Women in Politics: An Evening of Passionate Panelists ft. Bardish Chagger

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Vivien Pham
Communications Assistant
Fri, 07/05/2019 - 09:30

It was your typical Wednesday evening in MC Comfy, the heart of the Mathematics and Computer building. Students were doing what they were typically doing in their favourite lounge…

... like attending a politics panel with the Chair of the Department of Political Science, the president of the Black Association for Student Expression (UW BASE), and the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons. So, typical MC shenanigans, really.

Women in Politics, a joint event organized by the Women’s Centre and the Political Science Student Association (PSSA) at the University of Waterloo, was a panel that pertained to women in politics and their different walks of life. The panel focused on how women navigate their field of work, and covered topics from each guest speaker’s personal and professional life and how these aspects mesh together.

Guest speakers that attended the panel were Ola Idris, an undergraduate student in political science and the president of UW BASE, Anna Esselment, a professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science, and the Honourable Bardish Chagger, MP for the riding of Waterloo and current Leader of the Government in the House of Commons.

Early in the evening, each of the panelists were asked what inspired and motivated them to get into politics. Idris spoke first, sharing with the audience that she comes from a political family and culture and enjoys equity work.

“I come from a line of women who are confident in making spaces that are for them,” she said. “Seeing other diverse women in places of power making decisions motivates me. If they can get something done, then that means there’s a space to change what we don’t like.”

Idris also mentioned that coming from a Sudanese background, she has been motivated by the recent protests in that country to speak more for Sudanese people who might not have the same privilege to voice their concerns.

Professor Esselment started her journey into politics with her family as well, where she recalled her father running trivia nights with her family on government. She began working in the realm of politics by door knocking for campaigns in her neighbourhood, and through her campaign experiences and connecting with her community, she met enough people who knew others that worked at Queen’s Park to score an interview as a policy analyst.

“I just wanted to spark interest. I just wanted to tell young people about politics and hopefully spark some interest,” she said. 

MP Bardish Chagger shared that she graduated from UWaterloo with a BSc and aspirations to be a nurse. Her father wanted to educate his daughters so they were capable of handling whatever came to them. With education also comes freedom of thought, and in parliament she fought for medical assistance and dying and legalizing cannabis.

“It’s you [audience members] who motivate me," she said. "How do we lay track for the people that come after us?”

When asked how gender and intersectionality plays a role in their work, Idris responded: 

“Those who have been silenced are finally proving that they know what they are talking about. When it comes to intersectionality, when you have the opportunity it’s important to bring up experiences that are different from what you follow.”

Bringing the discussion back to Indigenous history and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Chagger added: 

“You don’t know where you’re going [in your life] unless you know where you come from.”

Time passed by quickly as audience members were vividly engaged with Esselment, Chagger and Idris’ takes on assertiveness, pay equity, and juggling personal life with career advancement. With the event coming to a close, the panelists were asked one last question: Do you have any advice for people who want to be in your field?

“Make sure to take care of your mental health before the cause,” said Idris, who engages with policies and social equity. “Elevate voices that aren’t similar to your own. Don’t speak for them - invite them into the conversation and use your privilege to raise their voices. Do the call-ins, not the call-outs.”

Esselment had some practical advice, and encouraged audience members to volunteer and meet their community.

“So many kinds of doors will open,” she said.

She also reminded us that even though it’s hardest to point out what your family or friends are saying is wrong, “It’s where you can stop discrimination first.”

“If you surround yourself with a group of people you trust - and trusts you, you will always be in a good spot," Chagger said. “Be proud of what you do. We choose to focus on the negativity [given by others who disagree with our work], but we can choose to focus on the positivity.”