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“Don’t be hung up on what you think a woman in politics needs to be. We need diversity of women and their voices at the table” -Peggy Garritty

Running for Office


Kulshan Gill

Kulshan Gill

“Every time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it, possibly without claiming it; She stands up for all women” – Maya Angelou.

My Roots

I was born and raised in India, in a Military family, with three generations of the family serving in uniform with the Indian Armed Forces. As a child, I grew up in a family where work ethic, hard work and service towards community and country were forefront. This experience in turn taught me to respect other people’s views and ideologies. I was encouraged to speak my own mind and be independent while respecting my surroundings and the environment.  And, amidst all this, I was also gently reminded that I was a woman first and had social responsibilities – getting married and raising a family (common cultural expectation! My 106 year old grandmother wanted me married at age12!!)

My Journey

Immigration itself comes with its own set of challenges, not only uprooting from one country to another but also a change at the mental, emotional and environment level. It is especially challenging for immigrant women who come from third world nations. They have to merge in a diverse culture different from their own but also their identity as a woman in a developed nation becomes complex. At times there is confusion, how to proceed with a lifestyle that is adapted to their new homeland but also rooted in the values of their old country or culture. Today, I feel blessed and proud to call Canada home.  Being a foreign trained medical professional, I encountered challenges to pursue my medical career in Canada. Despite the hurdles and unsuccessful attempts, I did not lose hope. Since, I was passionate about health and wellbeing; I transitioned into areas of alternative and holistic medicine, never stopping from learning new skills.

From Healthcare to Politics.

I chose to join politics, not because I was asked to, because I believed I was capable and will add value to an organization. I could represent, encourage and motivate other women to participate and more importantly because I am worth it! I believe that women can play important roles in leadership, be it in an organization, a government or even their families. I also know that seeking political office provides an opportunity and platform for public service to bring change and influence communities for a better future. There is great meaning in service and often, it leads us to be our best self. I wanted to continue in Public service and decided to run for political office. Each of my endeavors as a health professional connected me to people from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds. I understood the many sacrifices families are required to make to improve their community, their province, their country and the world in general. My work experience in healthcare and exposure to diverse cultures within Canada and the world have been assets for public service and provide for unique and exceptional leadership, communication skills and critical thinking.

Were there challenges? Absolutely! As an immigrant woman of ethnic background running for political office, I had a few of my own! On the campaign trail, where on the one hand I was preaching policies of the party I affiliated with, on the other I was dealing with Intersectionality.

This became front and center as my campaign went on. I was repeatedly questioned about my ability (as a female) to be in politics or run for a leadership role. Common questions were ‘what did my spouse think of me transitioning into politics’? Or ‘who is taking care of my kids while I was campaigning’ Or ‘I don’t have kids so I have time for politics’ Or ‘I didn’t look old enough to be a politician?? Or ‘I was pretty to look at’ or just ‘don’t want a ‘brown’ immigrant candidate in the government!!’ And my absolute favorite – ‘why do you want to join politics? You are a medical professional, be in the noble profession and leave the politics to the men folk!!’ I wondered if my male colleagues running for office had similar experience. Sadly No!

It is interesting, majority of people were encouraging me as a health professional and they would gladly seek my care and put trust in me with their health or for that matter there ‘life’ in an emergency! But didn’t have faith in me if I were to represent them or make decisions at the political level. People didn’t look at my capability or intellect but simply judged based on my gender. However, this did not deter me from working hard on my campaign and showing up at the constituent’s door every single day until Election Day. And I am proud I did!

 My advice to women is that first, believe in yourself. Your biggest barrier to your own success is your own belief! Believe in your womanhood and be proud of it. Believe that you are worth it and value yourself. It does not matter if you are a successful career women or a stay at home mom or if you bring in a paycheque or not. You are a valuable and productive asset to not only your family but to society at large. I encourage you to engage yourself and be an active citizen of our society. Quite often we get lost in our dynamics and characterization of who we are or how we should conduct ourselves. I say, that we rise above all and embrace our feminism with grace and honor and show the world what we have to offer. A woman has been blessed with the ability of being beautiful and sensual and yet when the need arises she can be fierce and destructive. It’s no surprise that we address our natural surroundings as ‘mother nature’.

Nomination Day


Danisha Bhaloo

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On January 25, 2016. I filed my nomination papers with the City of Edmonton to become an official candidate on the ballot for the February 22nd by-election. The day was a culmination of the months of hard work to earn votes in Ward 12 for election day. While nomination day is only a month prior to the actual election, the hard work starts way before that. For me, nomination day was an important day in the process, but certainly not the start of it. Nomination day reinforced my love for this city.

