Today we celebrate Persons Day - But there is still a need to keep pushing for the full and equitable participation of women in all elements of society – including governance

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On October 18, 1929 Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney, and Henrietta Muir Edwards, known as the Famous Five – saw women recognized as “persons” under the law. In recognition of their efforts and achievement, each year Canadians celebrate Person’s Day, as part of a broader Women’s History Month. While much work has been done and many advances seen since this date, there is still a need to keep pushing for the full and equitable participation of women in all elements of society – including governance.

The IOG has developed five principles of good governance. Among them is “legitimacy and voice” with all men and women participating in decision-making, either directly or through intermediate institutions that represent their intentions. Legitimacy requires that the governed have voice, which refers to the need for responsiveness to the concerns of citizens, to give every stakeholder a meaningful opportunity to express themselves in the decision-making process, and to make a good faith effort to accommodate genuine concerns to the extent possible. IOG’s principles also highlight fairness and equity, with a focus on ensuring equal opportunities. Public policies affect men and women in different ways, and it is important that governance benefits from all perspectives. As Millicent Garrett Fawcett, an early activist in the suffrage movement in Britain, said “No section of the people has ever been excluded from political power without suffering legislative injustice”.

Women’s inclusion in governance affects changes in the issues promoted, in the policy and decision-making processes, and is tied to better performance on the economy and against corruption.

Directly tied to the issue of voice and quality, an Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) research project of 200 female members 
of parliament (MPs) from 65 countries found that 89 percent believed they had a particular responsibility to represent the needs and concerns of women.[i]

A study of almost 1000 city managers found that there are clear differences in policy processes between female and male-led municipalities. They found that female city managers were more likely than their male colleagues to: 
 incorporate citizen input and prioritize community involvement in the decision-making process; emphasize communication; and perceive themselves as facilitators (while male managers framed themselves as “policy entrepreneurs” at the top level of a clear hierarchy).[ii] Other studies have found that women are more likely to operate in a collaborative fashion and to seek input from others; and they are more likely to be considerate of the opinions and satisfaction of those around them.[iii]These aspects of women’s leadership make them ideal for societies where citizens feel disconnected from their elected officials as they include greater public participation and increase the transparency of the process through citizenship engagement.

This more inclusive leadership does not suffer from a lack of efficiency. In the private sector, studies by McKinsey and Catalyst show that women’s equality and involvement is good for business. They found that increasing women’s leadership roles increases organizational effectiveness and financial performance, and saw further increases when three or more women held these roles in an organization.[iv][v]

Increasing women’s participation in governance is especially advantageous in developing countries, or those grappling with corruption. Various studies have shown that:

  • An eight percent increase in the number of women in parliament should result in a twenty percent decrease in corruption levels.[vi]
  • Governments are seen to be more legitimate when the rate of women participating in elected office approaches or replicates the rate of women in the public.[vii]
  • Developing countries with higher levels of gender equality in their political institutions tend to have lower poverty rates and higher gross domestic products.[viii]

Women’s voices matter. As we celebrate the anniversary of pivotal victory here in Canada, it is important to realize that even as their participation should be ensured as a matter of human rights, it also has profound impacts on the way we govern. In their absence we see institutional weakness or failure. While great progress has been made in the fight for equality, there is still much work to be done.

[i]Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), “Politics: Women’s Insight” (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union. 2000) 133–41

[ii]Robert Fox and Robert Shuhmann. “Gender and Local Government: A Comparison of Women and Men City Managers.” Public Administration Review 59(3)(1999): 231-242

[iii]J., P. Forest Abelson et al., “Deliberations about Deliberative Methods: Issues in the Design and Evaluation of Public Participation Processes.” Social Science and Medicine 57(2)(2003): 239-251.

[iv] McKinsey and Company, Women Matter 2014. accessed September 15, 2015.

[v]Catalyst Research, The Bottom Line: Corporate Performance and Women’s Representation on Boards. (2007) accessed September 15, 2015

[vi]David Dollar, Raymond Fisman, and Roberta Gatti, “Are Women Really the ‘Fairer’ Sex? Corruption and Women in Government.”Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 46 (4) (2001): 423 –29.

[vii]Newman and White, Women, Politics and Public Policy, (Oxford University Press; Second edition. 2012).

[viii]World Bank, World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (Washington. World Bank Publication. 2011).

About the author

Jennifer Mowbray

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