Young women fill House of Commons on International Women’s Day
They came from every corner of the country, from cities and towns and small hamlets, from every imaginable cultural or ethnic background and with varying levels of education and experience.
Three hundred and thirty eight young women from across Canada converged on Ottawa Wednesday to mark International Women’s Day, take over the House of Commons and put to rest any doubt that young Canadians are engaged with the political process.
They rose to speak about hate speech, Aboriginal education, Indigenous suicide, sexual assault, the immigrant experience, cuts to community programs, health care, anti-refugee sentiment, the pay gap and much more.
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“As a child of an immigrant, I’ve seen the struggles of moving to Canada and not being able to afford different things, and not being able to give the life that you really wanted for your children,” Christiana Agustin, who represented the riding of Scarborough Rouge Park, told Global News.
“It’s been so inspirational … it was wonderful to see a whole community of people who actually believe in you. Oftentimes in a world where it’s dominated by males in high-profile jobs, you feel as though you’re not good enough. And especially as a person of colour.”
Meeting the first female prime minister, Kim Campbell, and current female government ministers was “an amazing experience,” Agustin added.
“Hopefully one day I won’t just be a delegate here, I’ll actually have a seat.”
Campbell, who remains Canada’s only female prime minister, addressed the women early in the day, and told them that for her, the gathering was “a glorious sight.”
“This is a remarkable and very touching vision for anyone who has ever served in this chamber” she said.
“We get our sense of how the world works from the landscape in which we function … what we need to do is change the landscape.”
Not every young woman who came to Ottawa had ambitions involving elected office, however.
“I want to be a political journalist,” explained Emily Klatt, representing the riding of Saskatoon-University
She said that being part of the Daughters of the Vote has “been overwhelming, but in the best way possible.”
Klatt called the event a gesture of solidarity.
“I don’t know how much it’s going to change the political landscape in terms of actually creating real, tangible political change,” she noted.
“But it is those big gestures and those symbolic moments that can mobilize more of that grassroots activity that actually gets more women in politics.”
‘You do belong here’
All five major party leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, addressed the 338 young women. Trudeau also took questions from them following his speech.
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Elizabeth May was moved to tears by the experience, telling the delegates that Canada “needs your voice.”
Rona Ambrose, the interim leader of the Conservative Party, focused on the women who have blazed a trail in Canadian politics, including Campbell.
“You can be part of that history,” she said. “So be bold, be courageous, definitely be unafraid. Because you do belong here.”
Campbell herself closed out her address with a story about the French-language teacher who worked with her when she was prime minister, who insisted she have new stationary printed to reflect her gendered French title, “la Première ministre.”
The government never throws anything out, Campbell joked, and she wasn’t in office long enough to use it all.
Somewhere there’s a box of that stationary sitting on a shelf, the former prime minister promised, “waiting for somebody.”
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.