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What I want my daughter to know about International Women’s Day

When I found out I was going to have a daughter, I was excited and nervous all at the same time. I was happy because I knew I could build a strong connection and felt, as a single mom, a little girl was a blessing for me. On the other hand, I felt apprehensive because being a girl in this world is no easy task.

Between sexual exploitation, unfair treatment in the working world, and an ever-continuing expectation for girls to be sweet and never get dirty, it is tough to be a strong woman. Due to the unfortunate reality of genetics, my daughter also never had a choice in being a stubborn, strong-willed, and loud female — which makes her lot in life that much more challenging, but a great adventure as well.

I come from a long line of strong women. My mother was a single mom who raised me to be tough as nails, and yet always show compassion. No matter how tired she was from working full-time, she always had time to listen to my problems or bandage a wounded knee. She also taught me that no matter how little you think you have, you are always more empowered when you give to others. I try my hardest to teach my daughter the power of solidarity and giving between women.

My mom once told me that it takes a village to raise a child. I can’t possibly count the number of inspirational and beautiful women who have helped me so far in my daughter’s life. I’m lucky my daughter has so many ladies too look up to.

Women are a force of nature when they come together, whether it be to help raise a child or make a dramatic change in the world. Solidarity is integral for making change and promoting healthy relationships between women. I can only hope that all of the garbage out there about women tearing each other down will be something my daughter advocates against as strongly as I do.

I have also taught my daughter about the importance of surrounding yourself with male figures who empower women. I am proud to say that many men in our lives are deeply supportive and fundamentally giving towards my little family. It seems my daughter is growing up in a world where men are changing as much as women when it comes to feminism. I am compelled to give a major shout-out to many of my millenial male friends out there — your mothers are proud.

My grandmother was yet another inspiration for my daughter and I. She taught me to always pursue what you love no matter what other people say you can or cannot do. She achieved a university degree in fine arts from Mount Allison University in 1958, and was the only woman in her class. She was also a single-working mom in the 1970s and pursued her art with a passion, not letting the judgements of others stand in her way.

I take my grandmother’s teachings and apply them to my daughter when it comes to her dreams. There is no single way to be a girl, or a woman. My daughter has the option to grow up to be an artist, a mathematician, an opera singer, or a mechanic if she wishes. The opportunities she has are seemingly endless.

Similar to my grandmother’s history, International Women’s Day reminds us there was a time when these choices were not so easy for women. Every time women get to vote, or to step through an office door, silently thank the women who made this possible and remember the shame and adversity women had to fight through to get us there.

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on 1909 after thousands of women marched in New York for better pay and the right to vote. By 1975, the United Nations declared International Women’s Day as an officially recognized celebration and it was celebrated by many countries after this event, and continues today.

In the present, many people believe the fight for women has been won, but this is not so. We must teach our daughters the power of women who work together, to surround ourselves with men who empower women, and in turn invigorate ourselves to pursue our dreams.

And finally, we must teach our daughters to remember the women who came before us, and honour their achievements around the world.

Five Toronto events to attend for International Women’s Day

It is time celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. Here are a few great events going on in the city that celebrate women athletes, politicians, comedians, musicians and women of distinction. Get out there and enjoy yourself — and remember ladies, stay proud and strong!

Daybreaker TO-International Women’s Day

Daybreaker is an international initiative to help people start their day by doing a new type of fun physical exercise. Daybreaker is launching an event at Basecamp Climbing Gym (677 Bloor St. W.) for an early morning dance party. Opening at 6 a.m for an hour long yoga session, a dance party will then follow until 9 a.m. The dance party will be hosted by female DJs and celebrates women worldwide. Breakfast bars and cold brew will also be provided at the event.

Toronto the Just: Stories of Women and the Struggle for Equality

This exhibit will feature the stories of eight local women who have challenged discrimination in the past or present day. Speakers will discuss social justice issues and the importance of female solidarity. The event is hosted by Heritage Toronto and Women in Toronto Politics. It is being run at St. Lawrence Hall (157 King Street East) from 6-8 p.m.

Stand up 4 Sistering II Daria Dance Party

Comedy bar (945 Bloor St. W.) will be hosting a Women’s Day bash showcasing popular women comedians. The line-up includes Dawn Whitwell, Natalie Norman, Lauren Mitchell and Chantel Marostica. All the proceeds from the event will be going to the charity Sistering, which helps women in need.