For all first time candidates out there who think they know what to expect, nervousness is expected. I woke up that morning nervous. I had a slight jolt wondering if I was doing the right thing. And that this might be my chance to back out and go back to my normal life. Don’t get me wrong, I spent almost a year debating if this was the right move for myself, my family and my community. I can safely say, after the fact, that I have no regrets and am proud to have been part of the process. But to formalize a major life decision will always make you edgy (for all those married candidates, I’m sure it’s a similar feeling to your wedding day).

What differentiates this day from the happiest day of your life (presumably), is knowing you’ll be in the same room, for the first time, with other candidates running in the same ward as you. It’s especially difficult when there are over 30 of them in the same space. Hopefully, you won’t encounter this particular discomfort since it’s a general election. Nonetheless, when I think back to this day, it was a combination of pride in putting myself out there, and slight intimidation in being in a space that might provoke competitiveness. For any first time candidates out there, I strongly suggest bringing a few close friends or family members who can calm your nerves and support you throughout the day.

The nomination process itself took less than one hour. You attend City Hall, meet and congratulate other candidates on their decision to represent your community, complete your paperwork and ensure you have all the required signatures to support your candidacy, and pay your fees with the nice City of Edmonton employees, and walk out of the room to a number of journalists with note pads and/or mics, and TV cameras in your face (see picture to the right). Don’t fret – everybody there is very nice. Reporters just want to get to know you and why you’ve decided to run. A tip: come prepared with your 30 second elevator pitch on why you’re running. Also, if you speak French fluently, come prepared with your pitch in French – because CBC-Radio Canada will also be there and will look for the candidates that are bilingual. Answer their questions, despite the fact that you will be itching to get back to the crux of campaigning – door-knocking and meeting voters.

You have months until nomination day. Don’t wait until this day passes to door-knock, learn about the issues, meet voters in your ward, recruit volunteers and fundraise. This is work that starts now, not after nomination day. Use nomination day as the day you put everything else aside and ramp up on these efforts, but don’t use it as a time to start your campaign.

Nomination Day was just one day in a four month campaign, but it is a special day that you will never forget. Take the time you’re given that day and treasure it. It’s an experience that not many others get – and so take the most of it – be proud of yourself for getting this far, hold onto the support of your family and friends who are with you on this journey, and use this day as an opportunity to re-motivate yourself about why you’re doing this in the first place.

And regardless of the outcome of the election, know that you will grow and change as a person. You will realize your strengths and resiliency in the face of hardship and struggles. And that learning will take you far in your journey forward.

By Danisha Bhaloo

Fill the Spaces


Carla Stolte

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“We’ve come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.” – Peggy Garritty, ATB’s former Chief Reputation and Brand Officer at the ParityYEG Founder’s Event.

The above quote could not be more true in terms of women’s involvement in politics over the years. Although this number has definitely been growing, there is still a ways to go before half of our politicians will be women.

But why?

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Carla Stolte. At the time, she was running for the nomination in the Edmonton-Glenora riding for Alberta’s next provincial election.

Stolte first became interested in politics during her time as president of a community league board but said that “politics chose her more than she chose politics.” One of the things we spoke about was why she decided to run in the first place. Apart from being approached by the Alberta Party, the main reason she gave was that, if an election was called tomorrow, she wouldn’t know who to vote for.

So she took it upon herself to be that person. However, as her journey in politics progressed, Stolte became concerned with how few women she knew she could reach out to for support. The lack of women to act as role models is one of the main things keeping women from political involvement.

Society no longer tells women outright that they can’t do things, but it does continue to show them that they shouldn’t. By not being able to see an abundance of women in the political sphere, it continues to discourage other women from pursuing politics.

For Stolte, the lack of women she saw in politics further affirmed for her that maybe running was the right thing to do, even if she didn’t feel 100% competent or secure. She hoped that running would allow her to act as a role model for other women, as well as for her kids.

Although she decided not to run during the last provincial election, Stolte said that “in her experience, she has seen that the more diverse the room looks the better the decision for everyone in the end.”

Amanda McIvor is a second-year scholar with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College and has been working with ParityYEG for her summer stretch experience.

