Opinion: How Rihanna, Jacinda Ardern, and more set the stage for pregnant and powerful women

Mar 8 2023, 7:06 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Rachael Segal, a lawyer, former media and longtime political staff. Rachael is on a mission to engage more women into politics.

This article is a really important benchmark for me to be able to take stock annually of the progress made by women in the political arena across Canada and around the world. Like most years, we have seen women rise to power and we have seen women leave politics, most recently, BC’s Minister Melanie Mark, who described the BC Legislature as a “Torture Chamber.”

I truly look forward to the year when we can look at the first elected female prime minister in Canada, but alas, 2023 is not the year.

This year, I started thinking about pregnancy and family and the impact this has on the decision of a lot of women (and men!) to run for office. In January, the House of Commons Procedure and House Affairs Committee (PROC) tabled their report on keeping a hybrid parliamentary model, meaning that MPs from across the country could continue to Zoom into house proceedings. Only after a discussion with one of my friends, a BC-based MP who was spending hours on flights each week flying to and from Ottawa with two young girls at home, did I realize how these small changes could drastically impact the reality of barriers to entry for many young people into politics, especially women.

Rhianna Super Bowl

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In February, over 28 million people tuned in to watch Rihanna perform the Super Bowl halftime show. What most didn’t expect was that she would use the platform to announce her second pregnancy, not overtly, but passively, while performing on a global stage. The commentary post-performance on my social feed was largely women in “awe” of her ability to take on such a physical challenge coupled with the physical challenges of pregnancy.

For me, this “awe” closely resembled my feelings in finding out that a political candidate in the 2020 federal election, Laila Goodrich, gave birth halfway through the campaign and then won her seat. After years of never thinking it was possible to have both kids and an electoral win at the same time, there it was right in front of me. Some may remember that in 2017, MP Nikki Ashton announced that she was pregnant with twins in the middle of her leadership bid for the federal NDP. She ended up placing third in the race, but it definitely opened up a debate, which at the time seemed foreign to the political world but now, only a few years later, is becoming more of a reality.

London MP

Stella Creasy, a UK Labour MP, made headlines when she brought her baby into the Parliament building in 2021. (John Gomez/Shutterstock)

I suppose this is my Rihanna moment, sitting here writing this article eight months pregnant, only to now announce to the world through Daily Hive that I too am having a baby.

Being pregnant and watching other pregnant women accomplish so much this year has really given me pause as to how we as women are challenging the belief that we “can’t.” As someone who works in a male-dominated industry (politics), taking a seat at the table has been a critical part of my career identity. My mind this year has turned to how we can take that seat and challenge long-held beliefs attributed to women and women who want families—just as we saw with Rihanna.

If a woman can carry the Super Bowl halftime show pregnant, surely, she can run for political office, we just need a system in place that also believes that she can. Changes like hybrid parliaments and allowing for family-friendly provisions in legislatures and city halls across the country all contribute to the solution, but importantly, the messaging around the desired inclusion of younger women into politics. We see that it’s possible, and for the first time ever, we are seeing it firsthand.

Is this all to say that things are hunky-dory for women in politics?

Jacinda Ardern

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. (Salma Bashir Motiwala/Shutterstock)

No. We get weekly reminders of the significant and unique challenges women still face in this arena. This article could have been focused specifically on how we lost many female political leaders this year, including New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (who also gave birth while the prime minister of the country!), to some of these issues.

However, I also wanted to highlight that we are seeing change, not only on the part of political institutions like the House of Commons but in the courage of political candidates of a younger demographic in throwing out the rulebook when it comes to parenthood, family, and political office.

While I can count the number of women who were pregnant during a campaign that went on to be elected on one hand, I might need two hands now for the number of women who have had children while holding political office around the world. I hope that 2023 brings opportunities to those who want them, whether it be family or political office, but most especially, I hope that 2023 brings opportunity to those who want both.

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