Raising Our Voices for Political Equality: a note from an Ottawa office volunteer

The percentage of female representation in the sphere of Canadian politics is worrisome. The female population of Canada currently stands at 52%, but only 22% of members of parliament, Canadian municipal, provincial and federal representatives are female. Compared to its international counterparts, Canada is falling behind. Within the realm of international politics Canada ranks 49 out of 189countries in the number of women elected to national parliament. This position places Canada behind Afghanistan, Iraq and Rwanda.

The great concerns generated by these unnerving statistics lead to the formation of Equal Voice in 2008. Equal Voice is a national organization that offers a variety of programming including public awareness campaigns and initiatives. The main objective of Equal Voice’s programming is to promote the involvement and election of women to all levels of political office. Most notably, Equal Voice’s mentoring program is setting out to reshape the future of female representation in Canadian politics by focusing on Canadian female youth between the ages of 18-30. Equal Voice’s mentoring program matches female youth with a female mentor who works within the Canadian political realm. One is matched with a mentor based on educational background, political experiences and future aspirations. I became aware of this program through the University of Ottawa. As a fourth year Political Science student, it has proven difficult to gain political experience. I initially decided to participate in the program because I desired to not only gain political insight, but also advice about how to pursue a political career.

Through this program, I was matched with my mentor, M.P. Martha Hall-Findlay. Our initial meeting took place in the House of Commons over coffee in November 2009.
Martha’s warm, welcoming disposition made me feel as if I was talking with an old friend. We discussed our upbringings, educational backgrounds and our political interests. Martha’s strong spirited nature conveys her thoughts of breaking gender stereotypes and her belief that one’s ambitions and career objectives should not be disabled by gender. Her “oxygen story” still rings true for me. “Do you know why on airplanes they say to place your oxygen mask on first before assisting someone else with their mark during an emergency?” she questioned. “…Because in life if you don’t take care of yourself first, no one else will”. It was in this moment I realized how strong the woman sitting across from me really is. She has a caring nature, but always remains stay true to herself and never compromises her values or beliefs. Canada has a prosperous future in politics due to Equal Voice and the contributions made by women like Martha.

I have been volunteering in Martha’s parliamentary office since November 2009. I have come across opportunities and meet many inspiring individuals on the hill since my initial meeting with Martha. I feel I am developing a strong foundation of political knowledge and insight. Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store on the hill as my fortuity feels surreal at times.

My story was just one of many which were shared at the Equal Voice reception at the Metropolitan in Ottawa on March 12, 2010. The founders, employees and participates of Equal Voice gathered to not only share our mentoring experiences, but to also support one another and share in the hope of reshaping Canadian politics. The room was buzzing with energy as each woman in the room introduced herself, spoke of her Equal Voice experience, her achievements, community involvement, and most importantly, her future goals. Each woman proudly stood tall, expressing “this is who I am!” What encouragement! It was hard to believe that a reception such as this would not have taken place 15-20 years ago.

Due to my experience with Equal Voice, I stand tall and hold great prospects for the future of Canadian politics. Although there are still many hurdles for Canadian women and women abroad, we are gaining strength from one another by collectively vocalizing our thoughts and demanding change. As Margaret Thatcher once said “you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”. This is one battle we refuse back down on.

- Hollie

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