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Ask Her YYC Prepare Her program cohort members ready to learn Calgary politics

Twenty Calgary women have signed up to receive proper political training ahead of the 2021 municipal election.

Only three of 14 Calgary city councillors are women, and the Prepare Her program by Ask Her YYC is designed to try and change that.

Prepare Her has started training 20 women, who are referred to as the program’s cohort, in proper campaigning and fundraising practices, along with providing other political tips. It’s a 10-week program.

The current faces of Calgary’s City Council.

Statistically, women have to be asked at least seven times before considering running for office. Plenty of them never make it to campaigning due to numerous barriers that women face.

This includes heightened societal scrutiny and judgement, family and home obligations, and inflexible careers.

Jennifer Black, one of the women in the Prepare Her cohort faces a number of these barriers in her day-to-day life.

As a parent she said she often hears “why are you running? You don’t have time, you’ve got kids at home.”

However, this is a more of motivator than a deterrent.

“I feel like I have more of a vested interest in my community,” Black said

“Some of this conversation can be turned on its head.”

Her interest lies in municipal policy, and she values diverse, inclusive, equitable and vibrant communities, she said.

One of the biggest issues she sees lies in the representation at the municipal level.

Though women make up 50 per cent of the Calgary population, they only make up about 21 percent of city council.

Representation needs to go beyond gender

Black said the lack of representation doesn’t end there.

“We don’t have diversity in ages and incomes [on city council],” she said

“I think this program is really going to help address that.”

Women of all different educational, financial, and racial backgrounds, and ages make up the Prepare Her cohort.

Many are mothers, who face a lot of the similar judgements as Black. That, or they have careers that they cannot step back from, and/or are unable to afford to fund a campaign.

The program helps women either overcome or work around these barriers, while also teaching them to understand where the barriers come from.

It will also teach the cohort fundraising and campaigning strategies for future political action at many levels.

Humaira Falak, a single mother of two who also works with Action Dignity, is another of the 20 women in the Prepare Her cohort. | ASK HER YYC

Jessica Revington, another member of the cohort, is the youngest at almost 25. But that doesn’t mean she’s inexperienced.

Starting with student government, she’s been politically involved in her community for the past four years as an undergrad at the University of Calgary.

Revington has also brought multiple student issues to the municipal and federal levels.

“I discovered that there was a pressing need to increase the presence of young women across all levels of government,” she said.

The Prepare Her program seemed like a natural next step for Revington, as she continues her political journey.

She hopes to learn about the electoral and political process, as well as how to break the systemic barriers that women face when entering into politics.

Diverse voices need to be involved

The best way to be involved, she said, is to be “at the table.”

“We look at members of our LGBTQ2S+ community, members of our Indigenous community, members of our marginalized groups or black community,” said Revington.

“All of these groups deserve to be at the table. They need to be.”

Though Revington plans to only volunteer in the 2021 municipal election, she’s still excited for the experience.

She has a lack of experience in municipal campaigning, but is familiar with the process thanks to her work in student government and unions.

“I’ve developed a love for politics,” she said.

“I’m really excited to what this next step will bring, and what my involvement in politics will look like beyond [2021].”

The 20 faces of the Prepare Her cohort. You can check out their individual bios here.

Another member of the cohort has a different experience, but shares the same enthusiasm for politics as Black and Revington.

Marilyn North Peigan, has a very diverse background, and plenty to bring to the table.

Her experience before the Prepare Her program includes military training and customer service, as well as specialties in corporate, event, and private security.

She also has a BA and an MA in psychology.

As an Aboriginal woman, Peigan is especially focused on her community. She also has some experience with city council, having served on the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee a few years ago.

Leadership isn’t always natural

She is often a strong leader, but hasn’t had formal training like what Prepare Her offers.

“I’ve always done my learning backwards,” Peigan said.

“I’ve always been thrown into the leadership ring.”

She also said that being First Nations woman politics have been her whole life.

For her, this journey isn’t about finding equality, but rather a balance.

Peigan told a story of how this was taught to her.

“You have an eagle, and you have a left and right wing,” she said.

Though the wings may want to go at different places, they’re still taking the entire body to the same place, Peigan said.

For this to happen, a balance needs to be achieved rather than equality. The wings need to work together as one, rather than as two equal, individual wings.

Like other encounters with leadership, Peigan said that this path chose her.

The program not only brings the women proper training, but also a support network to move forward with. Ask Her YYC works closely with the cohort, and those within the cohort work together.

Though meetings are now done online, the training is moving forward.

Those involved with the program are hopeful that this will help diversify the campaigns in the 2021 municipal election – with involvement at multiple levels.