Perhaps more than ever before, feminists need to stand up, speak up and speak out. Whether we are concerned about issues at the community, provincial, national or international level, feminist voices must be part of the conversations that are taking place.
Even though the days in which women were actively discouraged from playing a public role in politics are largely behind us in Canada, many women continue to feel as though they lack the skills or experience to take leadership roles in working for social justice. We just have not had the same opportunities as men to practise, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and gain confidence.
Some of us became outspoken activists because of an issue that we felt strongly about. In my case, it was day care – or rather, the lack of day care at my university when my daughter was a baby. Initially, my plan was to go to a meeting to talk with other parents; then I said I would take some notes; then I offered to put together an agenda for the next meeting and, before I knew it, I was organizing a baby-in at the office of president of the student association and speaking to city council about the issue. Had someone told me a year before that I would be doing these things and that I would go on to a life of political activism, I would have said they were crazy.
Now is the time to learn
Here is what I hear many women say when they are encouraged to become more vocal about an issue they obviously know a lot about:
“Oh, I could never do that. I am way too shy.”
“I am more of a backrooms kind of person.”
“I don’t think I know enough to speak publicly about it.”
“But what if I make a mistake?”
These are all valid concerns, but none big enough to stop us from using our voices and our passion to make our communities better places. And, now there are a number of ways women can learn and practise skills like public speaking, op ed writing, organizing and being a candidate.
Changing the world, one law at a time
NAWL, the National Association of Women and the Law, has developed a course called Feminist Law Reform 101, that is available online at no cost. You can watch it and do the assignments on your own or collect a group of women and do it together. There are 12 modules that cover such topics as the federal law reform process, lobbying basics, media relations and op eds, MPs and Parliamentary committees, working in coalitions, decision-making and accountability.
NAWL has been the pre-eminent feminist law reform organization in Canada since the late 1970s. Slowed down during the Harper years because of funding cuts due to the change in mandate of Status of Women Canada, NAWL is back in business this year, leading a number of law reform initiatives that have the potential to improve the lives of women in this country.
If becoming a candidate in a municipal, provincial or federal election is up your alley, there are a few places you can turn for support.
Since 2001, Equal Voice, a national multi-partisan organization, has been working to increase the number of women elected to all levels of political office in Canada. With chapters in most provinces, Equal Voice advocates for electoral reform and engages in regular public education about women in politics.
Its free online campaign school, Getting to the Gate, offers valuable insights into many aspects of being a candidate in an election.
This past summer, NDP MP Niki Ashton offered a campaign school to support women who are interested in being candidates. Even though the course is over, the sessions can still be viewed online and cover such topics as campaign management, media, organizing, fundraising, issue based advocacy and youth issues.
Perhaps you have strong ideas and thoughts but don’t want to engage with electoral politics or law reform. There are roles for you, too.
Informed Opinions offers in-person workshops on how to write well, how to manage media interviews effectively and how to strengthen your public speaking skills. You can contact the organization to set up a workshop for your group.
Because men are still interviewed twice as often as women by the media in this country, Informed Opinions has also created an expert women database, to make it easier for journalists to find women who can speak on a wide array of topics. You can decide if you are an expert or you can nominate someone else to be listed in the database:
Taking that first step into the public arena of politics can be scary. Working with a group of women who can support one another is one way to make it a bit easier. It gets less scary with time and experience, especially when you can tell that your voice has made a difference.
We all have something valuable to contribute to our communities, and we should not let our fear keep us silent.