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Teacher Magazine Volume 29, Number 4
May/June 2017

Imagining a women’s parliament

By Susan Fonseca, Assistant Director, BCTF Field Service Division

This March 8, for the first time in “herstory,” every seat in the House of Commons was filled by a woman, a truly remarkable celebration of International Women's Day.

When I graduated from high school in 1971, NDP Member of Parliament Grace McGinnis from Vancouver-Kingsway was the lone woman in the House of Commons. Today 81 women sit as MPs, representing 27% of Canada's total MPs. We are a long way from gender equality. Over the past 150 years only 319 women have been elected to the Canadian parliament. That's why, witnessing 338 young women from 18 to 23 years of age walk together up Parliament Hill to replace sitting MPs and take their “seats” as Daughters of the Vote, was so incredibly moving for me.

Five of us from BC joined colleagues from other provinces to co-facilitate pre-event workshops co-ordinated by the Canadian Teachers' Federation, one of the event's sponsors. Victoria teacher Winona Waldron felt honoured to represent the BCTF, noting that, “although there were many inspiring moments, seeing 338 women take their seats in the House of Commons-more women than have been elected to that house in its entire history-brought me to tears. This event reinforced the importance of encouraging more women to take on leadership roles, and of exposing and removing the systematic barriers that keep them from those roles.”

Joining displaced MPs in the public gallery that morning, we heard former Prime Minister Kim Campbell challenge the young women to follow in her footsteps. Party leaders Thomas Mulcair, Elizabeth May, Rona Ambrose, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed and encouraged the young women to remain politically engaged. And when Prime Minister Trudeau opened the door to an informal Question Period, thirty young women marched right through it, challenging government policies and calling for action on climate change, electoral reform, Indigenous rights, the rights for people with disabilities, trans people's rights, energy policy, and Islamophobia.

That afternoon, several representatives addressed the bi-partisan Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women, raising concerns about the lack of initiatives for women starting their own businesses, rape culture on post-secondary campuses, and systemic barriers preventing women from becoming politically active.

 

Colleague Debbie Morran observed, “These young women were extremely well-spoken. Committee members listened intently and asked follow-up questions of each speaker.  It was a wonderful experience to see a parliamentary committee in action, and the value that the committee placed on being able to hear directly from the daughters.” 

Surrey teacher Sonja Van Der Putten was struck by the young women's passion for social issues: “The experience reinforced the importance of women supporting women in active civic participation. It also conveyed the shared values and beliefs that women across the country feel about societal issues that impact all Canadians, from the unacceptably high rates of Indigenous youth suicide, to violence against women, to Islamophobia. It was an inspiring event.”

Notably, this diverse group of young women, representing ridings held by all political parties, were universally supportive and respectful of each other, even when they held differing views. Most memorable for me was hearing a young woman speak emotionally about the anti-Muslim prejudice she has experienced and declaring, “This is my Canada, and there is no seat for hate here.” She received a standing ovation.

Taking a global perspective, colleague Susan Ruzic reflected, “Attending Daughters of the Vote provided me with hope and inspiration for the future of Canada.  These young women were intelligent, prepared, creative, and strong. They were not afraid to deal with all the difficult yet important topics that must be addressed if we are to have a better country and world.”

I only wish Grace McGinnis could have been there to witness a day beyond her wildest dreams. 

Resource: Daughters of the Vote is an initiative of Equal Voice, a non-partisan organization dedicated to electing more women in politics. Profiles of the 30 BC delegates can be viewed at www.equalvoice.ca/.

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