» Go to news main

Representation matters: Dal students working on book about Nova Scotia's 50 female MLAs

Posted by Matt Reeder on December 13, 2019 in News
Sara Dobson (left) and Grace Evans. (Staff photo)
Sara Dobson (left) and Grace Evans. (Staff photo)

Sarah Dobson and Grace Evans met a couple of years ago while volunteering on a political campaign for a female MLA. Now, the Dal students have joined forces again — this time, to produce a book showcasing the 50 women who have served to date as Members of the Legislative Assembly in Nova Scotia.

Sarah and Grace hope their book will help inspire more women to run for office in the province by shining a light on some of their accomplishments and insights.

“We wanted to do this project because we think representation matters,” says Sarah, a grad of Dal’s undergraduate Political Science program and a current third-year student in the Schulich School of Law. “The book will show some of the barriers and negative experiences these women have faced, but it’s also about their successes and how well you can do, especially now.”

As the duo has discovered over the past few months working on the book, the history of women elected to the more-than-200-year-old Nova Scotia House of Assembly is relatively short. While women in the province first gained the right to run for office in 1918, it wasn’t until more than 40 years later in 1960 that a woman was actually elected as an MLA. A third of those being profiled for the book are sitting MLAs, six are deceased, and the rest are former MLAs.

The move towards progress

Each profile will take the form of a Q&A, allowing the women to tell stories in their own words on a range of topics from how they ended up in politics to barriers they faced in office. As Grace points out, women have faced further hurdles to advancement once elected.

“As a whole, when you look at women in politics, a lot of the time they never really reach the highest levels of office,” says the third-year Political Science undergrad, noting that Nova Scotia has never had a female premier and only in the last decade has seen its first female deputy premier.

But as the book shows, times are changing. More women are now being appointed to higher-profile cabinet posts such as finance or justice minister.

“That’s inspiring because it’s sometimes hard for women to enter that role as an MLA thinking they’ll never get a ministerial position or that they’ll just be a back bencher,” says Grace, “but it shouldn’t be a barrier for them just because they are a woman.”

And while the profiles uncover some of the challenges that face female MLAs — particularly those of different racial backgrounds and sexual orientations— there will be questions that provide room for women to reflect on the positives of the experience. For instance, the women are being asked what their proudest accomplishment has been inside or outside of politics — a question Sarah says has gotten some interesting reactions.

“You see their face and it’s like they are kind of taken aback for a second as they haven’t been asked that question so directly before,” she says. “Those stories are really positive as they get to tell the good things they feel they’ve done.”

For a good cause

Sarah and Grace have been busy raising funds to cover the costs of the self-published book. They’ve received grants from Equal Voice, a program run through the Daughters of the Vote initiative that Sarah was a part of a few years ago, and Nova Scotia's Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

They hope to raise enough money to cover the printing costs, so that proceeds from all sales can go directly to funding a new scholarship for young women interested in a career in politics.

“We want to inspire people and show that it is an attainable goal, even though it is challenging, it is worth pursuing,” says Grace. “Like most careers, I think you’d find similar stories. But because it’s politics, it’s open and you see it more often. Showing these stories might help young women and inspire them and that’s our goal in doing it.”

If all goes as planned, the students are aiming to time the publication of the book to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020.