From left: Michal Hay, Marit Stiles, Doly Begum, Bhutila Karpoche, and Jessica Bell. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

U of T New Democratic Party (NDP) hosted a panel discussing women in politics on March 29. The speakers talked about their experiences in politics as women and other minority groups, how they got involved with activism and the NDP, and the challenges they faced in running for parliament.

The event featured Ontario NDP Parliament candidates Marit Stiles, Bhutila Karpoche, Jessica Bell, and Doly Begum, and was moderated by Michal Hay.

Bell, the MPP candidate for University—Rosedale, spoke about how she became an activist because of climate change. Bell turned her ideas into action in her twenties when she discovered TTCriders, a membership-based transit advocacy organization focused on better public transit service in Toronto. “It perfectly married my interest in environmental justice, tackling climate change, and knowing that for us to really challenge power, we needed to get engaged in community organizing,” said Bell.

Karpoche, a Parkdale—High Park MPP, shared her childhood experiences and how they led her into politics. She was born as a third-generation stateless person in Nepal, as her parents left Tibet after the Chinese invasion. As someone who had been affected by politics all her life, Karpoche felt that it was an appropriate field to get into. “Our lives are always dictated by policy and politics. If you want to make any change, that’s the level that you need to make change. And of course you do it by… building the movements coming from the grassroots up,” she said. She also encouraged students to get politically involved on campus, saying that student movements have brought major change all around the world. “Even as a young person I felt that it’s the young people at the forefront of a lot of movements, and young people have the power to change,” she continued.

Davenport candidate Stiles spoke on the difficulties of entering political life. “We all have family around us and friends we don’t want to lose touch with, and we worry about the impact sometimes of having a public life,” she said. “That was definitely a concern, and I have to admit I really didn’t want to go out there and lose.”

She also expanded on her experiences in the public life, having her picture taken everywhere, and sometimes having friends that don’t support her politically. “The other part I found really difficult was having to accept that not everyone’s going to support you,” she continued. “The idea that you could go to a doorstop and have a friend not want to support you.”

Another topic of discussion was the importance of having not only women but diverse women represented in politics. Begum, a candidate for Scarborough Southwest, spoke about the underrepresentation of women and specifically women of colour in positions of power. “When you see someone who looks like you, that empowers you. Growing up, I didn’t see anyone who had a Bangladesh background, or who was a woman of colour in the positions I wanted to be in,” said Begum. “And it makes you feel like, ‘maybe this space is not for me.’ I think we need to create those spaces… otherwise the next generation, our children, are going to have a harder time.”

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