International Women’s Day Concert

The Mod Club (722 College St. W.) will be hosting an International Women’s Day concert that recognizes female artists including Tanika Charles, LAL, MC Nitty Scott and DJ Ariel. The R&B show is put on by The Academy.

YWCA announces Women of Distinction

The YWCA is announcing eight women of distinction for 2016 and will be hosting a discussion panel. The event will be held in the Lambert Room (54th Floor, 66 Wellington St. W) and is being hosted by TD Bank.

Rock lives: Female rocker, Urvah Khan and class-act, Old James

Rock n’ roll is not dead, at least not according to lead singer of a scrap metal rock n’ roll band, Urvah Khan. Women’s Post caught up with the female rocker and namesake of the band after her show at Lee’s Palace. Khan was sporting a blonde Mohawk and a traditional Pakistani bindi and jewelry.

“Rock n’ roll is the sound of an oppressed nation. It is a liberation front for people who don’t have freedom. I found my freedom through rock n roll,” she said. “I want to spend the rest of my life creating a sound called scrap rock. We build our music from the scraps of what is left behind, and mix it with Indian and south Asian sounds.”

Photo provided Urvah Khan
Photo provided Urvah Khan

Khan hails from Pakistan and grew up in Dubai. She was 12 when her family moved to Canada. She is a self-proclaimed feminist who firmly believes rock n’ roll can help to spread the message of gender equality. She also passionately loves her chosen style of music and believes that you have to truly love rock n’roll in order to make a killer rock song.

Khan got into rock in her early 20’s after performing a song with the band The Central Nervous System. She was a rapper prior to this performance, but after listening to N.I.B by Black Sabbath, she fell in love with the music. She also sees rock n’ roll as a source of liberation for women in the East.

“I want to make rock music for Muslim girls where I came from. I’m making music for brown women who need to realize freedom is not a choice, it is a right,” said Khan. “Why do we have to walk with hijabs for a man to feel good? Why can’t we just do it because we want to or we don’t want to. As a woman in the West, I can do anything I want. Let’s take rock to the East.”

The headliner band at Lee’s Palace, Old James, believes the message in the music is the key to a great rock song as well.

“Music with a message is what stands out. The difference between our band and every other band is that we have guys that aren’t cool. We aren’t cool. We are happy being in our band, pissing in bottles, and touring the world. It is about the music.”

Old James and Urvah Khan both stole the audience at Lee’s Palace, bringing heavy rock melodies to a venue often filled with popular hipster indie bands. Khan is a fascinating artist to watch live and an avid advocate of on-stage energy, even pulling a fan on-stage to “scrap” with her.

“Sometimes when I’m performing, I run out of breath and my notes aren’t perfect. My rap isn’t perfect but I believe that if my energy is perfect, I can afford to compromise myself,” said Khan.

Lead singer of Old James, Brian Stephenson, is an unstoppable force of nature on stage, bouncing from end to end while hitting every note seamlessly. As a fan that has seen Old James perform previously, each show is different and equally interesting to attend, making them unforgettable to watch on-stage. The band also surprised fans by performing new songs from their upcoming album, due to be released later this year. They performed “Speak Volumes”, their title track, as well as “Lovefire”.

Old James often performs with women and Stephenson was excited that Urvah Khan was on the bill.

“We love her message. She has taken several pieces of different genres and created her own music,” said Stephenson. “With women playing and sharing the stage, there is a massive amount of respect. They are sticking their necks out because they have to put up with a lot of crap still. A lot of the attitudes towards women in music are unfair. It doesn’t matter what gender or colour you are.”

Both Old James and Urvah Khan believe in the power of music with a message. Though their focuses differ, attending a gig where the music is deeply meaningful is inspirational and has the ability to change the world. As it turns out, rock is definitely not dead.

Photo provided by Urvah Khan
Photo provided by Urvah Khan

“Rock n roll came from the blues and came out of an oppressed generation of people. Once I found that out, my band and I decided to create the next wave of rock n roll,” said Khan. “People say that cannot be because the pioneers of rock n roll are done but I don’t agree. Let’s take rock to India, Pakistan and to places where women don’t know what freedom means.”

 

“Whip them out”: breastfeeding in public

“Whip them out. I will breastfeed anytime, anywhere, any place,” mother and breastfeeding advocate, Jesse Tallent said.

Despite the fact that breastfeeding is one of the most natural and beautiful acts between a mother and her new-born baby, women often feel insecure and ashamed about feeding their child in public. This is something Tallent correlates to society’s misconstrued beliefs about breasts themselves.

