Surrey councillor Barinder Rasode says she was encouraged to run for public office for “many years” before she took the plunge.
In a telephone interview with the Georgia Straight, Rasode recalled thinking that she wasn’t ready to become a politician and that she should leave the job to people with more experience. Since she was first elected in 2008, Rasode has heard other potential female politicians express similar doubts about themselves.
“Oftentimes, when I talk to women who are so qualified, they talk a lot about not being ready or not having the experience or what it takes,” Rasode said from Central City. “I think a real recognition of the value of the skills and also the perspective that women bring needs to be encouraged in women, so that they do feel like this is something they can easily do.”
On Thursday (May 15), Rasode—who is currently mulling whether to seek a third term on council or run for mayor as an independent this November—will be one of the speakers at Local Women in Local Government, an event organized by the Canadian Women Voters Congress. The audience at the YWCA Hotel (733 Beatty Street) will also hear from Delta mayor Lois Jackson, Vancouver school board chair Patti Bacchus, and West Vancouver councillor Nora Gambioli.
Bacchus, who is seeking a third term in the upcoming civic election, told the Straight that being able to relate to other women in politics helped her make the decision to run for school trustee for the first time in 2008.
“I never thought I would run for elected office,” Bacchus said by phone from her home. “It was never part of my plan. But I had been getting frustrated with some of the people who were in office and trying to encourage other types of people to run. Finally, someone said to me, ‘Why aren’t you running?’”
On the Vancouver school board, one-third of the trustees are women. Meanwhile, women hold five of the eight seats on Surrey council.
For Bacchus, it’s “particularly important” to have more women represented in all levels of government. She still finds herself in “high level” meetings where she’s the only woman in the room.
“We need diversity to make sure that government is really representing the people that it’s to serve,” Bacchus said. “So that means we need young people, old people, men, women, people from all kinds of backgrounds. Whether it’s economically, culturally, we need to see a whole diversity, so those voices are heard at the decision-making level.”
Rasode noted that she’s often asked who is taking care of her children when she’s on the job—a question that male politicians are much less likely to face.
“Those sorts of cultural expectations in terms of gender roles, I think, do exist a little bit,” Rasode said. “I think that’s something we have to move off of.”
However, Rasode isn’t a fan of political parties establishing gender quotas for candidates. She believes political organizations should encourage women to enter politics, fully support female candidates, and make sure that women are well represented on campaign teams.
“I’ve never supported gender equity policies,” Rasode said. “I believe that eliminating barriers for all people to seek elected office is really important, and then at the end of the day it needs to be the qualifications and what’s best for the city or that level of government.”
Bacchus maintained that orientations and mentorship can help demystify the political process for women. It’s important for female politicians to mentor young politicians of the future, she noted. As well, prospective female politicians shouldn’t be afraid to ask their experienced counterparts for advice.
Entering politics can be “daunting” for anyone, according to the school trustee. She’s dealt with sexist comments and portrayals in mass media and social media.
“The competitive nature of even municipal politics is a bit of a shock for many people—men and women—but I think often even more so for women who are more accustomed to working collaboratively,” Bacchus said.
Nevertheless, Rasode asserted that, as former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton has said, women must “dare to compete”.