By Dirka Prout and Bethany Drader, Co-Chairs
When our term began at the 2018 convention, we were excitedly looking forward to supporting candidates for the 2019 election and rejuvenating the Women’s Commission. Little did we know we would encounter some internal headwinds, a marathon term and a pandemic!
We understand that the 2016 to 2018 Women’s Commission had difficulty getting quorum so former Co-Chair Constance Barnes, Co-Chair Dirka Prout and our then Secretary-Treasurer Bethany Drader were determined to make sure members were engaged and met regularly. We accomplished this up until lockdowns began in March 2020.
In late 2018, we sent letters of congratulations and thanks to female-identified candidates who participated in the provincial election in Ontario and New Brunswick that year. We also invited them to consider becoming candidates in the 2019 federal elections. A few women responded to our letters including Farina Hassan, the 2019 candidate for Milton. Our Co-Chair Dirka Prout ran for London North Centre and former Co-Chair Christine Pare took on the PM in Papineau.
After an enquiry, we discovered that there were no rules to administer our fund, formerly known as the Agnes McPhail fund. In the lead up to the 2019 Federal elections, we developed guidelines for fund disbursement. The guidelines contained a feedback mechanism to provide information that could be used to help women-identified candidates for future elections. The guidelines were also meant to be a living document to be updated before every general election. We amplified our female candidates by broadcasting their nomination announcements on our Facebook page.
We temporarily suspended meetings due to the pandemic and resumed in September 2020. That month we also participated in the She Rises: A Women’s Equity Townhall. Some 166 women across Canada joined with hosts, leader Jagmeet, London Fanshawe MP and Women and Gender Equality Critic, Lindsay Mathyssen and Co-Chair Dirka Prout. This Townhall was an opportunity to hear what New Democrats have been doing to fight for women during the COVID-19 crises. We recognize that women, especially Black, Indigenous, Women of Colour, and Women living with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by this crisis.
From the questions fielded, we know that women are very concerned about the lack of universal childcare, food security particularly in northern communities, the continuing vulnerability of disabled women and children, inadequate support of sexual assault victims by the police, and gender inequality with respect to wages and access to social assistance. We are proud that Jagmeet, Lindsay and the rest of the NDP Caucus is committed to making sure that Canadian women get the support they need during the pandemic. We know they will continue to fight that Canada post-pandemic is more equitable for women especially those that are BIPOC or disabled.
In January and February 2021, the Women’s Commission solicited resolutions from our members, our critic, other federal Commissions and ridings across Canada. Through this process we prioritized and submitted a total of 13 resolutions on topics as varied as Land Back, reproductive rights and measures, rights of women and non-binary people, decriminalization of sex work, job sharing for MPs and calls for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women.
We wish to extend our thanks to former Co-Chair Constance Barnes who stepped down in November 2019 for health reasons. In her resignation letter, Constance expressed confidence in our remaining Executive by stating: “I know you will be in good hands with Dirka and Beth as they are both stellar and work well together.” We are happy to report that Constance has made full recovery and is doing well.
At the same Saskatchewan representative Betty Nippi-Albright also left the Commission. In 2020 we were celebrating when Betty, a Cree and Salteaux community developer and primary health facilitator was elected as the MLA for Saskatoon Centre during the 2020 provincial election in Saskatchewan. We know Betty will be a phenomenal MLA.
Although we had some successes during our term, we were disappointed with the level of support given to the Women’s Commission by the Federal Party. When the NDP website was updated in late 2018/early 2019, the Women’s Commission page was removed from the website along with those of other Commissions and Committees. In addition, the links to our fund as well as that of the Persons Living With Disability Committee have been broken the entire length of our term. This meant that with the exception of persons who were donating to these funds through regular pre-authorized payments, these funds could not be replinshed.
The Commission suffers from an inability to communicate effectively with our sister organizations at the provincial and territorial level. We are dismayed that the party does not keep an active list of provincial and territorial women’s across Canada. In addition our repeated requests to have a unique email address for the Commission was been described as not being a priority.
The guidelines we developed to administer our fund required the party to record the number and demographics of applicants and successful recipients; the amounts given to successful recipients; and a breakdown of the numbers of successful and unsuccessful applicants who retained their incumbency or won their seats. The party was to report this information to our Commission no later than nine months after the election. One year and a half after the 2019 election, the report has not been provided as requested. This mean that we cannot assess which areas require future attention and/or initiatives to further the successful participation of women in politics.
The lack of a mechanism to communicate with our members, absence of a presence on the party’s website, non-functioning of the link to our fund and the absence of a report on our fund has seriously frustrated our Commission. This combination of the failures of the party to facilitate the Commission’s work erodes our trust. It also diminishes the potential of the NDP to reach an important block of voters and volunteers.
Poll after poll shows that the federal NDP is supported primarily by women. Given that the pandemic predominantly affects women, we would have hoped they would have seen the Women’s Commission as avenue to connect and engage with grassroots women. Our dedicated Commission members have completed a marathon term as volunteers despite our family, community, academic and professional responsibilities. We met regularly and have fulfilled our mandate to develop feminist policy and support women-identified candidates and campaigns. However our ability to do more requires support from the party.
The Federal NDP’s Participation of Women’s Committee was founded in 1969. We preceded similar Liberal and Conservative Commissions by 4 years and 12 years, respectively. Our Commission wants to see the NDP remain at the forefront of women’s rights and liberation from capitalism and the patriarchy. Because whatever is good for women is good for everyone.