Politics is often referred to as a blood sport; a tough, malicious game. A large part of this mythology came from the central role masculinity played in Canada’s political discourse. This was inevitable — for nearly our entire history, government has been run by and for men. For too long, women have been denied a role in the policies and politics that governed their lives.
Progress has been slow. Nellie McClung and the “Famous Five” are giants for their work, which culminated in women being officially recognized as “persons” under the law and allowed to sit in the Senate. While legal status for women was a ground-breaking moment, full equality has taken much longer. For too long, women haven’t been able to see politics as accessible to them. They haven’t seen it as a means to affect change. They haven’t seen it is as a way to realize their aspirations. No more.
We are at crucial moment. In Ontario and across Canada, the voices and priorities of women are finally beginning to occupy the place they deserve. All has not been achieved. Yet Canadian women are positioned for meaningful progress. Finally, we have the leaders, policies and personalities to be empowered as real players in the political process.
Firstly, leadership. Last year, Kathleen Wynne proved that a woman cannot just rise to the helm of Ontario’s governing party, but win the confidence of the people of Canada’s largest province. As part of her expansive agenda, Premier Wynne has championed women’s issues including last week’s groundbreaking action on stopping sexual assault. Of the fifteen new Liberal MPPs elected last year, nine were women. The Premier’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed — she was recently named as one of CNN’s 2014 most influential women in the world. Federally, The Liberal Party of Canada has made the recruitment of more woman candidates a priority — over a third of nominated candidates nationwide are women.
Secondly, policies. Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada is willing to back up its rhetoric on women’s issues with action and policy. For years, many across Canada, especially young Liberals, have pushed for stronger actions on a woman’s right to choose. We view this not just a Liberal policy, but a Liberal value. Our leader shares this conviction, evidenced by his commitment that all Liberal candidates must support women’s fundamental rights. I am proud to be part of a party that recognizes that choice is not a topic to be debated, but a right to be protected.
Lastly, personalities. Not only have women attained leadership roles and influenced policy, they’ve become good at politics too. Both the federal and provincial Liberals have a women as party president, and I’m especially proud that the Executive Board of the Ontario Young Liberals is majority female. Yet most of all, the Ontario Liberals owe their incredible victory in last June’s provincial election in no small part due to one woman: the brilliant Pat Sorbara. Her herculean efforts to keep our party in government are much of the reason she currently serves as the Premier’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Sorbara’s work in Ontario is mirrored at the federal level, where the talented Katie Telford will serve as our party’s Campaign Co-Chair during this fall’s election. A veteran of Stephane Dion and Gerrard Kennedy’s offices, Telford holds much of the party’s fate in her hands. The ascent of these two successful women to the top of the “backroom” marks a new era for women’s participation in Canada’s political life.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was “empowering women, empowering humanity.” With the right leaders, policies and personalities; this promises to be a new era for women in public life. As a young woman engaged in politics here in Ontario; I feel this is a unique moment. This International Women’s Day, we can be optimistic. When it comes to Canada’s politics, women are empowered like never before.
Najva Amin is the President of the Ontario Young Liberals and a graduate of the University of Toronto.