Daugh­ters of the Vote an in­spir­ing ex­pe­ri­ence Con­cep­tion Bay women re­turn to New­found­land look­ing to make a dif­fer­ence

The Compass - - Front Page - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

It was an un­prece­dented gath­er­ing. In ev­ery seat typ­i­cally oc­cu­pied by an elected Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment sat a young woman, each rep­re­sent­ing one of the 338 fed­eral rid­ings across Canada.

Re­becca French of Bay Roberts and Tiffany How­ell of North­ern Bay were right in the thick of it, and the sig­nif­i­cance of the oc­ca­sion wasn’t lost on them.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to sum it up in one word,” French told The Com­pass last week. “His­toric, maybe? Very in­spir­ing, em­pow­er­ing. I’ve been to the House of Com­mons two or three times be­fore, I guess, but I mean, this was the first time that you looked around and there were, what, 337 other women sit­ting around you. That in it­self was some­thing that’s never hap­pened be­fore. Who knows when and if it will ever hap­pen again?”

Daugh­ters of the Vote, an ini­tia­tive spon­sored by the by­par­ti­san group Equal Voice, was a chance for emerg­ing fe­male lead­ers to fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with Canada’s po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions, meet some note­wor­thy folks, and hope­fully be­come in­spired to par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics down the road. Equal Voice over­all aim is to in­crease fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in gov­ern­ment.

How­ell, a sec­ond-year MUN stu­dent pur­su­ing a dou­ble-ma­jor in psy­chol­ogy and lin­guis­tics, heard from a few peo­ple who sug­gested she’d be a great fit for the event, as did French, who is presently fin­ish­ing off her fourth-and-fi­nal year in the so­cial work pro­gram at MUN.

French and How­ell ar­rived in Ot­tawa March 6 for five days of ac­tiv­i­ties and events. There were lots of fe­male speak­ers who were able to talk about their own ca­reers and po­lit­i­cal in­volve­ment, with the op­por­tu­nity usu­ally avail­able af­ter­wards to take ques­tions from the au­di­ence.

They gath­ered in the House of Com­mons March 8, which also co­in­cided with In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, and lis­tened to a va­ri­ety of prom­i­nent speak­ers, in­clud­ing Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, Canada’s first fe­male prime min­is­ter Kim Camp­bell, all op­po­si­tion lead­ers and other guests.

Emo­tional event

How­ell found the ex­pe­ri­ence of sit­ting in the House to be a pow­er­ful and emo­tional.

“It was al­most un­be­liev­able, ac­tu­ally,” she said.

In Par­lia­ment, some del­e­gates gave speeches on is­sues im­pact­ing their own life and those they care for. Their words struck an emo­tional chord with How­ell.

“There were women, in­dige­nous women, who stood up and talked about their own per­sonal sto­ries of sex­ual abuse or not trust­ing in law en­force­ment, and then there was other peo­ple who were Mus­lim, and they spoke about (their is­sues), and that was prob­a­bly my favourite part,” she said.

Hear­ing about peo­ple who strug­gle to ac­cess men­tal health ser­vices didn’t seem so for­eign to How­ell, given she’s aware of sim­i­lar prob­lems in ru­ral New­found­land.

“Hope­fully I can be an am­bas­sador to sup­port­ing men­tal health ser­vices and help­ing in that as­pect.”

French was par­tic­u­larly struck by the words of Nova Sco­tia Sen­a­tor Wanda Thomas Bernard, who is also a former so­cial work pro­fes­sor.

“She fo­cused a lot of her re­search and her life’s work on anti-op­pres­sion move­ments and diver­sity,” said French. “I think it’s just re­ally im­pact­ful for me to see the type of so­cial work view­points and so­cial work back­ground she has that can be ap­plied later in life to a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, and see how you can take all the ex­pe­ri­ence that you’ve gained from work­ing with other peo­ple and learn­ing from them and take that and ac­tu­ally make a change at the large scale.”

Like How­ell, French was also over­whelmed by what in­dige­nous del­e­gates brought to the event.

“I learned so many things that I feel like I’ll be able to take with me and in­cor­por- ate that in my pro­fes­sional life later and my ca­reer.”

I think it’s just im­por­tant to have women in those roles so when you’re grow­ing up and a child, you’re not al­ways look­ing at the mayor or your Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment or your Mem­ber of the House of As­sem­bly and see­ing a male fig­ure and never pic­tur­ing your­self in those roles.” — Re­becca French

Change is some­thing French wants in the years ahead, as she’s fully aware of the dis­par­i­ties that re­main when it comes to men and women. She notes the gen­der wage gap in New­found­land and Labrador is the largest in Canada, with women mak­ing 66 per cent of male salaries. As of 2014, the Cana­dian av­er­age was 75 per cent ac­cord­ing to Statis­tics Canada. French also wants to see more women hold­ing po­si­tions of po­lit­i­cal power.

“I think it’s just im­por­tant to have women in those roles so when you’re grow­ing up and a child, you’re not al­ways look­ing at the mayor or your Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment or your Mem­ber of the House of As­sem­bly and see­ing a male fig­ure and never pic­tur­ing your­self in those roles.”

Re­becca French, far right, chats with fel­low del­e­gates who took part in Daugh­ters of the Vote, a spe­cial gath­er­ing in Ot­tawa that brought to­gether 338 young women from across Canada.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTOS

Tiffany How­ell of North­ern Bay takes her place in the House of Com­mons in Ot­tawa.

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