One of the march’s many focuses was the unequal treatment of women in politics and by politics, and in Nanaimo, this is something we are undoubtedly well-versed in.
Traditionally, women have been expected to be present in domestic spaces; and historically have not been welcome or seen as “natural” in politics. In Canada, white women began to be able to vote in certain provinces in 1916, but this vote did not come for many women of colour until the 1940s. Indigenous women would wait until 1960 to participate in federal elections. Women also carry more care-giving responsibilities in most households, whether by choice or not, constraining their ability to engage in lengthy and expensive campaigns. This labour often falls under the category of “invisible labour”; labour we assume is natural for women, that is not often valued as labour. What skills do women bring? They can often more clearly see the challenges unique to women. A woman who has experience balancing a job, taking care of a home, being a primary caregiver for children, parents, and perhaps partners, may be able to more easily recognize and support others engaging in similar “invisible labour.”
This is not to say that we do not see women from and in Nanaimo working, and sometimes thriving, in politics. We do not need to reach very far into our history to find role models both locally and nationally. Councillor Diane Brennan has been a councilor for over ten years; Jean Crowder represented Nanaimo-Cowichan in Parliament from 2004 to 2015; Sheila Malcolmson, as our current MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, recently made history by submitting the first appeal via secret ballot for her bill C-352; and in 2017’s by-election, the two candidates with the highest number of votes were councillor Sheryl Armstrong and Sacia Burton. We also have an active chapter of EqualVoice, a non-partisan society dedicated to supporting women being elected in all levels of government.
In taking the momentum of the March forward, some of the 2018 organizers reflected on the importance of having a local event to move social media movements into everyday life, and working individually to learn how to see and support women and girls. Kathleen Reed, one of this year’s organizers, sees one of the most crucial parts of the March is that it “makes women realize that they’re not alone in struggling with issues of gender inequality”. Anne Taylor, another organizer from the Haven Society, voices similar thoughts, that things like the #metoo social media campaign happen “right here in Nanaimo and communities all over the island,” citing the March as helping to show that domestic violence statistics are numbers that “represent our neighbours, friends, family and community members reaching out for help.”
Dr. Melissa Stephens, VIU’s Faculty Association Status of Women Chair, agrees. “Social media is a great way to raise awareness about issues, but to engage each other’s struggles in person is another experience entirely.” Moving forward, Dr. Stephens offers ten suggestions to support and encourage women in politics:
“1) Value women and girls as credible and insightful beings who have talent and knowledge that we need and desire.
2) Support events that enable women and girls to serve as advisors, to show leadership, and to make decisions at every level: in the home, on the street, in the school, and, in politics.
3) Promote supportive and non-competitive relationships and activities.
4) Create mentorship opportunities so that girls and women have a range of gender diverse role models.
5) Value the labour that women and girls do which is often rendered invisible or discounted too readily. Public figures don’t succeed without a team of people who do work for them behind the scenes. We need to celebrate and bring visibility to behind-the-scenes labour.
6) Ensure that women and girls are not relegated to behind-the-scenes roles.
7) Learn about and engage with the diverse communities of women that make up our constituencies.
8) Support women’s organizations in the community and learn about how they help us.
9) Campaign for women. Vote for women. Give platforms to a diverse range of women.
10) Take the initiative to become a female leader that will inspire others. Leadership can be demonstrated via small acts or huge campaigns. All efforts should be valued.”
As an attendee of both marches, they are bittersweet. It is hard to comprehend just how long women have been fighting for their rights sometimes, especially as someone who has grown up with many more rights than women preceding. But as the organizers said, there is something wonderful about seeing so many people coming together to acknowledge and push back against the everyday realities that complicate so many women’s lives. If seeing is believing, the Women’s March helps you to believe that things can change.