OTTAWA— “Ladies” is good enough for Beyoncé but not for Canada’s Status of Women minister.
Whether the word is a quaint historical artifact or a politically incorrect relic best left behind is a debate now squarely before the Commons’ executive. That’s because Maryam Monsef, the minister charged with promoting gender equality, fired off a complaint to Speaker Geoff Regan after he recently recognized the presence of special guests in the “Ladies Gallery.”
Monsef, piqued by the archaic term, did some research on its origins, easily found on Britain’s parliamentary website, and formally wrote Regan on Thursday to drop it.
“As some women first received the right to vote in federal elections 100 years ago this year, I am certain that I am not the only one who finds the term Ladies’ Gallery, in 2017, to be outdated,” she said in a copy of the letter provided to the Star.
Monsef wrote that the term dates back to the British House of Commons “when a heavy metal grill covered windowed gallery was installed for wives and daughters of Members of Parliament to witness proceedings of the House.” She said it replaced a worse option then available only “to few women, which was to witness proceedings of the House through a ventilation shaft.”
Monsef, citing her mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said her job is “to promote equality between genders in Canada, whether it is ensuring that senior appointments demonstrate gender parity or working to ensure that Parliament and federal institutions are workplaces free from harassment and sexual violence.”
“In that same spirit of gender equality, I believe that the use of the term Ladies’ Gallery has now passed its time,” and urged the Speaker who chairs an all-party committee on Commons administrative matters to find a more appropriate name.
But there are still those, like Regan, a longtime MP who has held his Commons seat in every election but one since 1993, who use the historical term.
And Canada’s parliamentary website does still designate the public space opposite the Speaker’s chair as the “Ladies’ Gallery.” Its first rows are reserved for the diplomatic corps and for other distinguished guests; the remaining rows are reserved for the visiting public. A footnote says at one time the Ladies’ Gallery was reserved for women who tended to be the wives and daughters of MPs, just like in the British parliament.
Regan was unavailable to comment but a source said he is open to changing the name of the gallery, perhaps even to honour Canada’s first female MP, Agnes McPhail.
Monsef was also unavailable for comment.
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