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Women on top; now what?

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A massive coup has been staged by women and it seems to have just sneaked up on us when we weren't looking.

It is amazing that today 87 per cent of Canadians live in a province where the premier is a woman. When we look for political leadership, nine of 10 Canadians will see a woman. In 2000, only 13 years ago, we could count the number of women who had ever been premier on one hand. Today we have six in office -- Christy Clark in B.C., Alison Redford in Alberta, Pauline Marois in Quebec, Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland and Eva Aariak in Nunuvut are now joined by Kathleen Wynne in Ontario.

Now the big questions we need to ask are what does this mean and how will it affect us? Will this revolution result in critical changes in government policy? It would certainly be a shame if it just resulted in the "same old, same old."

For sure, at least some of these women understand, on a really personal level, the implications of abuse in the lives of women and girls. In the long term, the increase in status and equality of women that their premierships represent will cause a reduction in the amount of abuse, but the timeline is too long and we need to be moving more quickly or more women will suffer and more will die. Faster trials, more support for victims, more education of police, harsher sentences for abusers and a requirement they accept treatment before being released would be a good start. These premiers can initiate and fund such changes.

And how about missing and murdered aboriginal women. Can we not develop a Canada-wide investigation of these crimes and can we not stop them? If we had long ago believed women in B.C. when they started talking about missing women, less of them would have been murdered. These premiers represent the East and West coasts and the North. They can develop a Canada-wide response. They can and they must believe women when we speak about these kinds of crimes and they need to take action to address them.

The Morgentaler decision recognizing abortion as a women's right was made 25 years ago on Jan. 28, yet young women are still finding themselves unexpectedly pregnant and many are ignorant of the facts around birth control and abortion. In Manitoba, we have one of the highest rates of unplanned teen pregnancy and horrible statistics on child abuse. There is a connection there. We need to move on this with a national public education campaign and these premiers can do it without the support of an unwilling federal government.

We could increase the amount of time women could take off from work to raise their babies. We could ensure employers offer flexible work hours. We could make daycare free in every province just like school is. Marois, who brought in daycare for $5 a day, could take the lead.

Why don't they force the private sector into the 21st century? We can require gender equity on all publicly traded corporate boards. Businessmen will scream "government intervention," but it has been done in several other countries. The female leaders in Scandinavia, for example, made these changes and their countries are among the world's most successful. Empowering women at the board level increases productivity and produces changes on the shop floor and in management.

Why not really put some effort into reducing poverty. Not only do these premiers govern 87 per cent of Canadians, they also represent the four biggest provincial economies in Canada. First, let's stop homelessness. We have the data that shows providing a decent, stable place to sleep is effective in increasing health and developing the energy and confidence to find training and ultimately work. All of these provinces could increase financial support to families, using the tax system and provincial programs. If they all moved together, the other provinces would be shamed into following suit.

I am looking forward to the next few years and seeing what this diverse group of premiers can accomplish. We don't elect women because they look different. We elect women because we believe they will behave differently.

Linda Taylor is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2013 A11

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