When stepping up to the polls for any election - municipal, provincial or federal - it is assumed that women are among the people lining up to cast their ballots.
But, 100 years ago, that was not the case. Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote on Jan. 28, 1916, with the last group of women, Indigenous women, only gaining the right in 1960.
It was not until Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed in 1982 that the right to vote was fully enshrined in law.
Fast forward a century from the first women voting, and a unique and historic political initiative, Daughters of the Vote (DOV) marked the 100th anniversary of women attaining the right to vote in federal elections, as well as a celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday.
DOV was designed to underscore the still incomplete and often challenging journey of women’s full political participation at all levels of government in Canada, and to cultivate the female leaders of tomorrow.
Jayden Wlasichuk, originally of Lenswood, was one of the 338 young delegates selected to take part in the historic event.
“I was forwarded the opportunity by someone at the Loran Scholars Foundation at the end of the last school year,” said Wlasichuk.
“I was interested in what Equal Voice was doing and I thought it would be cool to be a part of a piece of history. The DOV lined up with a lot of my beliefs that we need to improve the treatment of women, as well as the involvement of women in politics and in society.”
After applying in July, Wlasichuk did not hear from DOV until December, when she was selected as one of the 14 Manitoba delegates, to sit in the House of Commons (HOC).
“It had been such a long time since I had applied that I had basically forgotten about it,” said Wlasichuk. “When I got the email notifying me that I had been selected, I almost cried. I immediately called one of my friends who had also been selected.
“I felt really honoured, especially because the questions on the application were really tough to answer. I’m glad they saw my application and took it as legitimate.”
Upon taking her seat in the HOC, Wlasichuk was one of 338 women, one for each federal riding in Canada, to have her voice heard and mark a century of women’s suffrage.
“The experience was absolutely incredible, and probably one of the highlights of my life so far,” she said.
“People are going to look back and remember that at one point there were 338 young women sitting in the HOC, and that’s more than have ever been elected to sit in the HOC.
“In history, there have only been 315 women elected, and we filled more of those seats than ever in history combined,” Wlasichuk continued.
While in the HOC, Wlasichuk had the chance to speak to the standing committee for the status of women.
“There were three other girls in my group, and we all spoke about women in non-traditional fields,” she said. “I spoke about my experiences growing up on a farm with my dad and sisters, and the different barriers I faced to become successful.
“Usually when people talk about women in non-traditional fields, they talk about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) or the trades, but people don’t often think about agriculture because it’s not something many think about on a daily basis anyways.
“I talked about the expectation of women in the house, cooking, cleaning and being the homemaker was not how we were raised on the farm,” Wlasichuk continued. “Our neighbours would see us working with cows and were surprised. But we always said we could do anything.”
She also spoke about her experiences with 4H and the skills she learned through the program.
“The 4H program teaches us to do by doing, and pushes us to try new things,” Wlasichuk said. “There was always a varied group of people in the club, but it tended to have some female leadership.”
Wlasichuk noted that some of the other speakers spoke about the phrases girls hear growing up.
“We always hear ‘you’re so strong for a girl’ or ‘you’re so smart for a girl’, and that really impacts us,” she said. “We end up not thinking of ourselves as smart or strong, but eventually, we need to realize we are not anything ‘for a girl’, we just are.”
Moving forward, Wlasichuk said her experiences have shaped how she sees her own future.
“I have had the chance to sit in on sessions, and this changed the way I see leadership, but also how I could become involved in politics,” she said. “Everyone always talks about how we should sit in the HOC or be an MP, but this organization really encouraged us to look at all levels of government - municipal, provincial and federal.
“I’ve always considered federal government to be an end goal for my career, and now that I’ve actually had a chance to be in Ottawa and be in the HOC and hear people’s opinions and experiences, I feel like it’s a much more attainable goal than I thought it was before.
“This experience has really impacted my confidence,” Wlasichuk continued. “I’ve never really felt very confident in what I can do. I tend to need people to push me, but if there’s one thing I learned in this experience, it’s that I need to start pushing myself. I’m probably going to push myself to more opportunities like this one.”
While Wlasichuk was a firm believer in women being involved in politics prior to the DOV experience, she noted that her opinions had changed.
“Before the event, the organizers sent out a survey about our opinions about minimum numbers of female candidates,” she said. “At that point, I thought it should be more up to each party to decide.
“We learned from (Nanaimo-Ladysmith NDP MP) Sheila Malcolmson that if a woman’s name is on the ballot, she can get elected. It’s just getting her name on the ballot that is the struggle.
“I think it’s important to look at female cadidates and what they stand for,” Wlasichuk continued. “I wouldn’t vote for someone because of their gender, but now seeing the struggle women have to go through to get their names on the ballots has changed my opinion of which parties are doing things to help women in politics.
“I definitely see a greater need for there to be more women in politics.”
Wlasichuk added that while women are struggling to have their voices heard in government, minorities are also struggling, and this is something she sees as needing to change.
“One of the Manitoba delegates was a transgender woman from Thompson, and she was the first Indigenous transgender woman to ever sit in the HOC, and that’s not something that had crossed my mind before,” Wlasichuk said. “I’m very proud to have been a part of that piece of history.
“I was so glad to have had conversations with her and to learn from her, but also to speak with muslim girls, and women of colour, who are also striving to have their voices heard.
“Before, the focus was women in politics, but I think it’s a much bigger thing to have women and people of miniorities in order to more fairly represent the Canadian population.”
Reflecting back on her experience, Wlasichuk said she had an amazing time and grew so much from it.
“It was just the most packed, phenomenal week of my life,” she said. “I got to connect with so many young women in leadership from all across Canada, and they all had such diverse and inspirational stories.
“I met Elizabeth May, and Kim Campbell, someone I never thought I’d meet in my life, and walked past Tom Mulcair. I felt starstruck for a lot of the week.
“It was the chance of a lifetime and I am beyond thankful for not only being given the chance to participate in DOV, but also having had the experiences in my life that put in me in the right situation to be able to attend this and hopefully have an impact on other girls, as well as the communities I’m living in,” Wlasichuk concluded.