.
Over the last 40 years, Dubois has played a large role in nurturing her town's thriving arts and culture scene. She's a third generation resident of Dawson City, Yukon, a community of 1,500 people located about 500 kilometres north of Whitehorse.
She was a founding member of The Dawson City Music Festival, a multi-day festival born out of a summer barbecue in 1979, and is currently the Executive Director of KIAC, the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture.
In the years between, she has contributed to dozens of initiatives, launching valuable programs including the city's Artist Residence Program, which has welcomed over 170 artists, musicians and filmmakers to Dawson City since 2001.
Dubois, now 63, has had just as great of an impact on her community through her commitment to volunteering.
"I just love the arts. I'm just really fascinated by the concept of creativity. I am just blown away, time after time by the things people are doing and by the ideas behind their work. I have a huge amount of respect for artistic ability."
Her commitment to the arts community has even led her to open up her home. Artists performing at the The Dawson City Music Festival board in the homes of local residents, and Dubois and her husband rarely miss a year. Last summer, they hosted a group a Haitian drummers who, on their last night in Dawson, thanked the couple by preparing them a Haitian meal.
– Shelby Blackley and Shannon Busta
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