Women Should Represent Themselves


Linda Trimble

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For Dr. Linda Trimble, a political science professor at the University of Alberta, her passion for gender equality began in elementary school when she did better on a math test than a boy and he said he would never marry a girl that was good at arithmetic. Since then, the subject matter has shifted from mathematics to political science, but the passion remains.

In the time since Dr. Trimble began her journey conducting research surrounding women in politics, she has seen some big changes in terms of women representation. She notes that “women representation started to take off in the mid to late 1980s and really increased in the 1990s.” However, in her coauthored book Still Counting, published in 2003, Dr. Trimble predicted that the glass ceiling for women in political office would be 25% for the foreseeable future. That prediction has held up.

Although a lot of progress has been made, there seems to still be resistance, or potentially some factors, that either prevent parties from nominating significant numbers of women or that deter women from stepping up as candidates.

Of particular interest regarding women who do step up as candidates is the issue of clumping. Although she’s unsure why it occurs, Dr. Trimble finds it interesting, and a bit troublesome, that even though there are far fewer women candidates than men, the women candidates tend to run in the same ridings as one another. Clumping is an unfortunate issue as only one candidate can ultimately win the riding, further limiting the number of women in political office.

According to Dr. Trimble, studies show that when women are in power they serve as very powerful role models. There is also evidence that when women are in public positions they do change attitudes in society about who can be a political actor. The presence of women in positions of authority challenges the idea that men take charge while women take care, disrupting the public-private gender binary.

There is a lot being done to encourage women to run for office and support them in that, but it is time for parties to do more. In Dr. Trimble’s opinion, “it is time for parties to effect some form of internal gender quotas, because they have to have targets or else we are not going to see any substantial increases.”

Regardless of gender quotas, women don’t just need to be asked, they need to be supported. They need to be told, “this is what the party is going to do for you, I know you have no experience but you’d be great, let’s talk about how to do this.”

Equality in representation is a matter of democratic fairness, and the quality of representation will increase with the diversity of legislatures. People need to be represented by people who look like them and have similar experiences, issues, and concerns. While men can represent women, women should be representing themselves in political office.

Amanda McIvor is a second-year scholar with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College and has been working with ParityYEG for her summer stretch experience.

Reflecting Diversity


Erika Barootes

Erika Barootes

Erika Barootes has been involved in conservative politics in Alberta for almost 15 years. Her current role is President of the United Conservative Party. Overall, she would like to see more women run as we head into the next election because it is important that we reflect the diversity of Alberta.

“How can you represent Alberta if you are not a reflection of the people you are trying to speak on behalf of and represent at the legislature? When it comes to diversity, we need to look to our province and replicate it so that every voice is heard and everyone feels that they are also being listened to.”

In Barootes opinion, political involvement should not be based on a statistic and the attempt to get equal numbers. Instead, it should be based on merit and getting the most competent, qualified, and strongest person for the role.

That said, she follows up by saying that in our province we are very fortunate that a large portion of those people are women. We just need, as a party and as a province, to create the opportunity and encourage more women to run or be involved in leadership roles.

Although there is no formal link with the UCP, Barootes, along with UCP Leader Jason Kenny, was a part of the announcement around the She Leads Foundation, which is headed by Rona Ambrose and Laureen Harper.

The She Leads foundation is a relatively new initiative that is trying to encourage more conservative minded women to enter public office. They set up training, tools, resources, and mentorship programs to let every woman that has ever thought about running for public office know that there is a group backing them. They are there for support and to help with any campaign questions. Barootes says she is proud to support the She Leads Foundation as a means to help develop the practical knowledge of campaign tactics.

Amanda McIvor is a second-year scholar with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College and has been working with ParityYEG for her summer stretch experience.

A Dream and a Good Friend


Janis Irwin

Janis Irwin

Prior to starting her journey in politics, Janis Irwin was a teacher and vice principal in rural Alberta. Upon moving back to Edmonton in 2010, she noticed a lot of federal issues that she felt weren’t being addressed.

In particular, Irwin noticed a lack of women’s representation and believed that women bring an important lens to politics. When women aren’t represented, their issues aren’t necessarily effectively raised. Today, women’s representation is still low. One of the ways this can be  addressed is to encourage women to run for politics. This includes asking women to run, but also letting them know that they will be supported, not just through encouragement, but by actually helping with tangible things like door knocking and fundraising.

