With the Federal Election officially underway and the deadline for candidate nominations only just passed, undecided voters are starting to consider where they’ll place their X when they head to the polls on October 21.
If the buzz of social media chatter is any indication, voters concerned with social inequality, environmental protection, and the growing presence of a Canadian alt-right, are feeling the weight of the decision at hand. How do you ensure you make the best decision? What candidates, and which party, are best positioned to protect progress already gained? And who will continue to push toward equality for those still on the margins?
“We made a real effort to push for the inclusion of different perspectives,” says Miia Suokonautio, Executive Director YWCA Halifax — one of 16 organizations (including Adsum House, the Association of Black Social Workers, Immigrant Migrant Women Association of Halifax, Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities, and the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association), who partnered to organize an All Candidates’ Debate on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality that took place in Halifax on September 12.
“There's this idea that there's only one group of women,” says Suokonautio. “That's not true. Different women have different experiences.”
The event, held at Spatz Theatre, saw candidates from the four major parties (Green, Liberal, NDP, and Conservative) offer their perspectives — and, where possible, their party’s official positions — on a myriad of gender issues, including the rights of Indigenous women, women’s economic security, childcare, reproductive rights, and violence against women.
What’s most important, says Suokonautio, is that policy - both existing and new - is vetted through a gender-based lens.
“Gender inclusion in all aspects is really important,” she says. “Having policies and legislation reviewed from a lens of how this affects women is important. The most recent Liberal government did some work on that for sure. But there's much more room to go.”
One way to close the gap between existing policy and unmet need is by prioritizing the experience of our most marginalized communities when crafting solutions. Better yet is including them in the design.
“Which voices get amplified? Who gets a say?” asks Sudkonautio.
Voices we don't hear don’t get prioritized. So the debate organizers took special care to ensure the questions asked came from the communities they reflected.
“The question about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls was written by an Indigenous woman. The question about women with disabilities was written by a woman with a disability; the one about Migrant immigrant women was written by two women who are newcomers to Canada.”
When it comes to talking to candidates at your door about party policy, the idea is the same, says Sudkonautio. Ask pointed questions. Be specific. If you ask a question about women, specify which ones. Because when many people think of women, they think about middle-class, able-bodied white women first, and their answers can often reflect that bias.
“Think about the person who is the most marginalized. If it works for them, it'll work for everybody. But it doesn't translate the other way.”
Prepare to vote by picking the issues most important to you. And commit to asking questions of the parties and candidates that help discern who is prepared to stand up for, and pass the legislation needed, to advance those interests. Most important, though, is that you show up and vote.
“At the end of the day, if you don't vote, that's the worst,” says Sudkonautio. You’ve got to vote, vote your convictions.”
Robyn McNeil is all about her kid, her cat, her people, good stories, strong tea, yoga, hammocks, and hoppy beer