Terry Glavin: Sorry, Canada, when it comes to political leadership it turns out you’re not uniquely feminist

Interesting study by Environics Institute, underlying the importance of data and analysis in challenging assumptions:

Sorry to disappoint you, Canada, but it turns out you’re nowhere near as uniquely feminist in your ideas about political leadership as you seem to think you are. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s inaugural gender-parity cabinet, and his Jan. 10 shuffle which the majority of cabinet posts to women, Canada is better than the average, sure.

But when asked whether women are just as qualified to lead their country as men, Canadians are less likely to agree than respondents in such stereotypically macho countries as Spain, Portugal, Italy and Venezuela. Going strictly by the numbers, Canadians are less likely to agree with the proposition than Kenyans.

That’s just one of the surprising findings in a groundbreaking international survey undertaken late last year by the Toronto-based Environics Institute, made available exclusively to the National Post. Involving 62,918 respondents in 60 countries, the Environics survey is the most ambitious of its kind that the institute has ever undertaken.

Here’s another one of its surprises: age and education levels play no clear role in whether people will agree that women are as qualified as men to serve in political leadership positions. In some countries, the older and less educated you are, the more likely you’ll be content with women holding political power.

The Swedes, whose government boasts that it’s “the first feminist government in the world,” are not statistically different than Chileans or Mexicans, or Canadians for that matter. And the rigidly theocratic Saudis, who are notorious for requiring women to cover themselves from head to toe in niqabs and won’t even allow women to drive, come in only slightly below the thoroughly democratic Japanese, who are only barely likely to agree that women are as capable as men in political leadership.

In most countries, there’s not much difference between what women and men say on the subject, either. Here’s a shocker: people who are most emphatic that women are as capable in national leadership positions as men are more likely to cleave simultaneously to the “patriarchal” notion that a man should be the head of the family.

Of the United Nations’ 193 member states, only 19 heads of state or heads of government are women. If this isn’t mainly because of institutional barriers or differences in political systems, and if it doesn’t simply reflect what men want, or what old people want, or what people without much schooling want, then what’s going on?

“It looks like it’s mainly culture,” says Keith Neuman, the Environics Institute’s executive director. Another lesson from the study is that the assumptions Canadians tend to make about certain cultures, and the implications for the status of women, might also be more than just a bit wonky.

“Nobody’s ever asked these questions of all these countries so we didn’t have clear expectations, but what surprised me I guess was the level of support in a number of patriarchal societies. I was surprised by the level of support, for instance, in Latin America,” Neuman told me. “Part of me assumed that it would be the western progressive feminist countries, the countries with the strongest feminist leanings, that would be the counties where people would be be inclined to say, yes, absolutely, women of course are just as qualified as men. That didn’t come out the way I’d expected.”

Globally, nearly eight in ten people are pretty much like Canadians, at least mildly agreeing with the statement: “Women are just as qualified as men to lead our country.” Respondents were given a ‘totally agree’ or ‘totally disagree’ option, to identify responses that were emphatic and not merely indications of a ‘Yeah, sure, whatever’ attitude. Latin America comes in with a higher “totally agree” score than any region in the world, at 85 per cent, exceeding even Western Europe’s 77 per cent average.

But in that same “totally agree” category, Canada comes in at 62 per cent, below Spain (72 per cent), Portugal (71 per cent), Italy (65 per cent), and Kenya (66 per cent).

Cold comfort: at least Canadians score higher than Americans. Only 43 per cent of American respondents “totally” agree. Canada gets to rub it in, too: the United States scores lower than Pakistan, where 48 per cent of respondents “totally” agree.

Unsurprisingly, the Arab countries come in low in the total-agreement category, at 38 per cent of Syrians, for instance, 22 per cent of Algerians, and 24 per cent of the Saudis — roughly half of whom, surprisingly, at least basically agree that women are as qualified to lead as men. Respondents in the East Asian countries came in generally low in “total agreement” with the idea that women are as qualified in politics as men. But the Japanese come in close to the Saudis. While 63 per cent at least agree, only 27 per cent totally agree.

Undertaken in collaboration with Environics Communications and Environics Analytics — two commercial firms in the Environics group — roughly 1,000 people were surveyed in each of the 60 countries in the study. The surveys relied on technology pioneered by Toronto’s RIWI Corp., which gets around the usual recruited online panels by teasing out random samples of country populations through cellular phones and laptop computers. (RIWI has racked up quite a few predictive bullseyes lately, pinpointing the tipping point in Egypt’s popular uprising against dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and correctly forecasting Donald Trump’s electoral college win despite Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote lead in the U.S. presidential elections. RIWI also called the margin of defeat in Italy’s constitutional referendum within a single percentage point last December.)

Source: Terry Glavin: Sorry, Canada, when it comes to political leadership it turns out you’re not uniquely feminist | National Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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