Caroline Cochrane can personally attest to the impact of a campaign school for women, like the one held in Hay River over the weekend.
Cochrane, the territorial minister responsible for the status of women, told the participants at the workshop that she is in politics because of a similar campaign school in Yellowknife.
She said it was the “turning point” that finally moved her to seek election.
“So I’m hoping that you will have the same experience today,” she said at the beginning of the two-day campaign school on Jan. 28. “It will take you step-by-step and show you exactly what you need to do.”
The campaign school gave her the tools to have an organized campaign, said the Range Lake MLA.
“And I’m forever grateful for that and a strong advocate for this,” she said of the workshop, which was presented by the Status of Women Council of the NWT.
Cochrane said, as the minister responsible for the status of women, one of her priorities is to promote more women in leadership.
“But it’s also a personal goal of mine. It’s really important,” she said, noting that women have been socialized to think of themselves as caregivers.
“So it’s a really difficult step for us to branch out and say, even though all these years I’ve been trained to take care of everyone else, it’s time to take care of myself,” she said. “And by taking care of yourself as a leader, it’s being a role model for all the other young women out there that says follow our steps. It’s OK to be in power. You don’t need to be barefoot in the kitchen.”
Cochrane said women need to take that “one more step” from taking care of their families to taking care of their communities and then on to taking care of all the residents in the NWT.
“It’s not a big leap. It’s innate,” she said. “We have it in us and we just have to recognize that it’s there and work with that.”
However, Cochrane warned that some segments of society do not welcome outspoken females as a good thing.
“And in fact there are some really derogatory terms that are labelled on women that are outspoken and do take a leadership role,” she said.
Cochrane noted that, in the NWT, women are still underrepresented in leadership, within the cabinet and the legislative assembly, pointing out she is the only female cabinet minister and there’s only one other female MLA.
“But we need to do better,” she said. “So I’m hoping that next election we’ll see more of you out there.”
With 50 per cent of the population, Cochrane said women need to be represented 50 per cent in the decision-making process, since women think differently than men.
“It’s not about women taking over,” she said. “It’s about women having an equal voice, equal representation. As long as we have more men in leadership positions and women as a minority, we will always be seen in society as a minority, as less than.”
Cochrane, who is also the minister of Municipal and Community Affairs, said women have a long way to go for equal representation.
“But we’re going to get there. I know that,” she said. “And I’m hoping that it’s within my lifetime.”
The campaign school gathered together about 25 women from a number of communities – Hay River, Fort Smith, Yellowknife and Fort Providence.
It was supported with $15,000 from the GNWT’s Women’s Advisory Division, which is part of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Relations.
There were a number of speakers, including Nicole Latour, the NWT’s chief electoral officer; Jane Groenewegen, the former MLA for Hay River South; and Julie Green, the MLA for Yellowknife Centre.
The campaign school covered a number of topics, such as election rules, public speaking, communications, fundraising and dealing with the media.
At the beginning of the workshop, Latour noted that, in the 2015 territorial election, there were 60 candidates and only 10 were women.
The chief electoral officer noted three women were elected to the legislative assembly in 2007.
“I think that’s our all-time high at three,” Latour said. “So there’s certainly room for improvement on some level for that.”
There have been only 12 women ever elected to the legislative assembly in the NWT.