A special topics course on women in mass politics has morphed into a two-day workshop on women and politics that showcases students, working politicians and academics and researchers.
This workshop is another example of how innovative teaching in the Faculty of Arts is empowering students, said Dr. Reeta Tremblay, dean of Arts and a participant in the workshop. She will speak on Self Government and Women in India.
The workshop, scheduled for April 4 and 5, is the brainchild of Dr. Amanda Bittner of the Political Science department. Dr. Bittner’s research areas are voting, elections and public opinion. Extending this interest to look at the behaviour and participation of women in politics was a natural, according to Dr. Bittner. Her special topics course has proven to be so popular, she said it will be a permanent course in the fall of 2009.
Instead of getting students in the course to do class presentations, Dr. Bittner thought something “more festive” would force students to take their work more seriously.
“I have been really, really pleased and surprised by the level of interest from students and how well they are doing in the course. Everyone is completely engaged – and their research papers are really good,” said Dr. Bittner.
“That’s where the concept for the workshop came in, ultimately growing from a small idea to a two-day event. The idea of inviting women politicians to speak about their experience on the ground was another natural extension,” said Dr. Bittner. And surprisingly, everyone was happy to participate.
“As a female in politics, I feel it is very important to share my experiences with other women and encourage them to become involved in the political process and make change,” said Yvonne Jones, leader of the official Opposition. “I was the first female minister of fisheries in the province’s history and I now serve as the first female leader of the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador. Women are breaking new ground every day and our influence is helping improve the way policies are developed and how governments make decisions.
“It is only through dialogue and discussion that women will recognize the rewards of political life and knowing that you can make a difference. The women and politics workshop will certainly provide a venue for these experiences to be shared and I look forward to the many perspectives that will certainly be brought forward,” added Ms. Jones.
Other politicians who will be participating with Ms. Jones in the afternoon panel discussion on Sunday, April 5, are St. John’s South-Mount Pearl Liberal Member of Parliament Siobhan Coady, St. John’s City Councillor Shannie Duff, New Democratic Party Leader Lorraine Michael, and Provincial Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment Susan Sullivan. This session will be moderated by Dr. Rob Greenwood of the Leslie Harris Centre, who is co-sponsoring the event.
Along with such initiatives as Mapping Politics, the political science online student journal, presentations at conferences such as these can be added to students’ CVs and help immeasurably when applying for post-graduate programs. In addition to the practical applications, there is the sheer freedom and empowerment students and others can experience when talking about politics, particularly from a woman’s perspective.
Gillian Ring is a graduate student currently working on her MA in political science.
“This conference will provide a great forum for discussion of important issues facing women in politics today,” she said. “It provides us, as students, an opportunity to present ideas on our specific areas of interest and gain insight while being exposed to first-hand accounts and experiences of strong women leaders working in our province. This event, and discussions therein, are important to further the study of women and politics today. It is exciting to be both a contributor and an attendee at this conference.”
Ms. Ring will be presenting on Women’s Representation in the Media: How Female Political Leaders are Covered in Canada.
Dr. Bittner said the response to this inaugural workshop has been very encouraging. Perhaps the dearth of focus on women and women’s issues in recent government budgets has contributed to a demand that such issues need to be addressed, she said.
The women and politics workshop will be held Saturday, April 4, and Sunday, April 5, at the Junior Common Room in Gushue Hall. It is free and open to the public. Those wishing to attend are asked to register by e-mailing Dr. Bittner at firstname.lastname@example.org