Women make up 50.4 per cent of the country’s population but when it comes to genders of elected officials, the percentage is much lower.
Last week, a group of civic-minded young women from all over the province visited the Alberta Legislature to participate in all-day meeting on women’s political leadership. Daughters of the Vote was organized through a group called Equal Voice, a national multi-partisan organization that is dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada.
St. Albert’s Ranya El-Sharkawi was one of the 32 who were at the table. She said that efforts like this are important in order to not only commemorate the century that has passed since women were first enfranchised but also to shine a light on the struggles that still exist.
“I think it’s fair to say that, in Canadian politics, it’s not exactly traditionally space for women and I think that’s what Daughters of the Vote is trying to call out but also change.”
Equal Voice regards the equal representation of women in all levels of government as a “fundamental question of fairness for women in terms of their access to Canada’s democratic institutions.”
It invited 338 young women aged 18 to 23, one from every federal riding, to represent their community and to communicate their vision for the country.
El-Sharkawi is in her third year as a University of Alberta honours political science student and an active citizen of her campus and the community at large. She currently serves as the undergraduate representative on the university’s Sesquicentennial Committee; is the co-chair administration of the Canadian Red Cross Club; and is a founding member of the Alberta chapter of the Daughter For Life Foundation, a national charity that provides educational programs, scholarship, and awards and fellowship to Middle Eastern young women. Her social justice concerns have also led her to become involved with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights in Edmonton.
She just returned to campus after spending last semester doing an internship with the Koons Family Institute, the research arm of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children in Washington, D.C.
“It’s definitely been a very political season with the election down south that I was present for. I’ve been reflecting on the transition from United States politics to Canadian politics,” she said.
One of her main focuses of reflection is on the statistics. Only five out of 32 of Alberta’s Members of Parliament are women. Nationally, that figure rises but only to 26 per cent of Canadian parliamentarians. She noted that Alberta has one of the higher rates of all the provinces.
“At the moment, closing the gender gap is quite slow at the rate we’re going. Equal Voice released the statistic that it’s going to take 90 years before we see gender equality in our cabinet. That stat by itself is a call for action.”
The Daughters of the Vote delegates will be meeting in Ottawa on March 7 to 8 to mark a century of women’s suffrage and to celebrate International Women’s Day.
El-Sharkawi said that anniversary is just one step on the ladder.
“We’re not advanced as we think we are. Representation in politics is important. It’s not just about electing women. Once that woman is elected, it doesn’t mean that our job is done necessarily.”