Q&A ZANANA AKANDE

The first Black woman to serve as a cab­i­net min­is­ter in On­tario re­flects on why Black women vot­ers mat­ter this pro­vin­cial elec­tion

NOW Magazine - - INTERVIEW - By JASMINE RAMZE REZAEE

Zanana Akande is the first Black woman to be elected to the Leg­isla­tive As­sem­bly of On­tario and serve as cab­i­net min­is­ter in Canada. On May 24, she will re­ceive the 2018 YWCA Toronto Women of Dis­tinc­tion Award. In an in­ter­view with YWCA Toronto, she re­flects on her ca­reer in pol­i­tics and why Black women vot­ers mat­ter more than ever this On­tario elec­tion.

YOU RE­CENTLY AT­TENDED THE ON­TARIO LEAD­ERS ELEC­TION DE­BATE ON BLACK COM­MU­NITY IS­SUES. WHAT QUES­TION WOULD YOU HAVE ASKED THE PARTY LEAD­ERS IF YOU COULD?

Card­ing is an is­sue that af­fects ev­ery­one in our com­mu­nity, but par­tic­u­larly women. When I say that, men are sur­prised be­cause it is pri­mar­ily men who are carded. But the re­al­ity is we are moth­ers. We are wives. We are sib­lings. We un­der­stand the dis­rup­tion and harm that hap­pens in the home due to the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of Black men.

Even long be­fore it was called card­ing, I re­mem­ber my mother and fa­ther would give “the talk” to my brother: “Do not be in this place; do not go there; if a po­lice­man stops you, re­spond in such a man­ner; avoid do­ing this etc .... ” Hear­ing this grow­ing up, I never ex­pected that in 2018 I would be say­ing the same thing to my son or to my grand­son, who has just turned 14.

WHAT TYPE OF AC­TION DO YOU THINK THE PRO­VIN­CIAL GOV­ERN­MENT SHOULD TAKE IN TERMS OF PRI­OR­I­TIZ­ING WOMEN?

When I was in gov­ern­ment, we passed em­ploy­ment eq­uity leg­is­la­tion. Many women moved into better po­si­tions be­cause more were able to ac­cess higher ed­u­ca­tion.

They moved out of of­fice work and into other ar­eas; out of nurs­ing uni­forms and into doc­tor uni­forms – not that there is any­thing wrong with nurs­ing uni­forms. And they moved into the trades, too.

Many Black women also moved into the pub­lic ser­vice but they have been passed over for pro­mo­tion.

There have been many re­ports of ha­rass­ment of Black women in the civil ser­vice for many years but they have not been taken se­ri­ously.

ARE WE MAK­ING ANY PROGRESS ON RACE AND GEN­DER IS­SUES?

The re­al­ity is that de­fault power in our so­ci­ety is still very white and male. Black women speak but they are of­ten not heard.

I say this to young peo­ple: “De­cide that you are go­ing to de­fend your space for the rest of your life and that your kids must be pre­pared to do the same.”

WOULD YOU EN­COUR­AGE WOMEN TO RUN FOR OF­FICE TO­DAY?

Ab­so­lutely, yes. Run, but be pre­pared to fight be­cause you will be held to a different stan­dard.

When I was in of­fice they would talk about my man­i­cured nails, com­ment on my fash­ion or the kind of car my hus­band drove. The crit­i­cism was in­ces­sant and cruel. But you need to find al­lies and ad­vo­cate for the ini­tia­tives you feel pas­sion­ate about.

WHY DO WOMEN VOT­ERS, ES­PE­CIALLY BLACK WOMEN VOT­ERS, MAT­TER THIS PRO­VIN­CIAL ELEC­TION?

Women need to ask politi­cians, “What’s in it for us?” This is a le­git­i­mate ques­tion and there is no shame in ask­ing it.

We have so many is­sues – card­ing, sex­ual as­sault, racism, pay eq­uity, poverty, pub­lic schools fail­ing Black chil­dren – our votes mat­ter for all of those rea­sons. Our liveli­hoods depend on it.

There is a lot at stake. There are many gains that can be rolled back if we are not vig­i­lant.

This in­ter­view has been edited and con­densed. Jasmine Ramze Rezaee is a se­nior mar­ket­ing and ad­vo­cacy of­fi­cer at YWCA Toronto. news@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

“Women need to ask politi­cians, ‘What’s in it for us?’ This is a le­git­i­mate ques­tion and there is no shame in ask­ing it.”

Zanana Akande says women should be en­cour­aged to en­ter pol­i­tics, “but be pre­pared to fight.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.