“Breasts are used to sell burgers or cars,” she said. “Women are often shamed for breastfeeding or for being too confident and showing too much skin.”

Too often are women reported on social media for posting pictures of themselves breastfeeding their child. These pictures are then removed for being “pornographic” or too revealing. This is something that Anne Kirkham, a spokesperson for the Le Leche League of Canada, a national organization that promotes breastfeeding and offers resources for new mothers, says is increasingly common.

“We live in a society that sexualizes breasts so much,” said Kirkham. “When you show your body in media, it is so overly sexualized. It may take awhile to come to terms with it in a new way.”

Similarly to many other women, I decided to breastfeed my daughter when she was born. At first, it was a bit painful, and it was a bit difficult to get my newborn to latch on. But, once I got past those awkward stages, breastfeeding became a time of bonding. I genuinely felt empowered, like there was a stronger connection between myself and my daughter.

At the same time, I felt like it was necessary for me to stay home to feed my daughter. Breastfeeding in public made me uncomfortable, but I was beginning to feel a bit isolated at home. I decided to start slow, by finding a community of moms who were nursing and willing to share in that experience.

“Seeing other moms’ breastfeeding is empowering,” said Kirkham. “When you start to recognize other mothers’ breastfeeding, you may feel more comfortable yourself.”

Other mother’s take this shared experience to a larger platform. Tallent regularly posts photos of herself breastfeeding on social media and hosts online support networks. The goal? to help women gain confidence when breastfeeding in public and to help break through sexualized trends attached to breasts itself.

“My advice to other moms is to take to social media and find a local support group like La Leche,” said Tallent. “Mothers being more open-minded about breastfeeding has taken to social media and has started a movement to change body image.”

Forums such as breastfeed without fear, normalize breastfeeding, and boobies are for babies provide safe spaces for mothers to proudly and openly share this new stage in their lives.

Most public areas —like malls or restaurants — offer a designated nursing station or area for mothers who want to feed their babies. But the whole idea that breastfeeding should be equated with a public washroom is questionable. Is the act considered a bodily function needing to be concealed, or are people genuinely as uncomfortable with the sight of a breast as the sight of a sexual organ?

When my daughter was a bit older and had finished breastfeeding, we were out with a friend who had a newborn baby. He needed to be fed so we went into one of the nursing stations. It was on the other side of the washroom, completely separated by a wall. The sound of the hand dryers was irritating the babies and the washroom smell as difficult to handle. The mothers looked miserable and I will never forgot how ashamed my friend felt as she kept apologizing that we had to be in that space.

Of course, there are nursing stations that are more welcoming and not exclusively attached to the washroom. A private nursing setting can even be helpful for breastfeeding mothers who are more comfortable in an isolated setting.

“I’ve used a nursing room at a mall. It is hard to get him to feed in public because he is so curious. Sometimes you run into other moms too, which is great,” said Tallent.

Another common issue is the general expectation that mothers should cover their babies with a blanket when they feed in public. Kirkham reports this is a common concern for new mothers.

“A lot of mothers complain that their babies get too hot under the blanket or swat at it which distracts the baby and makes the feeding difficult,” she said. “People should think about what it would be like for them to eat under a blanket.”

Tallent was pressured to use a blanket while breastfeeding at her own engagement dinner when her son, Rylan, was two months old. Rylan, she explained, needed to be fed often, but was struggling to latch. A woman she didn’t know approached her and tried to put Rylan’s blanket over his head.

“She was trying to help, but it was inappropriate.” said Tallent. “I had to go into a bathroom to feed him because she wouldn’t leave me alone.”

Most women are unaware that legislation exists protecting mothers and their newborn babies under the Code of Human Rights. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, “you have rights as a breastfeeding mother, including the right to breastfeed a child in a public area. No one should prevent you from breastfeeding your child simply because you are in a public area. They should not ask you to ‘cover up,’ disturb you, or ask you to move to another area that is more ‘discreet’.”

As a mother who previously breastfed, I am glad these rights are being protected. I can only hope that society becomes more accepting and that people can learn to view breasts less as sexualized objects and more as a means of providing for a new life. That amazing and natural phenomenon is what truly makes breasts sexy. And that is something we should all embrace.

 

Men’s activist group causes international uproar

UPDATE: The gatherings in Toronto (and around the world) have been cancelled, according to a tweet and website post by Roosh V. “I can no longer guarantee the safety or privacy of the men who want to attend on February 6, especially since most of the meetups can not be made private in time.”