When she decided to run in the 2015 federal election, Irwin recalls that she didn’t necessarily have a huge team behind her at the beginning–but that was okay, because she was able to build one. One piece of advice she received at the time was, you don’t necessarily need to have a large team to start out. All you need is a dream and a good friend, or at least some key people, and that is enough to get started. Don’t be fearful if you don’t have a large team because you can build that.

Although there has been a lot of intentional work done at all levels of government to ensure that women are being represented, Irwin believes, and research supports, that if we are going to get more women into politics, parties in particular need to have policies in place to ensure that happens. We also need to be encouraging a large diversity of women of run, not just white women, but women of colour, indigenous women, and queer individuals.

The spring election is looking promising so far in terms of women representation, but a lot are still nomination contestants and there is no guarantee that they will win their nominations.

Amanda McIvor is a second-year scholar with the Peter Lougheed Leadership College and has been working with ParityYEG for her summer stretch experience

Gender Equality in Public Policy


Rajah Maggay

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Institutions, governments and boards are constantly trying to unearth how they can respectfully and effectively include diverse perspectives into public policies. The status quo for policies based on inclusion is limited. They confine themselves to easy forms of measurement with regards to progress. Measures include counting how many women and girls are involved in or affected by policy interventions. 

Conversely, a transformative approach goes deeper by working on permanently changing structure and institutions that have perpetuated inequality. A transformative approach works to make a community feel safer, better represented and included in the decision making process.

Rebecca Tiessen from the School of Public Policy, wrote back in December 2019 on Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy. While speaking about this specific policy, the points made in her paper were incredibly relevant to all public policy work that attempts to specifically work for women. 

Policies tend to explicitly focus on women and girls, making the policy binary, neglecting broader principles of gender equality that should always include LGBTQ+, trans and non-binary individuals. As a result, this specific policy focused on the binary of gender rather than the social construction of gender. 

Shining the light on women and girls rather than gender equality can reinforce power dynamics when the experiences of women and girls are predominantly expressed in victimhood sentiments in relation to those in positions of power. 

There are various texts in recent years that have touched on the inclusion of marginalized individuals within politics. From Sally Armstrong’s Power Shift, Advancing Social Equity Through Planning Design and Investment by Jill Lang to On Being Included by Sara Ahmed. All of which emphasized how a fully gender inclusive policy must address variables such as cultural norms, discrimination, political process and institutionalized gender inequality and examine how and where they intersect. 

To be fully inclusive we must consider gender equality in all that we do and want to achieve as institutions have hypocritical elements to feminist commitments they have made. While boasting about equality for all, there may still be systems in place that prevent women from moving forward in life such as their places of work. While intimidating, we should actively identify power dynamics that perpetuate gender inequality.

A transformative feminist approach, begins with an understanding of power relations and inequalities that perpetuate gender inequality individually and institutionally. This approach recognizes the underlying causes of gender inequality in relation to masculinities, cultural norms and socially sanctioned power relations that marginalize some groups – often women, girls and transgender people.

Much of our future analyses should focus on translating policies into practice. While policy document may not completely promote a transformative feminist approach that focuses on changing structures and systems of inequality, the actions that result from a feminist policy can address these missed opportunities.

 

Rajah Maggay – A community advocate passionate about social action, accessibility and social equity, Rajah has lived in Edmonton her entire life. She is currently a Research and Policy Advisor, with previous event planning/management experience and has been volunteering for the City of Edmonton Youth Council for four years. Her ultimate goal is to get more involved in politics. Recently Rajah coined a policy around Digital Social Relations called the Empathy Act that is going to be presented to the European Union.

Leaving Home and Running for Office: Shared Experiences Facing Immigrant Women


Giselle General

Giselle General

 

Although I attended many leadership workshops throughout my life I didn’t seriously consider running for office until 2016, when I attended an eight-month-long campaign school. While I felt convinced and inspired, as the session went on, I began to feel more and more apprehensive.

Upon reflection, I think my apprehension stemmed from my identity as an immigrant, as well as being a woman. I wanted to put together a list of my challenges in the hope that women relate to my story and identify with shared experiences and obstacles so that we can work to overcome them.

Playing Catch-Up on Learning Canada’s History, Social Norms, and Political Environment

When I immigrated to Canada from the Philippines, I received a 20-page booklet as an introduction to the country. That is hardly enough information to learn about the specific area that someone would live in. When people discuss a time period when there was a massive change in policy or a political scandal from decades ago, I realized that I lack the context of what happened before I came here. There are many things that I just recently learned about, such as government boards, community leagues, urban planning, having natural areas protected, and the division of powers among levels of government and divisions within those governments, and many more.

