Kelowna’s city council has a notable lack of female representation.
Only two women were elected in the October municipal election, out of eight council spots.
“I am disappointed that there are only two women on council,” said councillor Mohini Singh.
She was first elected in 2011, becoming the first ever Indo-Canadian woman elected in Kelowna.
Across the world, women are underrepresented in all levels of politics, according to a report by the United Nations.
Amarit Brar, 26, ran for her first-ever elected political position this year, and lost.
She said that she witnessed sexism and misogyny multiple times. She said that once while volunteering on a campaign in a past election, she was talked over and not credited for her ideas. Additionally, Brar said that once she was told that having her at an event wouldn’t be ideal.
While volunteering on the campaign, she offered to aid the candidate, who was a man, at an event. She was then told that “the optics” of a male staffer attending the event alone with a young woman were poor and that it would be best if she didn’t attend the event.
As a young woman of colour, “the hardest part was trying to get people to take me seriously,” said Brar.
She said that she had to continually prove herself during the most recent election, above and beyond what was expected of other candidates, despite having a resume that includes experience working with government ministries, work on multiple campaigns, advocacy work and volunteering.
She explained that women who are interested in politics face unique challenges compared to their male counterparts.
Brar said that self-doubt, a lack of support, and a lack of resources are some of the barriers that women face when running for public office.
She explained that having children can be a barrier, as traditionally, women are expected to stay home and raise the family. She said that she has noticed that it can be difficult for women to get support from their partners when running for office.
Brar said that it can also be difficult for women to find guidance and mentorship from people who have had a successful career in politics.
She explained that she has seen male politicians mentor the young men helping with their campaign, eventually coming full circle and helping them to run in their own campaign.
She said that she has never been gifted the support of a candidate in the same way, and feels as though the lack of mentorship for young women prevents them from pursuing a career in politics.
Rather than being discouraged by the patriarchal tendencies of politics, Brar said that it has made her even more passionate about getting women involved in government.
She is now using her own experience to break down barriers, share knowledge and encourage other women, particularly young women of colour, to enter politics.
“I would like to see more incumbents in the community reach out and support women in power.”
Singh said that running for council is not a male or female thing, and that in her experience voters care about ideas, not gender. She said that she was encouraged to run and got involved in politics a decade ago because she felt as though the city needed stronger and more decisive leadership.
Singh said that she is encouraging the next generation of politicians by speaking with a gender studies classes at UBCO about serving in public government.
“I want to plant that seed,” said Singh.
Singh added that it is important to have diversity on council as people from different walks of life bring unique experiences and ideas.
Brar agreed, saying that the government should represent the population that it serves.