A highly contested men’s activism group has revealed there are at least three group meet-ups scheduled in Toronto. The location of these meet-ups has been removed from the website, returnofkings.com, but founder and rape-legalization advocate, Daryush “Roosh V” Valizadeh confirmed the location in a comment asking about the Toronto meetup.

“I merged 3 hosts into the Queens Park location because all of them submitted central locations that were near Queens Park. I think the turnout will be over 20, so you may have to split up into 2 or 3 groups and then re-join later.”

The group is garnering negative attention after Roosh V’s announcement that he is organizing gatherings in 165 locations in 43 countries around the world, all happening on Feb. 6.  The groups are known as “tribes” and the purpose of the initial meet-up is to try and create more permanent men’s activist “tribes”.

The event has garnered outrage worldwide in the media and on social networks. Roosh V removed the locations of the gatherings from his website, citing scheduled protests in a few of the larger cities. He had previously specified the Toronto location as being at Queen’s Park, and later confirmed this fact in a comment inquiry.

“I have created a private Central Command for meetup hosts and other trusted insiders to device protocols that allow all meetups on Saturday to proceed as planned. I will publish protocols for meetup attendees here by Thursday,” Roosh V writes. “Not a single meetup will be cancelled. We will not be intimated by the actions of the lying media and leftist political establishment.”

Thanks to the international press, every country and city labelled as a location for one of these meet-ups has the opportunity to take action and make it known they do not condone this hate speech. At the same time, it appears that Roosh V is enjoying all of the attention. However, on Feb. 1, he tweeted “Number 2 trending topic in all of Australia. This is the first time a man stood up to their puny establishment.” Roosh V has also tweeted several threats to Australian authorities, indicating that he will sneak into the country via boat because “the border is like swiss cheese.”

The opinions, writing, and actions of Roosh V clearly denote the inner-workings of an unstable man; yet the fact that men support his beliefs is troublesome. The nature of many of the articles on the website are violent and even go so far as to threaten anyone who wants to disrupt his worldwide event.

“I will exact furious retribution upon anyone who challenges you in public on that date,” he writes.

Roosh V’s meet-ups also potentially delegitimize other men’s groups. There are groups that exist to help single parents (including dads) or men who have experienced abuse, but by creating an exclusive group that is violent and works to facilitate hate speech deters from these goals. It can also makes men feel less comfortable gathering without being seen as anti-feminist.

Hopefully, these meetings are a bust due to international pressures and Roosh V will instead seek much-needed medical help for his deep-set hatred of women. In the meantime, let us celebrate the massive solidarity that both men and women have demonstrated to rid the world of misogynist, exclusive meet-ups — including people such as Roosh V.

Barbie vs. Lottie: the issue of gendered childrens’ toys

Over the holidays, my daughter received many gifts for Christmas. I was grateful for them and honoured to have love surrounding us. On the other hand, the choice of toys given to her did not inspire a great sense of happiness. Almost every present was pink, directed towards my daughter female status and unequivocally sexist. Toys can be great tools for child play; yet, connecting the meaning behind the toys we give our children needs to be seriously considered.

Most of the time we are given two options: girl toys and boy toys. Girl-oriented toys often emphasize beauty over action and caretaker roles. Purses, dolls, barbies, and play dresses are common examples. Boy toys are more focused on active activities such as building, and they promote a rough and tumble ideology. Toy guns, action figures, and building blocks are typical. Both extremes of gendered toys have detrimental effects on how children associate with their gender and create a sense of self that is enforced by societal rather than individualized values.

Baby dolls or pet animals indicate that little girls should focus on caring for the toy they are given, while barbies place emphasis on the importance of beauty and downgrade other skills. Toys targeted towards boys often challenge cognitive abilities by getting young children to create structures or address problem-solving skills using building blocks. The National Association for the Education of Young Children spoke with Judith Elaine Blakemore, a professor of psychology and associate dean of Arts and Sciences for Faculty Development at Indiana University−Purdue University, who said that gender-typed toys might encourage behaviour that parents may not want associated with their children.

“For girls, this would include a focus on attractiveness and appearance, perhaps leading to a message that this is the most important thing—to look pretty. For boys, the emphasis on violence and aggression (weapons, fighting, and aggression) might be less than desirable in the long run,” she said.

5568057827_a50bdc8c94A 2013 study conducted by the University of Derby says that values embedded into children’s toys and play can affect career choices later on in life. Women are directed towards more caretaker roles whereas men fill the role of the engineer or lawyer. These defining gender gaps cause imbalance in society and initialize in values that are presented to humans at childbirth.

