Despite Canadian women having the vote for a century, and having the right to hold office since 1921, in terms of having women holding public office at the national level, Canada sits at a dismal 42nd in world rankings.
"We would not want to be 42nd at the Olympics," said Mary Pynenburg at a Women in Politics forum, held July 5 at Mission's Heritage Park Centre.
"We're behind places like Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan. We've got a long way to go."
Pynenburg, president of the federal National Women's Liberal Commission for the federal party, was the moderator of a local panel who discussed the role of women in politics.
Panel members included senior British Columbia Sen. Mobina Jaffer, past federal Liberal candidate for Abbotsford, Madeleine Hardin, and former Mission school trustee Pam Alexis.
Pynenburg noted that the numbers of women running for office in the last federal election did reach a record high - 28.5 per cent of all candidates were women, while 24.7 per cent were elected to office.
However, that still seems to be a poor showing for the gender that makes up just over half of the population.
The challenge of getting women into politics in Canada has confounded all political parties at all levels of government, she said.
The panel came up with a list of reasons why the political life may not appeal to women.
The long hours and travelling across Canada is a deterrent for women of child-bearing years. Jaffer said politics is "a single's lifestyle" that is notoriously bad for marriages.
Hardin, who has taught communication studies at the University of the Fraser Valley for 20 years, added there is often a lack of finances and often inexperience in asking for monetary support.
However, when women are involved in politics, they can have a strong influence in policies and the direction of society, they agreed.
Alexis, who was a Mission school trustee for six years, posited that as women become mothers they naturally learn a skill set that is valuable in politics - good listening skills, the ability to see the big picture, organization skills, and strong ethics, for example.
"My assumptions about the relationship between motherhood and politics were validated when I heard the Dalai Lama speak about the importance of electing women to public office. The Dalai Lama urged women to seek public office to bring more compassion to the world, as the world, he claimed, desperately needed more compassion," she said.
Jaffer said much of politics doesn't actually take part in Ottawa, but starts at home.
"All my colleagues here are women in politics, we all do different things, every day. I think the value setting we do in our communities is the most important part," she said.
As an example, she spoke about her introduction to politics as a young immigrant lawyer in the 1970s, when she was asked by the Liberal Party to work on women's pensions.
"The pension policy for women we wrote around the kitchen table in Vancouver, just four, five women, we took it to the B.C. [level], then we took it Ottawa. I truly believe what we think of here . . . can become our country's laws," said Jaffer.
The panel encouraged women to get involved at any level.
In her third term as a Mission school trustee, Carol Hamilton stood up and attested to the rewards of engaging in politics.
"I encourage every woman to run. It's given me confidence in my personal life, in my career, and it's been rewarding. I've come to realize I am a political animal and I do wonder what's next for me," she said.
Pynenburg added that participation at any level, behind the scenes as a volunteer or a candidate running for office, encourages other women to step forward.
"It's not pointless to run and fail, because candidates learn a lot," she said.
"If people can imagine a woman, visualize a woman candidate, they're more likely to vote for a woman candidate," she said.
- The event was hosted by the federal Liberal riding association of Pitt Meadows Maple Ridge-Mission.