“Where are all the female candidates? Seriously!”
That’s the burning question on the mind of current VP External Relations Kathleen Yang. When asked what she wanted to talk about in regards to the Simon Fraser Student Society election, she nearly shouted it immediately.
“I think it’s so unfortunate that there is a huge disparity between male and female candidates, and even non-binary candidates,” she continued. “Candidates that aren’t cisgender males, where are you?”
While the overall number of candidates is down to just 24 this year for the 15 positions on the Board of Directors, only six of them are women. (Ed: We are relying on open knowledge as far as the gender identity of all candidates)
That’s just 25 percent of the candidates that aren’t men, for a school whose student population is assuredly not 75 percent men. In an election season that is marked by the lack of candidates, it’s a similar story for female representation among those running.
“It’s not just this year,” said one of those candidates Christine Dyson, who is running for VP External Relations. “I think if you look at all the previous years, it’s an ongoing issue. It’s always the case.”
While female turnout has been low in the past four years, it has been much higher in the past. In the 2013–2015 SFSS elections, out of all 108 candidates, 36 were female, which constitutes 33 percent.
Additionally, during these years two of the fifteen positions (VP Student Services and Business representative) did not have a single female candidate run. Another three (Arts and Social Sciences representative, Applied Sciences representative, and VP Student Life) only had one.
While these numbers do not accurately reflect the SFU student body, Dyson said that she hasn’t faced any trouble being a woman who wanted to be on the board.
“Once you’re on the SFSS, it’s a totally inviting environment being on the Board of Directors. I think perhaps leading up to it, with the elections and everything, it can be very intimidating.”
Dyson is part of a slate with four of the six women running, along with Larissa Chen (VP Student Services), Blossom Malhan (Arts and Social Science representative), and Prab Bassi (Communications, Art, and Technology representative). The other two, Raajan Garcha (Health Sciences representative) and Jaggy Kullar (At-Large representative), are with the Bridge the Gap slate. There are no independent women running this year.
Dyson and Chen are the only two women running from all the eligible SFU students for executive positions. They’re also the only two women running who currently are on the Board of Directors, with Dyson serving as the Environment representative and Chen as the Health Sciences representative.
For Chen, while it wasn’t an issue that she realized at first, it’s something she is aware of now.
“This is the truth — and it can go on the record — at first you don’t really think about it. As an individual, you kind of just see the candidates not for their gender but for their work ethic,” said Chen. “Afterward, you realize how this mindset is that you naturally go towards not considering ‘Oh, there’s only six females, that’s a problem.’
“I think it is disappointing that there are only six candidates that don’t identify as male running, ‘cause I have the privilege of working with a lot of amazing females who could definitely be amazing in these positions.”
Yang believes that one of the obstacles that arises for women running — and also men, explaining the lower number of candidates — is the awareness of what being on the SFSS entails.
“I think if you look at [. . .] what the society has done to our mental health, to our physical health, to overall well-being, I think they look at the student society and they ask themselves why would we ever want to be a part of that,” she said.
For Chen, who is a Health Sciences student, this kind of reasoning resounds more with women, potentially explaining their absence.
“I think that in terms of women, and I’m going to speak from personal experience, I think that women tend to take into consideration more of the other factors in their life other than politics, other than work, other than school,” she said. “As a Health Science student, it’s shown that women tend to seek healthcare more than men do.
“Definitely before I ran, I took highly into consideration what a toll this may or may not take,” she continued. All three women mentioned making this sort of preparation, as each were very aware of the burden that they faced with running and potentially winning.
With all that being said, never once did they advocate for women running just for the sake of having more women run. Chen talked about the process of making the slate, and the thought that went into it.
“There was a consideration that we don’t have enough females. But then me and Christine were saying how we shouldn’t base it just on sex, because that is unfair,” she said. “If we’re going to be advocating for feminism, it’s not just yay women, it’s yay women and men.”
As for Dyson, she affirmed that the slate went with the candidates who they felt were the best fit, although she did acknowledge that she does hope to see mixed representation.
“We wanted to have mixed representation. That being said, we did choose the candidates that we felt were the best fit for the position,” said Dyson. “If there is more gender balance, I think that’s very important to have that on a slate, just because you don’t want it to be an all-male board next year.”
At the end of the day though, Yang believes that more needs to be done to encourage more women to run and bring their voice to the SFSS foray.
“I think it’s really up to the folks in power to make space for these individuals who are underrepresented, and actively invite these folks to sit at the table,” said Yang.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘Oh look, we are holding an election.’ You need to actively pull these people into our circles and encourage them to run and participate and do our best to dismantle the extra barriers that prevent them from running.”