‘Not one man on regional council stood up and supported the creation of a women’s advisory committee without attaching his own preferences, ideas, and requirements to it. The men on regional council have soundly demonstrated why women need equal representation at every level of government.’
A Commentary by Melissa McGlashan, a citizen of Niagara, Ontario, living in the City of Welland
Posted November 19th, 2019 on Niagara At Large
On the evening of November 14th a motion was presented at Regional Council to strike a women’s advisory committee. The resulting debate revealed disturbing truths about the state of our regional council and the state of representation for women across our region.
Here in Niagara, 75 per cent of our regional councillors are men, three of four provincial ridings are represented by men, and all four federal ridings are represented by men.
A women’s advisory committee is an important step towards increasing representation and leadership opportunities for women and allowing for discussion by women of shared experiences, barriers to participation in society, and possible remedies.
Not only did this initiative meet with an extremely disappointing amount of resistance, but *spoiler alert* the men on council did the majority of the talking and got everything they wanted.
Two delegations appeared before council to present in support of the committee while advocating that the committee consist of only women appointees. They clarify that this does not exclude men as men will be able to attend and delegate to the committee.
Men would simply not occupy a voting seat that would otherwise go to a woman. In addition, the committee does not make the final decision on any issue. The final vote will always go to regional council (which is 75% male).
The final delegate said in her closing statement that women have more honest engagement and feel more empowered in a space together. “Women need one space. We are asking for one space.” In the debate that followed, regional council managed to expertly demonstrate why a women’s advisory committee is needed in Niagara.
The very first councillor to speak opposed the suggestion that the committee consist of only women. His concern was that if a committee composed entirely of women makes a recommendation and council votes against it, then council will be seen as sexist.
Listening to a man complain that giving women a voice, that women having their own committee, should be opposed because it might negatively impact him was a low point at this meeting. He made no argument as to how having men on this committee would add value. Apparently they are needed solely so that he will not appear to be sexist. This man later voted against striking the women’s advisory committee.
Another councillor pointed out that regional staff includes women as if having staff positions provides women with sufficient representation. Later, a councillor spoke in favour of striking the committee with men on it because the male perspective will be valuable; however, he offered no evidence to support this and did not explain why he believes a man would know better than a woman.
Women councillors tried to provide leadership opportunities for women by amending the motion to specify preference that the Chair and Vice Chair be individuals who identify as women. The men on council amended that to include the use of committee criteria in the selection of Chair and Vice Chair. Another woman councillor pointed out that these criteria are more likely to be found on a man’s resume than on a woman’s.
Another low point at this meeting was when the woman councillor who had proposed the Chair and Vice Chair amendment was asked to accept the addition of committee criteria as a “friendly amendment”. She said she would accept it in order to get the committee struck. The message from regional council was clear: Women may only have an advisory committee provided men set the terms.
In total, men spoke to the motion to strike a women’s advisory committee seven times while women spoke three times. Men made sure not only that men can be on the committee, but that the criteria used to select the roles of Chair and Vice Chair are those that men are more likely to meet.
While all of the above is troubling, what was missing from this meeting is also of significant concern: a champion for women on regional council.
Not one man on regional council stood up and supported the creation of a women’s advisory committee without attaching his own preferences, ideas, and requirements to it. The men on regional council have soundly demonstrated why women need equal representation at every level of government, and why this advisory committee is sorely needed here in Niagara. Women are needed to ensure that women have representation.
The video of the regional council meeting of November 14th can be found on the Niagara Regional Council webpage. Delegations start at 34:45. Debate starts at 1:09:20.
Every man who spoke to this motion should take a moment to ask himself why he feels that he knows best how to strike a women’s advisory committee. Imagine if the women councillors had been permitted to debate the formation of a women’s committee themselves. If there was ever a time for the men on council to sit and listen this was it.
Melissa McGlashan is a community activist and volunteer serving on local boards and committees. She holds an Honours, BSc from the University of Toronto and believes in strong representation for women at all levels of government. She is a mother, wife, daughter and sister residing in Welland, Ontario.
If you would like to listen to and watch the delegations and the discussion that occurred on this issue at the November 14th, 2019 meeting of Niagara regional council, click on the link below, then drag the red ball at the bottom of the screen to 34:30 minutes in to the meeting – https://www.youtube.com/embed/GSJbzU7MYk0?rel=0&autoplay=1
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