Laurin Liu participated in her first political panel on national television not long ago. It was an all-female panel, and the 21-year-old rookie NDP MP from Quebec was keen to debate the issues.
What happened next took her aback.
“I sit down and the first thing the host says is, ‘What a hot panel we’ve got tonight’ … and this is a male host. It’s my first national panel… ,” recalls Ms. Liu, who laughs about it now. “And then it just clicked. I’m in Ottawa and this is the way it is.”
Sadly, this is the way it still is for women on Parliament Hill.
Last May, after the general election, women’s groups were cheering the fact that 25 per cent of the MPs elected were female.
Ms. Liu, a McGill University student, was part of the Orange Wave that saw 59 NDP MPs – nearly half of whom are women – elected in Quebec. It was on the strength of the party’s victory in the province that it was propelled to official-opposition status.
Although the much-sought standard of 30-per-cent representation of women in the Commons has yet to be achieved, the 2011 result was considered a breakthrough. Women’s representation had stagnated around 20 per cent for two decades.
But it’s not just a numbers game. Ms. Liu, the party’s deputy environment critic and a quick study, still sees obstacles. She says she needs to have a thicker skin than her male colleagues. She feels she has to work harder, know her facts better and be more prepared than the male MPs “to win credibility.”