Girls interested in municipal politics hear from female leaders

·3 min read
Zoe Keirstead of Equal Voice YYC, left, said the She Governs event was designed to give girls a chance to hear from women in elected politics, including councillors Druh Farrell,  Jyoti Gondek and Diane Colley-Urquhart. (Equal Voice YYC - image credit)
Zoe Keirstead of Equal Voice YYC, left, said the She Governs event was designed to give girls a chance to hear from women in elected politics, including councillors Druh Farrell, Jyoti Gondek and Diane Colley-Urquhart. (Equal Voice YYC - image credit)

About 200 Calgary high school girls had a chance on Friday to hear directly from women who are making change happen at city hall.

The three female members of city council, as well as four women in top positions at the city, spoke to the group and took some questions.

The She Governs event was organized by Equal Voice Calgary, a group that aims to get more women involved in the political process at all levels of government.

Its chair, Zoe Keirstead, said the session was designed to give girls a chance to hear from women in elected politics as well as positions of power with the city.

"It's about providing an opportunity for girls within the city to see that politics or politics behind the scenes could be something that they get involved with in the future if they so choose," said Keirstead.

"Hopefully this event inspires them."

At the table

Coun. Druh Farrell told the group that it's critical for women get involved in municipal government.

She pointed out that it's not just about running for elected office either.

She said men are still most often the ones who design how things work in a city and that rarely takes into account the needs of women.

For example, Farrell said she often encounters heavy doors which aim to keep out the cold in winter and keep air conditioned air in during the summer.

However for women, smaller people or the disabled, those doors can be difficult to open.

For that reason, Farrell said female voices need to be heard at the city when anything gets approved.

"It's absolutely essential that women are around the design table, the decision making table. Not just the council table," said Farrell.

Politics is everywhere

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart encouraged the students to learn about how politics works because that can help young women in other ways.

"In my years of experience, there seems to be politics everywhere. Whether it's formal politics or informal politics. And I'm sure you think that in your classroom as well," said Colley-Urquhart.

Coun. Jyoti Gondek told the students how she was able to learn about and accomplish change through various roles she held before political life.

Those experiences helped her when she decided that she wanted to give back to her community and run for city council in 2017.

She said she was pleased to take part in the session.

"We need to be ensuring that our girls are understanding the value of the types of roles they could take on throughout their life, that allow them to make the decisions that make our city and our society a better place," said Gondek.

Pointed questions

The girls asked some pointed questions even though there wasn't enough time to answer them all during the session.

The questions posted on screen included:

  • Why aren't more women running for government?

  • What about being a female leader frustrates you the most?

  • Do you ever feel talked over? Why do you think women aren't more prominent within government?

  • How do you feel social media impacts governance?

  • What do you do when you feel like your voice is not heard?

Keirstead said the She Governs session would normally take place right inside the council chamber.

That wasn't possible this year because of the pandemic and health restrictions on gatherings.

However, there was an upside in taking the event online.

"The positive side of that is we've been able to increase how many girls have been able to attend," said Keirstead.

The City of Calgary has posted a video of the session online.