NORTHERN PENINSULA, NL – The 2017 Municipal Election was historic for women on the east side of the Northern Peninsula.
For the first time ever, the four municipalities of Northern Peninsula East all have women as their mayors.
Sheila Fitzgerald of Roddickton-Bide Arm, Barb Genge of Main Brook, Stephanie Fillier of Englee and, most recently, Charlene McGrath of Conche have all assumed lead roles in their towns.
It is also the first time a woman has been mayor in both Englee and Main Brook.
“When they announced I was mayor they were like, ‘wow a woman mayor, it’s about time,’” said Fillier.
All four women sat down with the Northern Pen to discuss the rise of women in municipal politics in their region.
Main Brook mayor Barb Genge knows women have come a long way in rural Newfoundland and Labrador over the years.
She recalls years ago, women simply didn’t have time to involve themselves in politics.
They had large families to take care of and had to cook, clean, and do all those chores that today are taken care of more quickly.
“For years, the men would travel away and the women would take care of the communities, take care of the children, take care of a lot of things, but never ever had the time to step up to the plate when it came to municipal or provincial politics,” Genge said.
Today, families and communities are smaller, “and so the women are coming forward,” she said.
And Fitzgerald says now it’s appreciated that a woman can be in a leadership role just as well as a man.
In that respect, the four mayors are a ‘sign of the times.’
And beyond them, there has also been an increase in the number of women councillors in some of their towns.
In Roddickton-Bide Arm, five of the seven councillors are women. And in Englee, it’s three out of four.
Fitzgerald believes women come to the table with passion and commitment, bringing a desire to make the world a better place.
She believes an effective mayor draws the best out of everyone around the table.
Fillier adds they can use their experience in the work environment to apply to managing the council table.
Indeed, the four women play their parts within the community outside of municipal government. McGrath of Conche and Fitzgerald of Roddickton-Bide Arm are social workers, Fillier of Englee is a post office worker, and Genge of Main Brook is a businessperson.
The four communities are close-knit and with the help of technology, the connection between them is stronger than ever. The mayors are looking forward to working closely over the next four years.
If any major enterprises start up in one town, for instance, they say you’ll see jobs created for residents of other communities.
“You’ll see collaboration,” said Fitzgerald. “If any one of these communities strikes gold, we’ll all benefit.”