Recently I attended the 59th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, to participate in discussions on ways to increase female representation in parliaments. As I reflected on those discussions I felt an enormous sense of pride to be Canadian and to have the opportunity to represent the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian region at the conference.
Given my passion for making a difference in areas affecting health, finance, youth, seniors, education and women’s issues, having the opportunity to share input and influence the discussions at an international level is something I am truly grateful for.
Nellie`s passionate fight
I strive to be an example for other women who are considering entering politics as a career and I do so with a respect for the women before me who have been influential in making a positive difference in the lives of others. One can’t think of the opportunities available now without reflecting on the contributions of those women.
One such person is Nellie McClung. Nellie was a political and strong advocate for women’s rights and equality for all. She is best remembered for her passionate and persistent work in successfully getting women the vote in 1916. As a result of her courage and leadership, along with the support of like-minded persons, Manitoba became the first province to grant women the right to vote.
My admiration for her work ethics and political commitment to improving the lives of minorities, particularly women, inspired me to submit a private member’s bill in 2003 to pay proper homage to Nellie’s important work.
Politics opens to women
The intent was to raise money to erect a memorial on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature. With the support, hard work and generosity of other women and men, the Nellie McClung Foundation was created. The memorial serves as a very visible reminder of the contribution that women have made in politics, a testament to the important work of this key female Manitoban and an inspiration to future generations.
In 2016 it will be 100 years since Nellie fought and won the right for women to vote in Manitoba. She was then 43 years old. She was 56 years old when, 13 years later, the work she and four other influential women did on the “Persons Case” came to fruition.
The “Famous Five”, of which Nellie was one, was a group of women who contested the legal interpretation of the word “person” and argued their case in order to seek improvements to the status of women legally, socially, economically and politically. In 1929 as a result of their efforts women gained the right to participate in political functions, attend university and to conduct business.
The passion and diligence of these women made it possible for future generations of women to pursue a variety of careers including one in politics. Their efforts have enabled me to have a political career that I love and take pride in, and that continues to inspire me to fight against injustice and inequality for all Manitobans and females around the world.
I believe it is the responsibility of all legislators to ensure we have real inclusion of women in politics. Together we can make many positive contributions that benefit all Manitobans.
Myrna Driedger is MLA for Charleswood, deputy leader of the provincial Conservative party and Conservative finance critic.