Regroupement féministe du Nouveau-Brunswick, a feminist group based in Moncton held a webinar on June 30, 2020, to discuss the finding of its three-year project about women in politics.
Nadia Angélique and Christine Griffin, the coordinators, presented the project, called “Chantier féministe : travail avec les partis politiques pour augmenter le nombre de femmes qui se présentent aux élections” (Feminist Worksite: Working with political parties to increase the number of women running in elections).
The project coordinators carried out various activities during their research including a social innovation lab, interviews, and collaborations with provincial political parties. All of these activities will lead to a guide for the political parties which will come out soon.
Christine Griffin introduced the various barriers to women’s political participation identified by project participants, including the “boy’s club” environment, non-transparent recruitment of candidates, harassment and violence from other politicians and the public, difficult conciliation of personal and political lives for women, and other familiar prejudices about women (they are too sensitive, for example).
A longtime activist for women’s rights in the province, Nancy Juneau, moderated the online panel which featured three speakers: Carmen Budilean, Norma Dubé and Marilyne Gauvreau. The speakers were given five minutes to answer a series of questions circulated in advance.
Norma Dubé retired five years ago from the provincial public service, where she served most notably as Assistant Deputy Minister of the Women’s Equality Branch. Dubé was part of the group of 12 women who started the Women 50% Initiative after questioning the absence of women in the legislature and actively recruited women into the political race. In the 2018 provincial election, the number of votes cast for women candidates represented a 30 per cent increase from 2014, despite the minimal change in the number of women elected.
Carmen Budilean has worked since 2010 for various political parties and was previously the Executive Director the Green Party of New Brunswick. Budilean criticized parties’ obsession with “electability” of candidates, their use and abuse of gender and racial quotas and mentioned the need for “true public consultation,” which would include marginalized groups. She made a case for proportional representation and systemic changes (like public daycares) to make women’s participation easier.
Marilyne Gauvreau is a PhD student in education at the Université de Moncton and has been active in political life since the age of 17. In 2017, Gauvreau taught the first Gender and Sociology course at the Université de Moncton. Gauvreau signaled the absence of young people in the Legislature as a problem. In a study she carried out in 2010, she found that the presence of a larger number of parties had a positive impact on the presence of women candidates. Even though there are only 11 women in the Legislature, she sees it as progress. Gauvreau differentiated between the equality in rights and true gender equality, both of which still have to be attained.
When asked about solutions for the future, Budilean differentiated reformist from revolutionary solutions. For her, reformist solutions are structural changes like prohibiting donations from companies, limiting the amount of donations, or creating a publicly funded daycare system. However, conscious of larger issues, she criticized the economic system in which “profitability and rentability favours inequalities” and maintains “the patriarchal image of women.” She believes women need to “dream big” in their ideas.
Gauvreau said that “corrective measures” should be put in place instead of “punitive measures” like fines. For example, she suggested more quotas for women’s participation in political parties, a set number of seats for women, or, more “radically,” a law on gender equality. She sees the recent adoption of a parity measure in the Board of Directors of the SANB and the pay equity legislation in the public sector as very positive steps.
Dubé presented her ideas as more “pragmatic.” She sees the rural nature of N.-B. as an obstacle for provincial members of the legislature since women in Fredericton have less distance to travel than those in Campbellton. She hopes the momentum started with the Women 50% Initiative and continued by the RFNB project will continue.
Gauvreau and Dubé both lamented the lack of interest from both men and the media to women’s issues in the province. Dubé condemned the “deplorable portrayal of women” in the media during the last provincial elections.
This panel marked the end of Nelly Dennene’s leadership of the Regroupement féministe du Nouveau Brunswick, founded in 2007 to address the concerns of francophone women in the province. For the past three years, Dennene has confidently led the group through major projects on issues ranging from violence and sexual consent to studying economic power of women. With the organization since 2015, Dennene made significant contributions to advancing women’s issues in the province.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op and is a member of the Editorial Board.