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Three developments that stood out for women in politics last week

By Nancy Peckford      

International Women’s Day, women’s marches, gender budgets, peace and security, women in STEM (now STEAM), parental leave, better child care, as well as a global G7 focused on gender equality outcomes are so crucial.

Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, pictured last Monday night at the first Women on the Hill reception. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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OTTAWA—As we bring a close to the month long events marking International Women’s Day, these three developments stood out this past week.

Women on & around the Hill unite

At the invitation of Earnscliffe’s Velma McColl, and in collaboration with the federal All Party Women’s caucus, Famous Five Ottawa and Equal Voice, the first annual Women on the Hill event was convened to mark International Women’s Day. As the House wasn’t sitting during the actual day (March 8), Earnscliffe sought to leverage the collective networks of key groups to bring together a diverse and eclectic array of women to celebrate after the fact.

Female MPs and other elected women, labour leaders, entrepreneurs, academics, advocates, artists, were all invited and recognized.

Federal Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef used the occasion to underscore the various ways in which women contribute to dialogue and engagement on and around the Hill. The five female MPs leading the All Party Women’s caucus each spoke about their commitment to ensuring women are equal contributors to generating strong policy outcomes. Conservative MP Stepahnie Kusie, an Albertan and former diplomat, stood in for MP Rachel Harder and, in an impressive move, spoke predominantly in French. Tonda MacCharles, vice-president of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, spoke of the still fledgling number of female journalists covering federal politics.

In a gesture befitting of collaborative women who do, in fact, transcend their partisan differences, Green Party leader Elizabeth May invited everyone to sing happy birthday to NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson. Given that May had made her own waves just days earlier as one of two MPs arrested while protesting (albeit peacefully) the construction of a federally approved Trans Mountain pipeline, May was in fine form. NDP MP Niki Ashton joined for a brief period with her infant twins.

The event came on the heels of Equal Voice’s National Capital Region’s very successful campaign bootcamp designed to encourage and equip women seeking to run or support another woman to do so.

Twitterverse rallies for MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes

Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes made her mark this past December when she spoke out about her own experiences of racism on Parliament Hill. The Hill Times file photograph

Being a prominent and outspoken elected woman of colour in politics in Canada has its challenges, to say the very least. Federal Whitby MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes made her mark this past December when she spoke out about her own experiences of racism on Parliament Hill. She talked openly for the first time about the excessive scrutiny and racism she has endured by Parliament Hill’s own security team, Hill bus drivers, and some colleague and staff.

Her ongoing efforts to raise awareness about the phenomenon of racism generally in Canada raised the ire of more than a few media types and Twitter trolls who have taken offence to Caesar-Chavannes’ so-called preoccupation with race, and racism. MPs, allies, and supportive constituents responded en masse over Twitter with words of encouragement and inspiration using the hashtag #HereforCelina. Equal Voice was struck by the cacophony of voices creating space on social media and beyond for Celina’s contribution, among others.

In a country struggling to come to terms with a past rife with colonialism and racism, the perspectives—on and off line—by racialized women and men need to be amplified, not shut down.

A Women’s Bureau?  

In a sign of the times, and given the close physical proximity between Parliament Hill and Ottawa’s municipal chambers, city councillor Diane Deans moved to explore the establishment of a Women’s Bureau.

With Ottawa’s City Council just over 16 per cent female (as compared to 27 per cent federally), it’s not always obvious to many (male) municipal councillors that women are often short changed in the policy and budget processes.

Given the ambitious mandate and growing budget of Status of Women Canada, the federal government’s dedicated agency to women’s equality in Canada, an agency which has enjoyed a resurgence under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, it’s encouraging to see other levels of government taking a closer look at structural solutions. This is especially needed in the absence of gender parity in most legislatures and councils.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, who had been reluctant to first get on board, spoke of his recollection of Women’s Bureau at the City in the 1970s. I expect few thought we would still need one in the 21st century, but it’s back to the future in 2018 in more ways than one.

It also explains why International Women’s Day, women’s marches, gender budgets, peace and security, women in STEM (now STEAM), parental leave, better child care, as well as a global G7 focused on gender equality outcomes are so crucial. I can’t wait to see what International Women’s Day 2019 has in store.

Nancy Peckford is the national spokesperson for Equal Voice. 

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