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International Day of the Girl Child: Looking to the Future of Women

10/11/2013 09:30 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

"On October 11, the world was ready to celebrate the very first International Day of the Girl Child. The celebration had turned to mourning only two days prior, on October 9, when Taliban gunmen shot down Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old advocate for education rights for girls in Pakistan." One year ago, on the first International Day of Girl Child, I published this article in iPolitics while glued to media outlets waiting to hear something about Malala. However, not only did our brave Malala survived but she became even more steadfast in advocating for the educational rights of all girl children across the world.

Last year this time I had no idea that on the anniversary of the second International Day of Girl Child, I would be carrying a baby girl who will be born in a few months. Before I know it, she will be a toddler, a child, a teenager, a young adult and in two decades she will be an independent professional woman whether or not I am here. I suppose I should not be so worried for her education and status of rights in different aspects of life considering she will be born in one of the most developed countries in the world, Canada. When I learned I was expecting a baby girl, I was brimming with joy and happiness as both my husband and I were hoping for a girl. However, I was simultaneously filled with concern knowing all the hidden obstacles on her path, even in a developed country like Canada.

Education is a multi-layered system which begins from the family culture, daycare, school and then continues in different levels of the society such as university, work place, business, legal system, law enforcement, politics and legislation. In many cases, segregated gender role is being imposed to little girls since early days through cartoons and toys and continues in various ways later in her life. As active women many of us have experiences judgemental comments, looks or even being ignored in many occasions. However, it is hard to accept, but our society has a long way to become a more equal place for both male and female members.

Politics is one of those male dominant arena,even in Canada. Only 25 per cent of our Parliament is occupied by women. Of course women play active roles in many others aspects of our Canadian life, including culture, business, social services, education and sciences, both in private sector and nonprofits and even as high ranking political staff. But the numbers reduce significantly when it comes to political representation in elected offices. Have we ever spent a few minutes to think about the reasons of this significant under-representation.

In fact, the hidden system of gender power and control plays a role in such situations ever so perfectly. An elected official can not expect a 9 to 5 work schedule so her/his personal and family life will be affected, her/his lifestyle will be changed and her/his life becomes more public. All the aforementioned seem acceptable when the elected official is male with a partner/wife at home who is proud of having a politician spouse who also takes care of the family.

The mirror image of this scenario is when a female candidate is elected. Most probably she does not have a partner at home who is proud of having a politician spouse and there is no one to accept the family responsibility while she is working long hours to provide services to the public. In addition the process of getting into the political sphere and connecting with those in positions of power becomes a huge challenge when the candidate is a woman. More so, if she is of ethnic background.The combination of these realities creates an invisible "glass ceiling" over the women's head limiting their choices.

Two months ago, I announced that I am seeking federal liberal nomination from the riding of Willowdale, a very comparative riding in Toronto. I am a gender equality expert who has 20 years of experience in education, political activities, human rights advocacy, legal and social services, community capacity building and women empowerment with numerous publications and media representations. Despite all, it seems I need to prove myself and my qualification to political crowd more than male candidates, because I don't look like a traditional politician. I am an immigrant woman in my late 30s who is pregnant and, of course, has an accent.

I strongly believe that fundamental changes in our public life won't happen unless we accept and implement those changes in our private lives first. I have entered this nomination race while being pregnant because I believe that my own daughter and the next generation of Canadian women, who are only little girls now,deserve more equal access not only to formal education but also to professional, economic, managerial and political opportunities in our country. Fundamental changes start from here. We need to empower our girls from the beginning so that they can have a better future. Let's play an active role in bringing about changes for the future generation of Canadian women by empowering them as little girls.

Happy second International Girl Child Day to Malala, my unborn daughter and all other proud Canadian girls. You are the future!

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