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Why does gender distribution matter?

Increasing the number of women in public office can result in valuable changes in a community. Above all, strengthening the presence of women in local politics is inherently a democratic issue. In a democratic system, politicians are entrusted to make decisions as representatives of their voters’ values and needs. In Canada, we deem it important to have appropriate geographic representation in our governments, as we understand that geography can define our concerns. Similarly, a democratic system should also reflect society’s gender diversity, since women have unique experiences and their concerns are influenced by those experiences.

Women in public office  not only shed light on issues that affect women, but they are also making every decision through a lens created by their experience. By increasing the number of women involved in government decision-making, we can enhance the whole community’s wellness, as diverse needs are being met in a more substantial way. In addition, inside and outside of the workplace women have shown a higher propensity to encourage consensus and further discussion, which can lead to the development of more innovative ideas.

More women in politics results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and the consideration of a broader range of policy issues . Research indicates that female legislators propose more bills, spread across more issues, than their male counterparts. The topics of their sponsored bills span a range of women’s issues, men’s issues, and gender-neutral topics, giving support to the idea that women balance their legislative portfolios.  

Women’s political participation has profound positive and democratic impacts on communities, legislatures, political parties, and citizens’ lives. Research shows that women’s leadership and conflict resolution styles embody democratic ideals and that women tend to work in a less hierarchical, more participatory and more collaborative way than male colleagues. Women are also more likely to work across party lines, even in highly partisan environments.

Around the world, women’s participation bolsters the legitimacy of  governing bodies as they becomes more representative of the nations they serve. When women are empowered as political leaders, countries experience higher standards of living; positive developments can be seen in education, infrastructure and health, and concrete steps are taken to help make democracy deliver.

Women’s engagement in political arenas is crucial, but it is important to recognize 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. Gender distribution is not the only factor contributing to diversity – the Welcoming and Inclusive Communities (WIC) initiative brings a wider perspective on what municipalities can do to promote diversity more broadly – however  more women in public office is essential  for the development of inclusive, responsive, and transparent democracies.