In major Canadian political parties, as in other power structures, women at the top are hard to find. In this study, Bashevkin examines the partisan experiences of women in English Canada. She traces the historical background to their political engagement, beginning with developments during the early twentieth century. Using data from party records, in-depth interviews, and public opinion surveys, she demonstrates how few women have reached the top echelons of political activity. Major parties continue to operate according to a gender-based division of labour, much like the rest of Canadian society.
Bashevkin identifies a continuing dilemma for Canadian women, one that pits their commitment to political independence against the realities of a party-centred parliamentary system. Loyalty to party organizations can advance the careers of individual women but, as successive generations of women's groups have learned, it can endanger the autonomy of organized feminism. Yet recent feminist activity has helped to reform some aspects of Canadian party life. Bashevkin highlights the developments of affirmative action policies, party women's funds, and other efforts designed to raise the level of female participation. By analysing the political condition of English Canadian women in a comparative context, she makes an important contribution to ongoing debates on feminism and democratic practice.
Sylvia Bashevkin, Professor of Political Science and Principal, University College, University of Toronto.