Partway through a double major in political science and history, Casey Toews realized she really loves working with her hands.
So, the 22-year-old left college in 2013 to become a carpenter, exchanging the theories of Aristotle for an apprenticeship in Fort Nelson.
It hasn’t meant the end of her political interests though—Toews is one of a several hundred women who have applied for a spot in Daughters of the Vote, an initiative that will send 338 women from across Canada to Ottawa in March 2017 for a leadership conference coinciding with International Women’s Day.
“I still think gender equality is an issue today. So other girls need to stand up and get our foot in the door. I want to see more women in politics. Even in school there weren’t many other girls in political science,” Toews said.
Equal Voice, an organization founded in 2001 to improve women representation in politics, is organizing Daughters of the Vote to mark the 100th anniversary of the first women’s provincial vote.
The goal of the initiative is to show young women that elected life can be a rewarding and impactful career.
“There has been a modest and incremental rise in women in politics, not just elected but also on the ballot,” said Daughters of the Vote Executive Director Nancy Peckford. “We project that it will take 45 years for gender balance on the ballot, and 90 years for gender balance in elected officials. We can’t wait that long.”
The contest, which is open to applications until July 8, is open to women that are 18 to 23 years old. No political experience is required, as organizers are looking for women who are involved in leadership in other areas of life.
“Women are leaders in the community; we want to underscore to the upcoming generation of leaders that elected life can be a rewarding career,” said Peckford.
Since putting her political science degree on hold, Toews has been paying attention to issues affecting her community, especially liquefied natural gas.
“Even since applying for Daughters of the Vote I’ve started paying more attention to the news and watching politics closely. I’ve gained even from applying to it,” she said. “Being interested in politics is important for everyone in the country because it impacts everyone, every day. You have to get all the information yourself and not just go on the rumours.”
Even though 2017 will mark 100 years of women’s political engagement in Canada, it took until 1969 for all women in all provinces to have the vote. Women are still unequally represented in politics at municipal, provincial and federal levels. Federally, just 26 per cent of elected officials are women. British Columbia has the highest provincial representation at 36 per cent.
“The legislature, as it is, in no way represents the population,” Peckford said. “This project is about ensuring women are well represented—in all their diversity—so we get gender equal policy outcomes.”
Women face unique barriers to entering political life, from financial constraints to the predominantly male culture of politics. But the most important, Peckford said, is that women simply aren’t asked to run, whether by peers or political parties.
“Peers don’t tend to say to girls, ‘You’re really good at this. You should run for office,’” Peckford said.
“And the way politics is portrayed in the media, they might see it as a hostile environment. The question they ask is, will I be able to make an impact? They want to know they can achieve a tangible difference.”
Originally published July 7, 2016 on Alaska Highway News.