Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/3/2017 (976 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
This week, I had the honour of representing the riding of Winnipeg South Centre in a historic session of Parliament, one comprised entirely of women.
This historic initiative celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The goal of the week-long event was to encourage and increase the representation of women in elected positions at all levels of government.
Daughters of the Vote, spearheaded by Equal Voice, selected one woman from each of the 338 federal ridings to take their seats in the House of Commons. Our group was as diverse as it was large and included students in fields ranging from chemical engineering to social work, as well as many young women already working in industries such as fisheries and social enterprise.
On March 8, International Women’s Day, our group of 338 marched from the National Arts Centre up to the Centre Block and into the House of Commons.
Thirty of our honourable members gave speeches on topics ranging from income inequality and youth suicide in northern communities to their experiences with the rise of Islamophobia. While in the House, we were addressed by the leader of each federal party, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
I am encouraged by the participation of and support for our delegation from a host of federal ministers and parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle. Earlier in the week, newly appointed Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould spoke to our group. Gould, the youngest female cabinet minister ever appointed, gave an inspiring talk about why she chose to enter politics at a young age. She shared with us that she thought now was the best time for her to join political life because government is busy forming policies that will impact her over the course of her lifetime.
I have been interested in the political process for as long as I can remember. The first speech I ever drafted was on Nellie McClung and the women’s suffrage movement in Manitoba. It may seem there are enough women involved in politics. For example, Trudeau’s cabinet has gender parity, the leader of the official Opposition is Rona Ambrose and the Speaker of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly is Myrna Driedger. But the fact is, we have a long way to go in this country.
Only 26 per cent of the MPs in the House of Commons are women. In Canada’s 150 years, only 315 women have ever been elected as members of Parliament. This week, when 338 of us took our seats, we represented more women than had ever been elected to that chamber.
In Manitoba, in the 100 years since women won the right to vote, only 51 women have ever been elected to sit in the legislature. In that same time, 755 men have been elected.
The United Nations recommends a country have a minimum of 30 per cent women in elected positions to ensure that public policy reflects the needs of women. Any less than 30 per cent presents a democratic deficit, one where our democracy is not being fairly or completely represented.
Women have valuable learned experience and expertise to bring to the legislatures and parliament in this country. Women increase the richness of debate and raise the level of discourse that is imperative to implement the best legislation possible. Women hold many viewpoints and increase the diversity and consideration of a governing body.
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau also spoke to our group and, quoting Manitoba Sen. Marilou McPhedran, she said, "Change does not occur because we want it to occur or because it’s fair for a just society. Change occurs because people engage in the process."
That is what the Daughters of the Vote is trying to do and that is what each of the delegates from the conference has been tasked with as we return to our ridings — engage in the process and work for change.
This is not just a task for the 338 of us who were in Ottawa. Each day we can work to encourage and increase the representation of women in elected positions at all levels of government. We can ask questions such as: how are we supporting the women in our lives to consider a role in politics? What can we do to develop women who are confident and prepared to pursue a political career? How can we educate others on the benefits of increased diversity and inclusion in all levels of government?
More women in government doesn’t just benefit women, it creates better policy for everyone. In a society with increasingly complicated and multifaceted problems, we need all of our best and brightest minds working to create solutions.
Jacqueline Keena is a University of Manitoba agribusiness graduate. She lives in Ottawa and attends Carleton University.