Forget the vas array of commentary that could have been made at a debate about “women’s issues”, a term that is, itself, debateable. According to one mayoral candidate, the most pressing need for women in Ottawa is bike racks! Yes indeed, ladies, when Mr. Candidate drives around town in his car, he notices that the majority of bikers are women. So in response to a question asked to all candidates about how their platform responded to women’s issues in Ottawa, he claimed that he would like to get more bike racks around town! That was the only comment that he made in the five minutes he was given to answer the question…
Last Wednesday, our club decided to change our weekly discussion group in Café Alt to an outing at “Making Women Count: A Mayoral Debate on Women’s Issues” at City Hall. This debate was organized by grassroots women’s advocates in partnership with Canada Council on Social Development,
OPIRG (University of Ottawa), Women’s Resource Centre – Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and Coalition for a Carleton Sexual Assault Centre. Unfortunately, a wonderful initiative turned into a rather disappointing reminder of why more women need to become involved in politics.
However, this is not to say that only women can or should represent women’s issues. One would think that candidates running for the top position in the nation’s capital city should have some idea of how their platforms affect women. You would also think the major candidates would find such a debate important enough to show up to. These assumptions aside, I would have liked to provide all of the present candidates with a few rather mundane tips from Debating 101: if you know very little about the topic at hand, as it appeared to be the case for most of the candidates, do a bit of reading, learn the material and have some speaking points ready.
To be fair, there were a few relevant comments to be made, largely to do with increased subsidies to affordable housing for single mothers; improvements to community centres and extra-curricular programs for families; subsidies to companies that offer on-site day care for women; and better security, lighting and walkways around university campuses. However, these relevant suggestions were the minority. The comment about better walkways around campuses was the lone example of how to provide solutions to address the crime that women face, while remembering that men can also fall victim to crime on a poorly lit sidewalk . Other comments centered more on the traditional assumption that it is women who are responsible for taking care of the children, forgetting that parents have a responsibility and not only mothers.
The one female candidate present at the debate particularly criticized other candidates’ proposition of increased housing subsidies for single mothers. In her words, women don’t need some Neanderthal chest-thumping *insert corresponding action here* and paternalistic man to put a band-aid solution on the problem. While her assessment that subsidies are just a surface layer solution might be fair enough, she didn’t provide any other concrete propositions. And forgive me for saying that I’m not sure such commentary and accompanying actions were entirely necessary in a serious debate.
If there is one thing that I could impress upon those who may not know a lot about the topic at hand, it would be that feminism is NOT sexism. Feminism is about achieving equality between the sexes. At the same time, one cannot forget that not all women are feminists, and not all feminists are women. So whether you are a feminist or not, ladies, you should really consider putting your voice out there for your decision makers to hear. Because your concerns are apparently foreign to those running for office.