The study also indicated that 81 per cent of parents wanted more gender neutral toys in stores; but there were only limited options available. Pink and blue marketing strategies make money and promote an early sense of consumerist desires through specific ad campaigns directed at children. In simple terms, gender sells.

Toys directed specifically at boys are ideologically harmful as well. Limiting young boys to action toys and promoting the rough and tumble lifestyle excludes more creative and sensitive children, which can open doors to bullying. Boy toys also define action as an essential male skill, which can undermine the progress of academics. The lack of caregiving boy-oriented toys also takes away from an emphasis on playing a compassionate role in a family.

downloadThere are initiatives that have been launched to educate people about the effects of gender-oriented toys. Pinkstinks is a popular campaign in the United Kingdom that advocates against toys that marginalize girls. #caringboys is a twitter feed that allows parents to post photos showing young boys playing with dolls. Several innovative toys that promote gender-positive messages have also crept up on the market, including the crowdfunded Lottie Dolls which have garnered over 12
international awards for being a toy with a positive message. Lottie Dolls have a range of designs, from a robot to the animal protector, allowing girls to play with dolls that have empowered career roles in society.

Women and men have fought for equality for generations. We live in a society that claims gender balance and embraces the dual power of having both women and men involved in career and family-building scenarios. It is only sensible that children’s toys should reflect this hard-fought need for gender equality. Dolls are welcome to stick around, but I have a dream that my daughter can play with a mechanic and mobile Barbie with a realistic waist, who doesn’t wear makeup. Let’s create that, shall we?

 

Female hip hop producers battle for their place

Battle of the Beatmakers is an annual competition in Toronto that showcases up-and-coming hip hop producers. Winners receive cash and prizes, as well as an opportunity to work with big names in the industry.

Thirty-two producers competed this year, including two women: LittleSister and EveKey.  This was the same number, and the same producers, who competed in last year’s Battle of the Beatmakers. After the show, Women’s Post caught up with the two producers to see how they felt about being the only women in the competition, and to talk about the gender disparity that continues to persist in the hip hop industry.

Both women emphasized the need to support each other in competition because of their status as female producers. “She is a very genuine soul and a good person,” LittleSister said of EveKey. “I want to give her support and show her I’ve got her back. There aren’t too many of us [females] in the industry. When it comes to relating to each other, it is more comfortable for girls to talk to each other so it’s nice.”

LittleSister did very well in the competition, making it to the semifinals before being eliminated by fellow contestant, C-Sharp. The judges were very supportive of both female producers and the crowd was immensely excited to see the women on stage.

By Kaeleigh Phillips
LittleSister Competing By Kaeleigh Phillips

At the same time, women are often marginalized in hip hop and it is challenging to climb the ladder to a position of power, such as the role of producer.

Despite the number of women within the music industry — artists, producers, engineers, songwriters, beat makers, managers, ect. — women are often still thought of as lesser than their male counterparts. “I think that across the board there are gender disparities in terms of the perception that the music industry and the hip hop industry is a ‘man’s world’ so women often have to work twice as hard to prove themselves,” says Priya Ramanujam, editor in chief of Urbanology, one of the lead sponsors of Battle of the Beatmakers.

Interestingly, both LittleSister and EveKey emphasized the positive support they receive in the industry as producers. “Working with male artists, they were more open to receiving female opinions,” EveKey said. “It seems they enjoy working with a female producer. It is a fresh perspective.” Oftentimes, being a producer puts a person in a position of power in hip hop and this dynamic helps to endow the two women with a sense of equality.

“Hip hop does marginalize, but it is changing,” LittleSister reiterated. “Women have power positions now. Women are on the forefront but behind the scenes as well. Other women like Wondergurl, Kid Sister, and Missy Elliot are helping to open up power positions. The business side is very different from the music side of the industry. If you want to make money, gender doesn’t matter.” She also noted there was one case where a male client made sexist remarks towards her, and let his pride get in the way or business.  She chose not to work with him again.

By Kaeleigh Phillips
EveKey at the Opera House By Kaeleigh Phillips

A study by Rana Emerson, a professor at the University of Texas, called “Where My Girls At?’ Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos”* suggests that it is much easier for a woman to enter the industry into hip hop music when sponsored or associated with a man who is already established within it. Often, women have to choose whether to take the necessary partnership or to embark solo.

This was the choice that both EveKey and LittleSister faced—and they both decided to take their chances alone in the industry. “In general, it is difficult for a producer to come out on their own. It has to be built from the bottom up. Having male mentorship is a part of the way it is. It is about whether you want to choose to be on your own or not,” said LittleSister.

