This is starting out as a rough year for women in politics, around the world, with several resignations revealing the brutal and gruelling nature of a life in power.
Closest to home was Melanie Mark, who announced her plans to resign, saying the Legislature “felt like a torture chamber.” Mark was the first First Nations woman elected as a B.C. MLA and the first to serve as a cabinet member.
She represented the Mount Pleasant riding in Vancouver since 2016 and served as both advanced education minister and tourism minister. Mark, whose family carries the effects of residential school and who lived in foster care as a child, was the minister responsible for announcing that B.C. would waive tuition for all former foster children.
Mark said she wants to focus on her family, but that she hopes other Indigenous women will follow in her footsteps. But she is just the latest in a string of Indigenous women who have quit politics, including former Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who quit politics at 27, saying she felt isolated and miserable in the House of Commons, and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, who wrote a book called Indian in the Cabinet about the experiences that led to her 2019 Cabinet resignation over ethical concerns.
If B.C. means what it says about reconciliation, the government must listen to Mark and make changes in how it operates to make political leadership more amenable for both Indigenous women, and women in general. Women make up only 30 per cent of Canada’s House of Commons and 42 per cent of the B.C. Legislature. A lack of diversity in the halls of power means a lack of representation, which results in inequalities throughout society.
“[A] lack of accommodation for caregiving, a hostile and combative political culture, entrenched sexism and stereotypes, [and] disparaging media coverage” are some of the factors that deter women from running, a 2019 report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found.
Mark affirmed that research, saying women have it worse in the Legislature and that the “nastiness from white men in here is awful.”
But it’s not only the B.C. Legislature that needs to clean up its act. Two other high-profile women leaders also resigned in the last couple of months – Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
Ardern was just 37 when elected in 2017 and notably gave birth while in office. Sturgeon was Scotland’s first female first minister when elected in 2015 and became its longest-serving leader.
Both resignations seemed to come out of the blue, without any apparent scandal or lack of support from their parties. There was no obvious successor for either role.
Their speeches were eerily similar, talking about the challenging intensity of the roles and only being human. Ardern had to hold back tears while making her announcement, while Sturgeon referred to the “brutality” of politics.
“Giving absolutely everything of yourself to this job is the only way to do it. The country deserves nothing less. But in truth that can only be done by anyone for so long,” Sturgeon said.
But Sturgeon is only 52; Ardern only 42. They have so many more years ahead of them, and their resignations, like Mark’s, are the world’s loss. I can only hope they all go on to other leadership roles where they can influence and change global politics from the outside.
We need women’s voices in powerful places throughout the world. Here in B.C., we especially need Indigenous voices to help us all transform after the damaging colonial past. If we don’t listen and adapt our practices, those voices will not be heard. We need to act.