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October 24, 2002 Chantal Maillé explores female factor in Quebec political life



Professor Chantal Maillé

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Julie Demers

Chantal Maillé has been interested in the role of women in politics for as long as she can remember, at least 25 years. Cherchez la femme, Trente ans de débats constitutionnels au Québec is her eighth book, her sixth concerning women and politics. She’s out to prove that politics need not be a man’s game.

Her background is mainly in political science, and when she was attending Université de Montréal, there weren’t many women politicians or even women’s concerns on the curriculum. She remembers the first course offered on women and politics. “For the first time, I could learn about things that really interested me,” she said.

This triggered curiosity on her part about women’s attitudes to politics, and what they could bring to the table.

Ever since then, she has been watching women’s evolution in that sphere like a hawk. “I haven’t been looking at this only as an expert, but also as a woman,” she said.

Her observations have led to books on women and politics. Cherchez la femme brings together three years of research and interviews on the last three decades of women’s participation in the Canada-Quebec constitutional debate. She undertook the project on a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), one of many she has received.

She interviewed 30 women from all walks of life. “I wanted to find women who could act as witnesses of Quebec’s cultural and social diversity,” Maillé said. As vice-president of the Conseil du statut de la femme, she was well placed to use the network of contacts available. She also analyzed most of the documents written by women about the constitutional question in the past 30 years.

Maillé feels that women’s participation in the constitutional debate has not been recognized as it should. “The media has erased women’s contribution almost completely from most debates,” Maillé said in some disappointment. She is actually glad, because it allowed her to find out that women were more active behind the scenes that she could ever have suspected.

In that sense, women aren’t the only ones who aren’t involved in the traditional political structures but are quite active in the wings; the younger generation doesn’t identify much with the traditional political parties, either. “They often choose other ways to participate in politics,” such as through interest groups, rather than going it alone as individuals.

However, Maillé doesn’t think that this contribution is sufficient; she believes that women should be part of the decision-making process. She may be able to advance this view as a member of the scientific committee for the Estates-General on Democratic Governance in Québec in the 21st Century that will be held at the end of February.

She is part of a team of experts who will advise Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, the minister in charge of the reform of democratic institutions.

One of the themes to be discussed by the Charbonneau Commission is likely to be parity between women and men in Quebec’s political structures.

While women’s participation in Quebec politics has been increasing, Maillé would like to see still more women in decision-making roles to better reflect the needs of society. She feels the work of the commission could help to increase the number of elected women in the Quebec government.