Canadian women lag behind countries like Cuba and Latvia when it comes to politics

B.C. Premier Christy ClarkCanada places third in the world when it comes to being a woman - except when it comes to politics.

Newsweek ranked 165 countries, looking at five areas that affect womens' lives: treatment under the law, workforce participation, political power and access to education and health care.

Canadian women did well in all categories except political power, ranking behind countries such as Cuba and Latvia.

Around the world, women are occupying the highest political offices. Germany has Chancellor Angela Merkel, the United States has Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Brazil's new president is Dilma Rouseff and India's president of the National Congress is Sonia Gandhi.

Canada doesn't seem to have an equivalent.

At the parliamentary level, as well, Canada ranks lower than one might expect.

Approximately 24.7 per cent of MPs in Canada's House of Commons are women compared to Rwanda with 56.3 per cent.

Even in Afghanistan where Newsweek says women have a 90 per cent illiteracy rate, there are relatively more female legislators than Canada.

Experts claim there are several barriers that keep women away from politics - one of which is good old-fashioned chauvinism.

A 2008 report published in the Canadian Parliamentary Review stated "political leadership remains defined on masculine terms."

"There is a persistent observation that women leaders just do not fit and women politicians are repeatedly evaluated by their looks, clothing, relationships and the tone of their voices — anything but their political skills and acumen," notes the report.

The report's writers recount a story from a conference where a  female cabinet minister from Ontario was introduced by a male cabinet colleague with the statement, "She's got better legs, what can I say?"

But maybe things are changing.

Firstly, the  24.7 per cent represents the most number of women MPs ever elected to Canada's House of Commons.

Nancy Peckford, executive director of Equal Voice, a non-profit organization devoted to more women in politics, says things are also changing at the provincial level.

(Christy) Clark's success (in British Columbia) now means three women leaders serve at the helm in their provinces.

She joins Newfoundland and Labrador's Kathy Dunderdale, who replaced Danny Williams in December, and Eva Aariak, the premier of Nunavut since November 2008.

Eight other women currently lead provincial/territorial parties, Peckford recently wrote in the Globe and Mail.

"The shift is long overdue."

(CP Photo)