Who Acts for Women? An Analysis of Women's Substantive Representation in the Canadian Senate

Thumbnail Image
McCallion, Elizabeth
Canadian politics , Parliament , Gender , Representation , Content analysis , Elite interview research
Why might legislators decide to act in women’s interests? This dissertation investigates the institutional rules that motivate legislators’ behaviour when it comes to representing women. Feminist institutionalism suggests that apparently ungendered parliamentary conventions, such as party discipline and electoral imperatives, have gendered consequences – these constraints on legislators’ behaviour can limit their ability to act for women. But Canadian senators have few representational obligations to parties or geographical constituents, and their partisan commitments decreased following Senate reforms in 2014 and 2015. With few constraints on their representational behaviour, will legislators choose to represent women? This study employs interview research with 23 senators to unearth their perspectives on their institutional context. Building on the interview findings, the study investigates senators’ speech about women in policymaking discussions during the parliaments adjacent to the reforms, using both quantitative and qualitative content analyses. This dissertation finds that most senators see themselves as representatives of women – they have flexible views of regional representation and loose (or non-existent) commitments to party representation, so they can respond to other representational demands. Women senators talk more about women’s issues than their men colleagues, and some senators talk more consistently about women than others. This suggests that there are a few critical actors in the Senate who drive the representation of women’s interests. The study finds that senators’ conceptions of women as a constituency vary. All senators overwhelmingly frame women as vulnerable people. But progressive and Conservative senators constitute women’s interests differently when it comes to the protection of, or protection from, the state. Senators mirror dominant social narratives when they talk about women. They are reluctant to adopt new or alternative framing, even when that framing is preferred by stakeholder witnesses. This study also found that the tone and character of senators’ policymaking discussions changed with the reforms that reduced partisanship, moving from pointed partisan questions to genuinely consultative conversations with witnesses. The dissertation concludes that senators have been talking about women’s issues for a long time. But the reforms have emboldened senators to amend government bills, meaning the conditions are ripe for them to act on women’s interests.
External DOI