LittleSister in First Round By Kaeleigh Phillips
LittleSister in First Round By Kaeleigh Phillips

The choice to be an independent female producer in hip hop is a daunting one, but women like LittleSister and EveKey pave the way for others.

For young women trying to get into the industry, Ramanujam encourages them not to be afraid of the work. The more women who take the leap into hip hop and music production, the more others will be inspired to do so.

“Be prepared to be doubted and second guessed, to always have to prove yourself,” she says. “Again, this is not necessarily unique to hip-hop. But also remember that by taking the leap of faith and doing it, whether you know it or not, another young woman on the come up is watching, and may decide to follow in your footsteps because she sees another woman doing it. For me, that alone is worth what I go through.”

*With Files from hip hop enthusiast, Holly Jane

 

 

 

The women in cabinet: qualified and capable

The promise was kept: 15 of the 31 Members of Parliament (MP) chosen to serve on Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

The swearing-in ceremony occurred Wednesday late morning, and was attended by over 3,500 members of the public. It was a historic affair, and not only because it was open to “regular” Canadians. It is the first time the Cabinet has been made up of an equal number of men and women.

During the election campaign, the newly sworn-in Prime Minister promised that half his cabinet will be formed of women. Since women make up over 50 per cent of the Canadian population, Trudeau argued they should be represented as such in government.

In 2015, it’s sad that a statement like this one had to be made into an election promise.

Over the last three days, there have been a number of columns written in the media arguing that the cabinet should be chosen as a meritocracy, and not by gender. It was enough to make me snort in my coffee. First of all, there are 50 female MPs to choose from in the Liberal Party, and all are qualified in some way seeming as they were elected by the people of Canada. Second of all, Cabinet appointments have always been political, and it’s naive to think of it any other way. The columns were, by the most part, written by male political pundits. The irony was not lost on me.

As of Wednesday, I firmly believe that these Cabinet positions were chosen based on merit, experience, and trust.

To prove it, here are the women chosen to represent the Liberal Government in the Cabinet and their qualifications:

Carolyn Bennett,
Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Carolyn_Bennett_at_podium-CropBennett was first elected to the House of Commons in the 1997 general election and  has been re-elected since. During the SARS outbreak, Bennett served as the first ever Minister of Public Health, where she set up the Public Health Agency of Canada. During the last four years, she has served as Critic for Aboriginal Affairs and Chair of the National Liberal Women’s Caucus.

 

Jody Wilson-Raybould,
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

Jody_Wilson-RaybouldAs a former crown prosecutor, treaty commissioner and Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Wilson-Raybould is more than qualified to hold this position. She has 10 years experience as an elected official, representing Indigenous people in British Columbia. Wilson-Raybould is the first Aboriginal person to hold this position.

 

Judy Foote,
Minister of Public Services & Procurement

downloadFoote has served as MP since 2008 and previously held the position of Liberal Whip and Deputy House Leader of the Opposition. She also spent 11 years in public service with the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly, acting as Minister of Development and Rural Renewal, Minister of Industry, Trade and Technology, and Minister of Education.

 

Chrystia Freeland,
Minister of International Trade

200px-Chrystia_Freeland_-_India_Economic_Summit_2011Freeland is a former journalist who held editorial positions within the Financial Times, the Washington Post, The Economist, The Globe and Mail, and Thomson Reuters. She reported on business and global affairs from the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, and Russia. Over the past year Freeland held the position of Liberal Critic for International Trade.

 

 

Jane Philpott,
Minister of Health

download (1)Before being elected into the House of Commons, Philpott served as Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital from 2008 to 2014. Before that she was a family physician. She was also an associate professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. Philpott is the founder of Give a Day to World Aids, which has raised over $4 million to help those affected by the disease in Africa.

 

Marie-Claude Bibeau,
Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

20151021KFI293_460A federal rookie, Bibeau has a lot of experience in community business and local politics. Before running for office, she worked at the Canadian International Development Agency in Ottawa, Montréal, Morocco and Benin, and in Africa. She is also a business owner of 15 years, has served on numerous museum boards, and held a position on the Compton revitalization committee.

 

Melanie Joly,
Minister of Canadian Heritage

10604730_10152619476411713_208595624510881686_oBefore getting into politics, Joly worked with two separate law firms in Montreal. She later moved to communications and founded of the party Le Vrai Changement pour Montréal. Joly is on a number of art and museum boards, including the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Governnor General’s Performing Arts Award and Business for the Arts.

