When the personal gets political

Women’s issues forum draws large crowd to U of W

The audience listening and taking notes at the Election Matters to Women Forum in Lockhart Hall. Photo by Mike Sudoma

On Oct. 8, a federal election forum drew a standing room-only crowd to the University of Winnipeg's (U of W’s) Lockhart Hall.

Hosted by the Provincial Council of Women of Manitoba (PCWM) and the Council of Women of Winnipeg (CWW), the event highlighted a simple yet pivotal notion: this election matters to women.

"We wanted to have a conversation about women's issues because it seemed like nobody else was," PCWM president Alberta Johnson says.

The event came as a response to the cancellation of the federal leaders' women's issues debate, which was called off after Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn’t agree to participate, leading to New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair dropping out as well.

The federal debate would have been the second-ever to focus solely on women's issues and the first in more than 30 years.

CWC president Kelly-Ann Stevenson says all party leaders and all federal candidates running in Manitoba were invited to attend the local forum.

Several candidates were present, including six candidates from the Green Party, two candidates from the NDP, two candidates from the Liberal party and one candidate from the Communist party.

The forum was moderated by Dr. Joan Grace, an associate professor in the department of politics at the U of W.

The forum included four major topics and each issue was represented by a community expert.

"We really tried hard to find people in the community who do the kind of grassroots work that needs to be talked about," Johnson says.

Allison Fenske, a lawyer at the Public Interest Law Centre, was approached to join the panel to discuss the gender wage gap in Canada.

An audience member applauds a speaker at the Election Matters to Women Forum in Lockhart Hall. Photo by Mike Sudoma

"It's frustrating that it continues to be a persistent issue," Fenske says. "One of the reasons why a wage gap persists is that we continue to see women overrepresented in undervalued professions."

Fenske adds women of colour face an even more significant gap in pay.

"It's those intersecting inequalities that make this very complex issue linked to a lot of other social issues," she says.

Other panelists included Diane Redsky, the executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, who discussed missing and murdered indigenous women; community activist Ariana Yaftali, who discussed immigration and refugee policy; and Winnipeg Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti, who discussed women in leadership.

Marieke Gruwel, coordinator of the University of Winnipeg Students' Association Women-Trans Spectrum Centre, says there are several prominent issues affecting women in this election and one in particular that stands out above the rest.

"There are (nearly) 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit (people) and the Harper government has made it very clear that it is not high on their radar," Gruwel says. "It's so important to go vote on October 19. We need a government who will address that issue."

While students are often characterized as apathetic when it comes to politics, the student turnout at the forum indicated otherwise.

"Everyone's very invested in this (election) because we care a lot about what's happening and what's going to happen," Erin Meagan Schwartz says. Schwartz is a women's and gender studies honours student at the U of W.

"I'm comforted knowing that a ton of people care and will do things no matter what. But no matter who wins this election, there's always things to work on," Schwartz says.

Published in Volume 70, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 15, 2015)

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