“More than ever, we all deserve the opportunity to use our voice.”
When I turned forty, I gave myself the birthday present that I have been thinking about for most of my life: a political campaign. I have been involved in community building since I was a teen; being active in social causes and supporting those around me was something I learned from the adults and allies in my life.
Being involved in my community also provided a positive space away from my home life, which was not always easy. As new immigrants, my parents did their best but struggled to settle and fit in, as so many newcomers do. My parents were kind and loving but struggled with mental health challenges, and my time at the local community centre and in after-school programs was a release from some of those pressures. Being involved made me feel valued and gave me a sense of purpose, setting me on a lifelong path of community engagement.
Those early experiences helped to shape who I am today. I went on to become an active volunteer at St. Stephen’s Community House in their young women’s program, ran a children’s program at Scadding Court Community Centre and took part in city-wide youth initiatives. And then, in my last year of high school, I was recognized as a YWCA Toronto Young Woman of Distinction, an honour that cemented my desire to spend my life building community, and gave me the confidence to speak up about women’s issues – something I have done ever since.
A vital lesson I learned during my early teenage years was about access to opportunities and resources: those with means and privilege who had access, and those without, who did not. I also learned how, through funding allotments and policy decisions, governments can control that access. Government decisions impact people’s ability to succeed and thrive.
In my early twenties, I started paying attention to the role of politics in everyday life, and began advocating for better policies and access to supports – particularly for women and their families. I campaigned to increase access to sexual health information as a youth volunteer with St. Stephen’s Community House, over-the-counter emergency contraceptives with the Canadian Women’s Health Network and improve maternity and parental leave with the National Association of Women and the Law. I came to understand the power all communities can have to advocate for what they need, and the power governments have to truly help.
Through those revelations, I also noticed something glaring; my political representatives did not look like me. We only reached a critical mass of women (30%) in politics in 2011, and there has never been a Vietnamese person serving as a Member of the Provincial Parliament in Ontario. Political life has long been the domain of older, white, privileged, cisgender men and I want to see that change.
Thankfully, in the past decade, we have seen progress: a female premier in Ontario, a feminist federal government, a gender-balanced federal senate and 40% female MPPs at Queen’s Park. These are promising steps in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done. That is why I decided it was time to step up and be the woman in politics I never saw when I was younger.
Running for office is hard and it is harder for women – especially for racialized women. We are often on the receiving end of discrimination and harassment, simply for having the courage to put ourselves out there. Moreover, we do not have access to the same networks and finances that men do when running for office. Additionally, women often bear the load of family obligations and are constantly judged by a different standard.
Yes, running for elected office is hard. But it is crucial to have women’s representation in politics in order to attain the she-covery we need in a post-pandemic working world. We need to be at the table, making decisions and informing policy on child care, housing and public education. There is so much opportunity to evoke change and prosper, not just languish in the after-effects of this pandemic.
We all have a voice and we all deserve the opportunity to be heard. Get involved with your kids’ school parent council. Go to community meetings and write to your elected officials. Put up your hand and run for office. And when June 2nd comes, go out and VOTE!
Chi Nguyen is a long-time community builder and advocate. She received the Young Woman of Distinction Award in 1999 and is excited to run for office for the first time.