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Rousing crowd packed the house at Women in Politics open forum (11 photos)

'Women are 50 percent of the population. We should have 50 percent of the representation'

A crowd of over 90 people, mainly women, packed the house at last night’s open forum “Raising Women’s Voices: Ask a Female Politician” at Innovation Guelph, eager to learn more about women’s roles in an unbalanced political landscape and ways to spark change.

The forum was aimed at encouraging more women to run for city councils and school boards and featured a panel of current and former female politicians, including former Guelph mayor Karen Farbridge.

“Many women have reached the tipping point needed to become involved,” said Teresa McKeeman, a long-time member of CFUW and one of the event’s organizers.

Women tend to be hesitant to run for public office as they must deal with unique barriers that discourage them from becoming candidates, McKeeman said. Even though women make up more than half the population, they fill only about a quarter of the seats in public office at all levels government. In order for change to occur, equal representation is necessary.

“Women are 50 percent of the population. We should have 50 percent of the representation,” McKeeman stated.

The forum was the first of two initiatives organized by several Guelph community partners devoted to helping women overcome barriers, open to anyone interested in exploring the opportunities and challenges of municipal politics, and those who wish to support them.

It will be followed by the first Guelph-Wellington Women’s Campaign School on Feb. 24, 2018, at City Hall, which will focus on skill building and provide practical advice for women wishing to run for office.

Other panelists at Tuesday’s forum included Ward 5 city councillor Leanne Piper, former Waterloo mayor (2006-2014) Brenda Halloran, and current Ward 3 Mississauga councillor Chris Fonseca.

Farbridge told the riveted crowd about the many challenges she endured leading up to her failed bids at office, as well as her years serving on council and as mayor, that included persistently negative comments by council, dismissive attitudes and bullying tactics. It’s what she said gave her “just the right push” to trail-blaze her political path ahead.

"I believe leadership is a choice. You decide to show up and make a difference" Farbridge said, then added some words of advice given to her by a mentor. “No one gives you permission to lead.”

“I wanted to make a difference at how local government engaged with citizens. I knew [that how they’d treated me and others in the past] was wrong and I intended to do something about it,” she added.

After serving two years on council, Farbridge became Guelph’s first female mayor in 2000, making Guelph the first Canadian city to employ three top-tier politicians (Brenda Chamberlain, MP, and Brenda Elliot, MPP).

“Guelph is an exception to the rule – but progress still needs to be made,” Farbridge said.

Elizabeth Cherevaty said she attended the event with her colleague and “future politician” Frances Turk because she wanted to learn more about leadership, as well as lend her support to Turk, who has long-talked about getting into politics.

After the event, the women said they felt inspired and empowered and both expressed admiration at the panelists’ candor.

“It was great to hear from our predecessors – hear about their knowledge and their challenges,” Turk said. “We can take from that and build it higher.”

Cherevaty agreed. “This is what real world is like if you go down this road. You can stand up and stand out and know you can still be okay.”

The “Raising Women’s Voices” initiative was organized by CFUW Guelph, The People and Information Network (PIN), The Rhyze Project and the Zonta Club of Guelph. For more information, visit the Guelph-Wellington Women's Campaign School website.