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Panel talks about the challenges for women in politics

Changing Politics

Changing Politics panelists and organizers (from left) Shanese Steel, a Trent student who is president of the Trent University Native Association, Zara Syed, editor of the student newspaper, the Arthur, former Arthur editor Sara Ostrowska, Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Monsef, Peterborough Coun. Diane Therrien, philosophy student Erin McLaughlin, student and university senate member Bete Wondimu, and politics student D Dmuchoski. Photo by Stelios Pappas, Loyalist Journalism

By Stelios Pappas [1]

PETERBOROUGH — Women won’t achieve real equality until more of them get involved in politics at both the local and national level, participants in a panel discussion said Friday.

International Women’s Day started early for Peterborough as local politicians including MP Maryam Monsef, [2] Canada’s minister of democratic institutions, along with Trent University students and alumni, discussed how women in politics and the world continue to face hardship.

Using the hashtag #changingpolitics [3], the panel discussion was held at Trent’s Traill College [4]. Another panelist was Peterborough Coun. Diane Therrien [5].

The Changing Politics event, held in Bagnani Hall, was attended by 60 people.

Zara Syed and Sara Ostrowska organized the event after being on a similar panel before. Ostrowska explained how women in politics, like Monsef, inspired her and Syed to add to the voice of women all over the world.

“People like Maryam were my exemplar,” Ostrowska said, wiping away tears. Monsef is the fourth-youngest woman ever to be elected to Canada’s Parliament.

IMG_6943a [12]

Zara Syed speaking to the crowd. Photo by Stelios Pappas, Loyalist Journalism

Ostrowaska, whose background is Iranian, compared the situation for women in Canada with those in the Middle East, adding that people’s perceptions don’t necessarily match reality.

“You hear a lot about Iran in the news after their election – 34 per cent of parliament is now women, after various groups initiated campaigns to change the gender makeup of their government,” she said.

“Canada – we think we’re great, that we’ve made a lot of progress – has 26 per cent. So we look down on Middle Eastern countries when you hear in the news about how horrible it is, and true – there are problems everywhere. But there are a lot of problems here.”

The panellists called for more women to be advocates for women.

Women like Monsef are in important positions because of people believing that women can make a change, Syed and Ostrowska said.

Nadine Changfoot [16], an associate professor and chair in the politics department at Trent, said the people in the audience are the kinds of voices that need to be heard.

“I’m really excited by the coming together of diversity – of women, men, lesbian, bisexual, queer, cis [17], racialized young and elderly, (people with disabilities), multicultural individuals here tonight.”

Even as a professor and university chair, she has faced sexist remarks when trying to include the work of more women with a political background in the courses she teaches, she said.

Bagnani Hall was full for the Changing Politics talk. Photo by Stelios Pappas, Loyalist Journalism

Bagnani Hall was full for the Changing Politics talk. Photo by Stelios Pappas, Loyalist Journalism

Connecting people, whether they are in politics or not, may be the first step to move forward, according to the students on the panel. Bete Wondimu, who is also a member of Trent’s senate, said education about women is important. Politics student D Dmuchoski and philosophy student Erin McLaughlin said being a student isn’t always empowering.

Dmuchoski said everyone has heard enough about rich dead white men, adding: “Academia has a primarily male theorist focus. It needs a complete overhaul.”

Syed said that real change starts with “bringing together issues from the grittiest of topics to the table … More conversations should happen like this.”

Monsef and Therrien both asked the audience to help change the world for women. If you feel someone is representing you and your voice, vote for that person to be in politics, they said.

“The floor is yours to engage in exactly this conversation, where the government is listening,” Monsef said.

How did you celebrate National Women Day this year? Tweet @QNetNews to let us know.