When I was a kid, I really wanted to be Prime Minister. Growing up in Ottawa, my family used to drive by the Parliament Buildings and my mom—a former reporter and lifelong political junkie—would tell my sister and me about all the important decisions that were made on The Hill. I thought it looked like a castle and decided that if I couldn’t be a full-time princess, I could at least work in a building that had some royal flair.
But as I got older, I began to realize that being a Member of Parliament, let alone the Prime Minister, would be much harder than I had anticipated. Not because I’m not smart enough or driven enough to succeed but because I’m a woman.
In Canada, women are underrepresented in politics. As of December 2017, there are 92 women in the House of Commons, representing 27.2% of seats. For the sake of comparison, women currently account for 47% of the labour force and over 50% of the population.
If women cannot connect with or picture themselves in leadership positions—whether they be in politics, business, or elsewhere—they will not strive to reach those levels. Representation matters and the importance of encouragement and mentorship cannot be overstated. The appointment of 15 women to the Prime Minister’s cabinet in 2015 was a sign that we are making progress, albeit slowly. While the appointments may have raised debate, it is important to have diversity on high-profile decision-making bodies, not only for women but for other groups who have been historically marginalized or continue to face oppression today.
Someone recently told me that they think women don’t care as much about politics as men do, hence the lack of women in the House of Commons. I don’t believe that is the case. If 2017 taught me anything, it is that women care and they care deeply.
Over the last year, the feminist movement that had seemingly fallen into the background emerged with a vengeance. From the Women’s March on Washington and the sister marches that took place around the world, to the Daughters of the Vote who took their seats in Ottawa on International Women’s Day, and The Silence Breakers being named TIME Person of the Year, 2017 was a year of bold change for women.
Why does any of this matter? Because having more women in politics can make a difference in the tone and nature of debate in the House of Commons. More women can also shift priorities and shape policies to be more inclusive of the population. And more women means more role models for girls to look up to when they are driving by Parliament Hill with their families wondering if they could ever be the Prime Minister of Canada.
This year marks 100 years since most women were allowed to vote in Nova Scotia. While much has changed over the last century, there is still a lot that we can do. We all have a role to play in advancing diversity and gender equality in politics, on boards, and in leadership positions across sectors. If there is a woman in your life who inspires you, tell her. If there is a woman who you think would be a great political candidate, ask her to run and support her campaign. And if there is an election taking place in your riding, please get out and vote.
I firmly believe that women are powerful enough to change the legislature and the world—they just don’t know it yet. Let’s change that in 2018.