As young women from across the country sat down in the House of Commons on International Women’s Day, a Halifax university student took her seat at the front of the house – in the Speaker’s chair.
Sarah Dobson, a 21-year-old Dalhousie University student studying political science, was one of the 11 Nova Scotia women who filled the 250 seats normally occupied by men and the 88 now held by women for Daughters of the Vote.
On Wednesday, the 338 women rose to speak about everything from hate speech and aboriginal education, to health care and the pay gap, all as part of an effort by Equal Voice Canada to mark International Women’s Day.
Dobson, who lives in the Halifax West constituency, sat in place of MP Geoff Regan, who currently presides as Speaker of the House. Dobson said she learned the ropes of the role from Regan on Tuesday.
Getting to that chair actually began as she neared the end of her degree and was being confronted with what she said was a common question: “What are you going to do with your life?”
“I really started to reflect on women in politics… There is a self doubt that we go into politics with – can I aspire to the highest office? Can I be prime minister? Is there a point of taking this path if I can only ever reach 70 per cent of the height of politics?” Dobson asked.
She said as she reflected on those questions, a tweet about the Daughters of the Vote was posted on a local MLA’s Twitter.
“I saw the opportunity and I was like, ‘I need to go to this.’ I need to meet other women who are in a similar position to me and I need to gain this experience and talk to people about women in politics and how to move forward,” Dobson said.
Her interest in politics started in junior high school when she ran for students council and then got involved in student government throughout high school and joined the senate at Dalhousie University in her second year.
Despite her involvement in student government, the 21-year-old said it wasn’t until university that she started really learning more about the Canadian political system and politics in general, something she said was “never an option offered” before the post-secondary level.
“To me, that was always just an unacceptable thing,” Dobson said. “If you get that far and you don’t have knowledge about politics, you probably never will.”
This spurred her to reach out to several high and junior high schools and offer a presentation about politics and the upcoming 2015 election. She said she got a lot of response and spoke in about 10 to 15 classrooms where students then posed a lot of insightful questions such as how now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau markets himself, and what would happen if a coalition government was formed.
Sitting in the House of Commons Wednesday, Dobson said “it was a sight.”
“Just to get to sit in that spot and I got to look out at the whole House filled with women – to see all 338 women there – it was definitely a sight and it kind of took my breath away.”
Dobson said she got involved in the event because she wanted to fight for more opportunities for women, such as more seats in the House of Commons.
WATCH: Hundreds of young women from across Canada head to Ottawa to take a seat in parliament. It’s part of a campaign aiming for gender parity in elected office. Tom Vernon reports.
In addition to her time in the House of Commons, Dobson also got to sit down with Regan and the first female prime minister, Kim Campbell. Following these meetings with people she felt she normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to have, she told Global News it reinforces the need for ongoing conversation.
When asked what message she would communicate to young women who are unsure whether they could get into leadership roles, she encouraged women “not to be afraid of that feeling.”
“To know that you’re going somewhere and to know that you want something, that’s a good thing,” Dobson said.
“It’s something that people might try and tell you isn’t a good thing, especially in your younger years at school and especially when you’re a woman, but don’t be afraid of those feelings… Don’t let anybody else make you be afraid of your own ambition.”
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