Addressing the United Nations in 2013, Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai said: “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
In that spirit, 338 young women sat in the seats of power at the House of Commons in Ottawa Wednesday, which was International Women’s Day.
“When more women are promoted, (when) more rights for women are guaranteed, society moves forward,” said North Vancouver’s Thi Tran, who settled into MP Jonathan Wilkinson’s seat Wednesday as part of the Daughters of the Vote event.
The event, organized by the group Equal Voice, was held to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote in Canada while promoting a greater involvement of women in politics.
Sitting in Parliament and looking up at elected officials consigned to the gallery was an exciting role reversal, according to Tran.
However, 57 years after indigenous women first voted, there’s still work to be done, Tran noted.
Only about one out of four Canadian MPs are women, and in 150 years only one women, Kim Campbell, has served as prime minister.
The issues are both institutional and social, said Tran, who noted that gender roles often form before the first day or preschool.
“For girls it’s dolls and cooking toys and a sewing kit … for boys it’s engineering caps,” she noted. “It’s just reinforcing the idea that we don’t belong in certain fields, in certain professions, just because we’re women.”
Being surrounded by hundreds of inspiring women in the House of Commons felt momentous, according to Callista Ryan, who sat in the seat of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country MP Pamela Goldsmith-Jones.
The day included a speech from Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, whose recent Instagram message celebrating men and boys who encourage women was the subject of scorn recently.
“One thing that was missed is that in the House of Commons a big portion of (Prime Minister) Justin (Trudeau)’s speech was about how Sophie supported him,” Ryan noted.
The march toward more equal representation in Ottawa requires men, Tran said.
“Of course, men have to be involved,” she said. “I don’t think any social movement can only involve one group.”
While currently pursuing a degree in international relations and business management at Western University, Ryan said International Women’s Day renewed her interest in running for office.
“I’ve always been very non-partisan and that’s a barrier that I’m still looking to jump over.”
Ryan said she hoped some of the young women who were in Ottawa Wednesday will also consider putting their name on a ballot.
“I believe that every single female and female-identifying person in that house has a voice to share,” she said.
While Wednesday’s event focused on women in politics there were also moving speeches touching on different forms of bias, Tran noted. “As an Asian woman, for example, I do feel discrimination and I do understand the sentiment of not feeling like you belong,” she said, discussing a speech that addressed Islamaphobia.
The key to making lasting changes is to keep talking, said Tran.
“Once you start shutting people off because you don’t agree with someone that’s when the dialogue ends and that’s when the separation and the divide settles in more clearly,” she said. “Conversation is key.”