Party politics is keeping women from supporting each other, says former NDP MLA Norma Kassi.
Kassi spoke to a packed house at the Yukon Women in Leadership Conference in Whitehorse on Saturday. She was there to address systemic barriers.
“Another systemic barrier we have in this territory is that we have a party system,” she said, citing Yukon Party MLA Elaine Taylor, who was in the audience, as an example.
“Elaine, I love her, but I can’t vote for her party. I’ll campaign for her in her constituency though,” said Kassi.
“But we can’t vote for each other because it’s a party system.”
The problem is especially true in an intimate political scene like the Yukon, she said.
“My point is that as a territory, to have this kind of a party politics doesn’t help. When people go out and vote anyways, they vote for the people they like,” she said.
“We’re always divisive, we’re always fighting each other. We’ve got to get to know each other.”
Her message of unity amongst aboriginal and nonaboriginal women received an emotional response.
“If there’s a nonaboriginal woman who is not well, I’m willing to share my medicine,” she said.
“That’s how it should be in this territory; we’re small. And another thing is that we need to vote for gender balance, we need to vote for each other.”
Yukon Women in Trades and Technology representative Betty Irwin also spoke about systemic barriers.
“We’ve made so many strides, we’ve beaten down a lot of (systematic barriers),” she said.
“We can vote, we can own property, we can run for politics, we can run for city council – we can do all of these things now.
“So, then, what are these people talking about when they say systemic barriers?
“When we talk about systemic barriers in employment, I don’t know.
“But there’s the reality that women still only earn 77 cents to every dollar that men earn. So what’s wrong here? What’s standing in the way of women?”
Irwin found an easier target in politics.
“I’ll give you an example of a real systemic barrier – politics,” she said.
A study on women and electoral reform from British Columbia makes the case that women are excluded from the recruitment process in politics.
“Those who manage to access the system have to be significantly more qualified to gain the confidence of party gatekeepers,” said Irwin, reading from the document.
When asked if she would support US Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, Kassi couldn’t deny their difference on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“Absolutely not,” said Kassi, “Because she strongly supports opening the Arctic refuge.”
Kassi made a name for herself as a leading activist campaigning against oil and gas exploration in the refuge.
It’s only one example of how women can have a huge impact in politics, she told the conference.
“From being a little voice in the wilderness, we took on a big government, the most powerful government in the world, to raise an issue.
“And it’s now an issue that became the number one environmental issue in two presidential elections in the United States,” said Kassi.
Palin was criticized this weekend for misquoting former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright at a rally in California.
“There’s a special place in hell reserved for women who don’t support other women,” said Palin.
Actually, Albright said there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.