Unique project honours 100 years since first woman elected to Edmonton city council

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It's been a century since the first woman was elected to Edmonton City Council. Now a new project is digging into the story of Izena Ross and why so few women have followed in her footsteps. Nicole Stillger has more – Jan 16, 2021

On Dec. 12, 1921, Izena Ross made history when she became Edmonton’s first female city councillor.

In the past 100 years, only 30 women have followed in her footsteps and only one woman has ever been elected mayor: Jan Reimer in 1989.

The Searching for Izena podcast project aims to uncover her story and those of the other rare women at city hall.

“[Ross] was the first woman to sit on Edmonton city council, and yet, we have so little information at the ready about her,” said Ward 5 Coun. Sarah Hamilton.

“At the heart of it, we hear — I hear, at least — that we need more women in politics.”

The project is organized by YWCA Edmonton, Parity YEG and current and former Edmonton city councillors.

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Searching for Izena is a monthly podcast that aims to explore the role women played in municipal politics over the last century.

“An opportunity for people to learn about the history, and that’s the big goal because it lines up so perfectly — it’s an election year,” said Rajah Maggay, the project’s co-chair and volunteer with Parity YEG.

“It’s incredibly disappointing when we’ve had all this time to progress forward and we haven’t reached simple milestones.”

Read more: Searching for Izena project seeks little-known corner of Edmonton’s history

In addition to education, the project hopes to be a source of inspiration and a powerful testament to the challenges women face.

“We want to create this safe place so that women can come forward and make themselves those leaders and see themselves as politicians,” Maggay said.

“Women will get that increased amount of hate and that increased amount of scrutiny but you always have to go back to that idea that they are just as qualified.”

Hamilton, who will be a guest on the podcast, said to get more women in politics, “we need to be honest about what that experience is like — the good, the bad and the ugly.”

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“That when people see some of the bad and the ugly, they don’t say, ‘That’s not for me.’ They say, ‘This is why this is for me. This is why I’m needed in this conversation,'” she said.

Maggay noted there are still barriers women need to break.

“We’ve never had a woman of colour sit on city council, so maybe that’s something else going forward that can be really exciting for us, that we can add to our history,” she said.

Hamilton said in a diverse city like Edmonton, representation matters.

“You need people around the table that look like the people who live in the city,” she explained.

The podcast launches on Jan. 19.