People immigrate to Canada at different ages. The older you are, the less likely that learning all these will come from school. It can be daunting to grasp the reasons behind why things are the way they are. This can make someone feel less qualified to run.

Internalized Perspectives about Politics from One’s Country of Origin

I visited the Philippines last December 2018, and during a trip, our bus drove by a funeral procession for a local politician who was murdered for “political reasons”. Candidates, current politicians, their family members and allies, and even former politicians get murdered there on a regular basis. It is unspoken, but common knowledge, that politics can be a risk for the rest of one’s life.

During the campaign school in 2016, we listened to a politician convincing us that we need more women in office. From the crowd, I asked “Is it safe to run here? As in, is there a risk of me getting murdered, my family being kidnapped and found dead on the river?”. The politician was shocked and reassured me that it is safe to run here. A fellow participant approached me afterwards and said, “I haven’t even thought of that! All I’m afraid of are trolls on social media”. I said, “I know I’d never heard of a mayor being killed here but it happens often in other places. The usual suspects are either incumbents, influential crime organizations or corporations. Corruption kills.”

If before coming to Canada, that’s how politics is perceived by migrants, who may have fled their countries because of the violent political environment, why would they even consider running? Even here in Canada, there seems to be a consensus that politics can be evil or nasty, something to not be involved with, or be just angry about. Immigrants usually leave their country for a better life, and political life can’t really be described as such.

Strain on resources such as time, emotional labour and finances

Family ties to the country of origin is common for immigrants. Running for public office is a very demanding endeavour and being an elected official even more so. Demands for financial resources, time, and emotional support can pull a potential candidate in different directions, making running for public office seem less attainable.

Many election campaign tip sheets talked about finances.  One of the pieces of advice is to “save money a little at a time”, which can be a challenge for many migrants. A recent personal example: In January 2019, a cousin back home needed financial help for kidney surgery. I sent her $1,000 which covered only part of the medical costs. Just a few months before that, her child got severely ill and I sent $500. It’s money I’m willing to share, but it could have been my starting fund for a campaign. These decisions can be difficult to make and every year there is always a loved one in need.

Trauma

2016 was the final straw for me. I’m a sexual assault survivor, from a country where sexual assault is really not discussed, and victims are not supported. Given the misogynistic and sexually violent comments I heard during recent elections, I felt terror about the idea of running for public office. Could I handle online comments that remind me of one of the ways I got sexually assaulted?

Many migrants come with deep emotional scars and may get limited or no support to start healing. The pressure from having to survive, the conflicting need to assimilate and belonging while preserving one’s heritage, can leave no room to consider other ways to get involved. With trauma, other unhealthy behaviours can emerge, such as impostor syndrome, perfectionism, and excessive self-criticism.

I feel fortunate to have sought out help through resources available in this city. Now, I feel more emotionally equipped to handle the challenges of my personal life and future public life.

What can organizations and programs that aim to encourage women’s political involvement do in order to help address this?

When I attend workshops, many of my concerns touch on the four categories above so while they aim to be inspiring, feel just a little bit out of touch.

Analyze oversimplified advice. “Don’t feed the trolls” and “save money a little bit at a time” are a few examples. When sharing these pieces of advice, it can be meaningful to ask a few questions.  Does this work for a refugee who still has family in their home country? How about the immigrant who has been under-employed during all her years living in Canada, despite her impressive foreign credentials that the schools here didn’t recognize? How about those from countries where everyone, from the president to the mayor, is corrupt? Does the advice on handling media work for ESL speakers, or who have unique names?

“You can’t be what you can’t see”: highlight people of colour who are great political leaders, even if they are holding office in other provinces or countries. I have only recently found out that there are a number of Filipino-Canadian politicians in other provinces, and that felt reassuring. In the campaign school, there was a panel with several women from different ethnic backgrounds, one of them was relatively young, and I found that inspiring as well. There are a number of Asian-Canadians holding office but are not as well-known in other parts of the country. At a different event, I learned about a city councillor who got elected within five years of immigrating to Canada.

Find ways to connect to people through their other identities. I am able to find many of these opportunities thanks to being a relatively social media savvy millennial. Continuing to post articles, event promotions, memes and videos online is an effective way to reach me. This means that reaching out to middle-aged and elderly migrants will take a different approach. These presentations and programs may have to be done at a newcomer centre, cultural centre, or seniors centre, where the audience will likely be born-and-raised and newcomers.