 

 

Diane LeBouthillier,
Minister of National Revenue

4bQfs8VwLeBouthillier spent more then 23 years working with as a social worker at the Rocher Percé Health and Social Services Centre. She serves on the Board of Governors of Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles, and chairs the boards of directors of Réseau collectif Gaspésie Les Îles and Transport adapté et collectif des Anses.

 

 

Catherine McKenna,
Minister of Environment & Climate Change

027ce2bMcKenna is another rookie to the federal arena. She co-founded the executive director of Canadian Lawyers Abroad, a charitable organization based at the University of Ottawa, and was the executive director the Banff Forum, an organization that brings together young Canadians to discuss key public policy challenges. McKenna has also worked as a legal adviser for the UN in East Timor and in Indonesia.

 

MaryAnn Mihychuck,
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development & Labour.
CSa2-PfWcAECQWNMihychuck is a former member of the Manitoba Legislator and is the founder of both Women in Mining Canada and Women in Mining Manitoba. She was elected provincially in 1995, and has served for nine years, holding the positions of Minister of Industry, Trade, and Mines and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. 

 

Maryam Monsef,
Minister for Democratic Institutions

-dCgAcvNMonsef has a truly colourful resume—she has worked for Trent University, Fleming College, Peterborough Economic Development, the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough and the New Canadian Centre. She has represented Peterborough at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, and is a co-recipient of the YMCA’s Peace Medallion. Monsef is also the first Afghanistan-born MP appointed to the Cabinet.

 

Carla Qualtrough,
Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities
carla-qualtroughQualtrough is not only a successful lawyer, but a four-time world champion Paralympian. She chairs the BC Minister’s Council on Employment and Accessibility, and is an adjudicator with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal. Qualtrough has also been President of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and Chair of the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada. She is on the Board of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, and Vice-Chair of the Delta Gymnastics Society.

 

Kirsty Duncan,
Minister of Science

DuncanKirsty_LibDuncan is a Canadian medical geographer. Until 2000, she taught meteorology, climatology, and climate change at the University of Windsor. She started studying influenza strains, an interest which led her to perform a ground survey in Longyearbyen, Norway. Duncan was also an adjunct professor teaching both medical geography at the University of Toronto and global environmental processes at Royal Roads University. She also served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

 

Patty Hajdu,
Minister of Status of Women

Patty-Hajdu1-540x540New to politics, Hajdu was the executive director for Shelter House, Thunder Bay’s largest homeless shelter. For nine years, she worked with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit where she chaired the Drug Awareness Committee of Thunder Bay and authored the city’s Drug Strategy. In her free time, she volunteers as a board member with Alphacourt Mental Health Services and the Ontario Literacy Coalition.

 

Bardish Chagger,
Minister of Small Business & Tourism

BardishChagger-2-250x200Chagger has worked at the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre, an organization that assists new Canadians as they transition into the community. In this role, she planned and coordinated events for the community, including the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Festival. She was executive assistant to Hon. Andrew Telegdi, former MP. She was also a board member with the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo, Wellington, Dufferin, and MT Space.

 

To all the naysayers and meritocracy-obsessed column writers, I see your point. How could any of these women be qualified for the positions they now hold?

All I have to say after today is this: Thank goodness our new Prime Minister rose above the commentary to create a cabinet that is actually representative of the population it works for. Thank goodness he saw the value and experience of the women who were elected into the House of Commons. And thank goodness he didn’t assume that men are more qualified than women to run this country.

And shame on those who thought anything different.

Tips for travelling alone as a woman

I spent the month of September travelling across Europe. I ate snails in Paris, rode a gondola in Venice, visited flower markets in Amsterdam, and walked through the colleges in Oxford. This was my first time travelling internationally, and I did so on my own.

There are a million articles out there about why travelling alone is something every woman should do. They cite the newfound confidence a woman can achieve and how much she’ll learn about herself.

At the same time, every article cites safety concerns—be careful when getting in a cab; don’t dress like a tourist (whatever that means); be aware of your handbag. Sometimes, its enough to frighten you. I know that before I left for my trip, my mother’s friends helpfully told us about all the times their daughters were pick-pocketed or attacked while abroad.

The Government of Canada even writes about how to safely travel as a woman. The page is called “Her Own Way” and begins by stating in a matter-of-fact manner that “Women travel for countless reasons, whether to discover new frontiers, pursue business opportunities, or simply to rest and relax – not unlike men.” Thanks for the clarification Ottawa.

