In the early hours of a frosty October 16th, a group of 50 students led by Jade Chong- Smith, Casey McDermott and Talitha Calder, embarked on a journey to Ottawa. Linking these women was an interest in taking a closer look at the Canadian political mechanism from the perspective of female senators and members-of-Parliament. The students in question were chosen from over 150 applicants to partake in McGill’s Women in House program.
The initiative, started in 2001 by McGill’s very own Galit Dobner and Chi Nguyen, presents a non-partisan, fully subsidized opportunity to female students enrolled in any field of study at McGill, graduate and undergraduate alike, to visit Parliament Hill and listen to panel discussions and shadow a female MP or Senator.
The initiative, unique throughout Canada, is a response to the under-representation of women that occurs at all levels of Canadian governance. Although the program is definitely a step in the right direction, hoping to help female students become more interested in and acquainted with becoming politically involved, statistics still report a disappointing 22% of the House of Commons are women, while the Senate is composed of 33% women.
Women in House attracts the likes of Nancy Peckford, director of Equal Voice, Susan Delacourt, the Toronto Star’s Senior Writer in Ottawa, and Jacquie Laroque, who was named a Top 100 lobbyist of 2011 by the Hill Times, to share their own experiences in politics. These women were joined by some 50 MPs and Senators in agreeing to be shadowed by the student participants.
As I see it (myself being a participant) the significance of the trip comes as a result of the close contact participant and politician are able to have. There is a tremendous amount to be learnt from high profile women who have broken gender barriers to thrive in the male-dominated political sphere. It’s like when characters in a book come to life. It is one thing to read the biography of a role model but so long as they’re on TV and Newspaper front pages, these trailblazers stand atop pedestals, seemingly far away from our day-to-day realities. Once the realization hits that these women followed a path not dissimilar to that of our own collegiettes™, an indispensable confidence arises. We are no closer than needed to take the steps toward assuming a position in politics. With this knowledge and potential, we can begin changing the long-term composition of economic, social and political spheres. Women in House is a life changing experience that demonstrates just how able we are as women to effect meaningful change.