York students attend historic Daughters of the Vote initiative at House of Commons

Nine York University students were among the 338 young women to attend Equal Voice Canada’s historic Daughters of the Vote initiative in the House of Commons on International Women’s Day (March 8).

The young women were representatives for each of Canada’s federal ridings, and made Canadian history by taking their seats in the House with more women than had ever been elected to that office. The Daughters of the Vote delegates shared statements – received with several standing ovations – on a variety of issues, and asserted that women and gender minorities are underrepresented in elected office but are equally entitled to political power.

The delegates were then addressed by the leaders of each party with seats in the House, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who also opened the floor for questions. The historic event was part of a four-day conference in Ottawa that included panels and networks on effective leadership, advocacy and networking, and multi-partisan insight from executives, union leaders, elected officials and political staffers.

The delegates from York University included:

Melinda Phuong, a master of education candidate, represented the riding of Markham-Thornhill. Phuong was one of 16 Daughters selected to testify before the House of Commons Status of Women Committee. As a teacher, Phuong spoke about how cyber-bullying of girls affects future leadership among women in politics and other fields. While cyber-bullying currently has negative consequences on these girls’ self-confidence and perceptions on women in leadership, Phuong is committed to using her platform to change this culture.

Chimwemwe Undi, a master of linguistics student, represented her home riding of Winnipeg South. Undi was invited to share a spoken word piece. Undi, who is able to count performing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and opening for Dr. Cornel West among her literary accomplishments, was excited to use her perspective as a linguist and language advocate to contribute to the conversation on reconciliation.

Chenthoori Malankov, president of the York Federation of Students, represented Etobicoke North. Following conversations with many women of colour and members of the Indigenous community, Malankov hopes to increase the number of safe and accessible spaces on campus, which she will use in part to mentor young women leaders who are interested in running in both on- and off-campus elections.

Rebecca Rossi, a fourth-year law and society major and president of York University’s Women Empowerment Club, represented King-Vaughan. Rossi has committed herself to change the mindset of young women around her. “Women belong in political office and in leadership roles,” she said. “The reality is that these spaces are usually overflowing with men, when women deserve to be just as present and heard.”

Paige Fisher, a political science student, represented Brampton West. While Fisher was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to meet politicians, learn from leaders of major policy and non-profit organizations, and take her MP’s seat in the House of Commons, the moments she found most poignant were the ones she spent engaging with and learning from her fellow delegates.

Samantha Redaj, currently enrolled in her first year at York’s Schulich School of Business, represented the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding and found that this event increased her already-present desire for political involvement. Redaj called the experience a “direct call-to-action,” and plans to use her knowledge to increase and enhance her engagement in the York University community.

Maymuna Mohamed, a poet, arts educator and cultural liaison of the Somali Students Association, represented York Centre – one of the most diverse ridings in Canada. During her week in Ottawa, she felt intensely reassured that leadership is where she belongs. Mohamed made a statement in the House of Commons regarding the urgent need for menstrual leave to be added to Canada’s Leave Policy Manual. As a health policy student, she is committed to advocating for mental health and women’s health rights. She plans to launch an e-petition soon calling for government action.

Neelofer Mansuri is pursuing her double major in political science and philosophy at York University. She is currently the executive assistant to the Member of Parliament for Vaughan-Woodbridge, her home riding, which she also represented during her delegation with Daughters of the Vote. As a daughter of Afghan-Canadian immigrants, she is dedicated to serving newcomers and refugees through her volunteer efforts, and through her non-profit organization, which has a special focus on empowering underrepresented women and youth.

Nawal Mohammad is pursuing a BA in political science with a minor in music. She represented the riding of Mississauga-Erin Mills when taking her seat in Parliament. She is committed to a fair, just and holistic politics. The highlight of Daughter of the Vote, for Mohammad, was having the opportunity to meet other young women who also feel strongly about the inclusion of marginalized people in politics. Her work at public libraries has brought in her in close contact with a variety of people from all walks of life, and drives her to be compassionate towards others.

Moving forward, the delegates plan to hold the University accountable to its mandate on social justice issues, emphasizing that women’s leadership in politics and other fields is an issue that should be important to people of all genders. Although York does not have an Equal Voice chapter, the delegates are planning to work closely with the Toronto chapter to address the intersectional barriers faced by women in politics, who often lack access to financial and community support. They hope to have a registered chapter of Equal Voice by the fall of 2017. Students interested in joining can contact Paige Fisher at paigef@my.yorku.ca.

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