While I may mock some of the information presented on this website, they do make a few valid points. For example, always do research before you travel to ensure there are no cultural differences you should be aware of, especially when it comes to gender. Accept the cultural practices of the country you are visiting—if women dress more conservatively in that country, it is polite to do so as well. Be safe when travelling in dark and lowly-populated areas. Only use legal forms of transportation.

Actually, a lot of those tips apply regardless of gender.

Some of the information, however, is a bit over the top. The Overseas Romance section explains that “while abroad, a foreign affair with a fairytale ending may be more than a flight of the imagination, but it may also be fraught with danger and disappointment.” I wonder if this would ever appear in a travel tips page for men. By the way, there is no “His Own Way” page posted by the Canadian Government.

I agree that women can be more vulnerable when they travel. I noticed that many of the pedlars and vendors at the tourist destinations I visited flocked towards women—single women in particular. They would yell “Hey, Lady Gaga!” as I walked by and would follow me or grab at my hands. Usually people back off if you make your intentions clear. Essentially, as long as you were cautious and aware of your surroundings, you were fine. Be smart and your travel experience will be amazing.

Here are some of my travelling tips:

1. Pack light: Pack only what you need, which I know is easier said than done. It’s better to have the freedom to bring items back home with you. I packed two dresses and that was enough to keep me comfortable on my evenings out. It also allowed me to buy a few items without going over my weight limit.

2. Do what you want to do: The best part of travelling on your own, regardless of your gender, is that you get the opportunity to do what you want, without having to compromise with your friends or colleagues. Take advantage of that and do as much as possible!

3. Take chances: Always try something that you’ve never done before. I like to think I developed a “never say no” mantra. Sadly, this mantra cost me a pretty penny, but it was worth it!

4. At the same time, make sure you are safe: It’s great to take risks and try things you’ve never done before. In fact, I encourage it. However, if that risk puts you in harms way or makes you uncomfortable, feel free to say no.

5. My final tip is to save up enough money to travel comfortably—because staying in hostels and participating in the “backpacking experience” is only exciting for the first week. After that, you’ll dream of a clean bathtub and room service. If you are going to travel—go big or stay home.

And, in case you were wondering: My two favourite destinations were the French Riviera and Oxford. Stay tuned for a post about those fantastic experiences.

The Women of the House

The bar was crowded last night—and it wasn’t because the Jays were playing. Instead, everyone was watching Peter Mansbridge count down the moments until the polls officially closed. The question on everyone’s mind: who would be the next Prime Minister of Canada?

The event I attended was hosted by Women in Toronto Politics, a non-partisan group that promotes inclusive political discourse. It was held at the Handlebar, a woman-owned bar near the Kensington Market in downtown Toronto. Over 100 women—and some men—spent their evening drinking party-designated beverages and discussing Canada’s political future. Was it a bright one? Should we be concerned?

By 9:45 p.m. the CBC had called a majority government for the Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau. There were a few cheers from the crowd, but mostly everyone was mesmerized by the local riding results skimming across the screen.

One thing was blatant by the end of the night: there were a fair number of women elected Monday night, but not quite enough.

Of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, 88 women will be representing the people of Canada.

Most consider this progress. Fourteen more women were elected this year compared to the previous federal election. At the same time, it only equates to about 26 per cent of the seats available. See the party breakdown below:

The event at Handlebar was called “Women are Watching” and was meant to act as a safe space for women and allies to discuss politics without fear of persecution. A lot of the women present had worked for their local MP, but wanted to be surrounded by like-minded people on election night. As the results rolled in, I could hear conversations bubbling about what this new government would mean for health care, child care, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Islamophobia. Many were disappointed that women’s issues such as pay equity and employment were hardly discussed during the extraordinarily long campaign.

I spoke with Abby Plener, Communications Co-Lead for Women in Toronto Politics, who explained the importance of diversity when it comes to Canada’s elected representatives.

“It’s important our diverse population feel represented by politics and its leadership – this applies not just to women, but LGBTQ folks, people of colour, and people of diverse faiths and cultural backgrounds. However, when we talk about diversity in politics, its important to discuss not only how diverse our representatives are, but also whether the policies our representatives put forth are serving diverse groups.”

Spirits were high at the end of the night as the Conservative Party was pushed out of office after nine years of power. But, no one was under the illusion that this new government would be a miracle worker. As one of the attendees said as she watched the Liberal seats pile up: “it could be worse.”