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Women politicos discuss breaking down barriers to transform cities

Vancouver city councillor Andrea Reimer had one question for attendees of the recent Women Transforming Cities national conference: "What if there was no gender lens?"

In other words, she asked, what if there was no need for elected officials, mostly male, to examine potential policy from a women's perspective?

During the opening speeches presented at Simon Fraser University's Segal Graduate School of Business, the councillor talked about the necessity of breaking down barriers "of power and privilege" that are keeping women and other minorities from participating in politics.

The conference was an effort to bring together political figures, urban designers and anyone interested in creating more spaces of power for women.

Elected officials, like Jessie Hemphill -- the first elected First Nations councillor in Port Hardy, B.C. -- and Barinder Rasode, a councillor from the City of Surrey, were some of the speakers. Activists, urban planners and academics from the University of British Columbia, SFU, and the University of Ottawa all lent their voices on different panels that ranged from gender equality, housing, environment, safety, political participation and more.

According to the organizers, the event was created to "end the growing silence and invisibility of girls' and women's voices and issues from the political agenda in local, national, and international cities."

During a press conference held before the event, which kicked off Thursday, Ellen Woodsworth, the founder of the conference and a former Vancouver councillor, said that only 22 per cent of elected officials in Canada are women.

Reimer said that parliament, city councils and legislatures should be a collection of lived experiences, not places where women and other minorities have to ask to be seen by their representatives.

In an interview with the Tyee, Reimer was asked what Vancouver's council would look like in an ideal situation of equality.

"In terms of the council, there should be 50 per cent women there to accurately represent the citizens. Right now, we have 40 per cent. We live in a city with about 40 per cent visible minorities, probably a little over, but we only have three visible minorities on council. I would argue that there are barriers to people getting there."

The councillor added that 80 per cent of the council members are homeowners, though more than half of Vancouverites rent.

Reimer added that the conference is a perfect example of what needs to be done to enable women's voices in politics.

"Sometimes we silence our own voices by not speaking up, but that's because people don't see us, so we don't feel empowered... Coming together in a conference where we are sure our voices are going to be heard and finding allies and learning to support each other, that really matters."

Aurora Tejeida is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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