Women in Municipal Government
Municipal government creates, delivers and supports essential services, policies and programs that directly shape a community. Women play a vital role in local government. Studies have shown that gender diversity in leadership teams improves an organization’s effectiveness. Varying opinions, backgrounds and lived experiences can lead to more inclusive thoughtful decision-making. Having more women on municipal council means a broader range of perspectives will be shared and debated. Hearing different voices, and adopting different approaches, can also result in more innovative decision-making that better meets the needs of all residents.
Women’s engagement in political arenas is crucial, however, it also must be acknowledged that women are not a homogeneous group. Depending on their age, education, cultural background and income, among other factors, they have very different life experiences that lead to different priorities and needs. Increasing the number of women from diverse backgrounds in public office is important for the development of inclusive, responsive, and transparent democracies.
Alberta Municipalities is committed to promoting initiatives and organizations that increase the participation of women in municipal government and enhance diversity within councils. The Welcoming and Inclusive Communities (WIC) initiative offers a wider perspective on what municipalities can do to promote diversity more broadly.
With two chapters in Alberta, North and South, Equal Voice is a national, bilingual, multi-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.
Daughters of the Vote
Following a memorable demonstration in 2017, when 338 young women took their seats in the House of Commons on International Women’s Day to mark 100 years since some women obtained the right to vote, Equal Voice promoted the Daughters of the Vote program again in 2019. In addition to the House of Commons sitting, the program includes an Indigenous Forum, skills training on how to run for election at all levels of government, leadership training sessions and many engagement opportunities with elected officials of all stripes. The objective is to ensure that the selected 338 emerging young women leaders become familiar with Canada’s political institutions and those women and men serving in them – so that they are equipped and inspired to participate in the formal political sphere in the years and decades to come.
Developed by Equal Voice and funded by Status of Women Canada, this extensive online course aims to increase the number of elected women by providing practical tools for women of all ages, backgrounds and walks of life interested in running for public office.
Developed by Carleton University and Equal Voice, this guide is packed with practical advice from assessing readiness to run, mentors and personal strategies to social media, finances, nominations and assembling a team. It also includes a self-assessment exercise, pointers for developing a campaign strategy and fundraising tips.
Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) Programs and Initiatives
As more women take on political public leadership roles, we are closer to the goal of more representative, responsive and effective government at every level. Together with local, national and international partners, FCM is developing strategies and tools to ensure that municipal councils are representative of the communities they serve.
CanWILL is a three-year project (2021-2024) that is part of FCM’s portfolio of social inclusion initiatives. The project aims to increase the participation and retention of women in municipal leadership and support a more diverse, inclusive and equitable environment in municipal governance processes. The project will prioritize underrepresented women, including Indigenous, Black and other racialized women, as well as youth and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. The project leverages the success of FCM’s Toward Parity in Municipal Politics (2018-2020) and Diverse Voices (2016-2018) initiatives.
CanWILL aims to achieve four core objectives:
Strengthening the capacity of women, particularly diverse women, to run for elected office
Creating a more conducive context for women leaders to thrive
Enhancing the capacity of municipal stakeholders to address gender-based violence and harassment
Mobilizing knowledge and sharing best practices across municipalities
According to the FCM, in Canada, women occupy 18% of mayors’ positions and 28% of councillors’ seats. Through the Toward Parity in Municipal Politics initiative, and their Standing Committee on Increasing Women's Participation in Municipal Government, FCM has been working to shift those numbers upward.
The objective of the Toward Parity initiative was to create a pan-Canadian plan to level the playing field for women who run in municipal elections and make it easier for them to participate and have their voices heard. This three-year initiative was initiated in 2018 and was funded by Women and Gender Equality Canada. The initiative concluded in 2021.
FCM collaborates with provincial and territorial municipal associations, Equal Voice, the Canadian Women's Foundation, and other organizations at the national, regional and local levels. Through consultations and pilot projects, FCM has been determining the most effective ways to overcome the barriers that keep women from participating in the political life of their community.
Two of the primary outcomes of the Toward Parity initiative were:
the Run, win, lead: Toward Parity Framework which lays out a roadmap to support more women running for office, winning their campaigns, and leading effectively once elected; and
the Toward Parity Knowledge Hub, which is a compilation of resources from across Canada and around the world, located on FCM’s website, including some of the many tools, best practices, projects, research and ideas which have a common theme of promoting and achieving parity in municipal representation.
This 2015 initiative aimed to increase the number of women from diverse communities who are actively informed by, and engaged in, local government decision-making. In collaboration with five participating municipalities and drawing upon an already established network of Regional Champions, FCM created a toolkit to support elected officials in creating a more inclusive municipal decision making system, which includes the participation of women across diverse communities in advisory committees, local agencies, boards, and commissions.
FCM also developed a campaign guide for women candidates with instruction and best practices around five key electoral challenges: Campaign literature, Social media, Media relations, Deciding to run, and Campaign financing.
ParityYEG aims to effect societal and structural change by empowering women to seek leadership positions in public service. To shift the prevailing political culture, we need to ensure that every door is being opened for women. They have created an informative Campaign Kit to support women in running for political office.
Ahead of the 2019 Alberta provincial election, a live dashboard tracked the gender distribution among party candidates who sought nominations, as well as those who were nominated to run. The online tool was developed by ParityYEG in collaboration with Dave Cournoyer of political blog Daveberta.ca.
The Women's Advocacy Voice of Edmonton (WAVE) is an advisory committee approved by City Council. Its role is to ensure that the gender lens is represented and considered in municipal policy decisions and to build capacity for greater participation of Edmonton women in civic life. In 2017, it committed to increase women’s participation and visibility in that year’s municipal election by hosting and supporting public forums on the topic; working with City Clerk’s office to promote women’s participation as candidates; increasing awareness about the importance of women’s perspectives in municipal government and at Council level; and developing a plan to increase the number of women running for office and to encourage women to vote.
Ask Her is a non-partisan initiative committed to increasing the number of women running for Calgary City Council and Mayor by asking women to run and supporting them with funding and capacity building. It was founded in 2016 and contributed to more than double the number of female candidates who ran municipally in Calgary in the 2017 elections, compared to the previous one.