Women leaders are running this country, and we should keep it that way

Hill Times May 18, 2020

One really couldn’t say I’m a raging feminist, but I am Tlingit. In my culture women lead. That’s the way it has always been. Women are essential in leadership as good decisions can’t be made without women. The reverse is also true in a fully functioning society, good decisions can’t be made without men. Leadership and decision-making was traditionally done with good process with checks and balances to ensure the community’s interests were always front and centre.

Assembly of First Nations regional chiefs Kluane Adamek (Yukon), left, Marlene Poitras (Alberta), and RoseAnne Archibald (Ontario) are the three women on AFN’s 11-member executive committee. Photographs courtesy of the Assembly of First Nations

Even before covid-19, we were not really functioning well as a society in this country. It’s difficult to see how Canada put community’s interests front and centre. Decisions were made to protect money, capitalism and making more money. As if capitalism would solve the community’s problems. Men had most of the leadership roles, and the number of women at senior positions in politics was lower than it was just a few years ago.

Enter covid-19, and suddenly the women who have been quietly doing their thing because it’s important, they step up. Dr. Bonny Henry, Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Deena Hinshaw even have t-shirts to honour their leadership. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern from New Zealand and Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan have led in effective domestic covid-19 responses. Finland, Iceland, Norway, Germany…all led by female leaders.

Colonization and the church negatively impacted on the number of Indigenous women leaders. Following Canada becoming a country, it took seventy years until a First Nations woman was elected chief, Elsie Marie Knott in Curve Lake. In the last couple of years a record number of First Nations women took elected positions in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Three First Nations regional chiefs are women. Fully half of the board of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami are women.

So it is disheartening to look at Canada’s political parties both provincially and federally holding true to the old boys club. Aside from Caroline Cochrane in the Northwest Territories, all the premiers are men. We deserve better balance. It’s long past time for change. Canada made all sorts of promises in 1995 at the Beijing fourth global conference on women. Short story, some things have improved, and some things have stayed the same. So women are more likely in the service industries rather than in decision-making roles in the country, and now are disproportionately impacted by the economic downturn resulting from covid.

Here’s some thoughts for the futurists wondering how we could do things better post covid.

First, do we actually want to do things better? Do we want to improve political decision-making and the selection of political leaders and insiders influencing decisions? Diversity makes for better decisions, so why is the field of political insiders so lacking in diversity? Do we want to do better?

If yes, then let’s change some structures so that any change we make doesn’t become a “pilot”, an exercise to prove that it’s possible but just snaps back to status quo immediately after because systems were not forcibly changed.

Legislate that political parties must hire diverse women staffers including Indigenous women. Legislate that political parties must support diverse women to run including Indigenous women.

Follow the model of Hawai’i and its feminist economic recovery model, it’s a real game-changer….their plan is to value and compensate women as the foundation of economy, and strengthen healthcare, childcare and education. For us, we need to add on the imperative for reconciliation, so let’s rebuild our economy based on women and Indigenous contribution. Now is our generation’s time to rebalance resources and voice.

Oh, here starts the outraged response. Just like in 1918 when women wanted the vote. That big change for inclusion also came in the throes of a pandemic. There’s a pattern here.