Women are leading for change in the election doubleheader

It’s no secret that there need to be more female politicians at the table; and this trajectory is looking bright!

By Krista Sylvester | September 1, 2021 |7:00 am

Former political staffer Sarah Elder-Chamanara is now the founder and owner of political activist brand Madame Premier, which has a storefront in Inglewood.

Photo: Sarah Elder-Chamanara // Submitted

“A woman’s place is in council chambers, the legislature, the house of commons, the senate.” 

So says the popular t-shirts designed by former political staffer Sarah Elder-Chamanara, now founder and owner of political activist brand Madame Premier. She previously worked as an executive assistant to various ministers from 2007 to 2012 in BC, and now lives in Calgary. 

The brand launched its feminist-inspired clothing to bring attention to the lack of women in politics, first online in 2019. Now you can find the line, and then some, in their newly opened storefront in Inglewood. 

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Elder-Chamanara first pitched the idea as a fundraising project to generate income for a non-profit, but the other party wasn’t interested. Although it wasn’t the response she was hoping for, it turned out pretty great for Elder-Chamanara who is now making a splash in the fashion industry with her brand messaging. 

“It was a blessing in disguise because it became something much greater. The impact is far beyond what would have been accomplished if it had only been internal to that organization,” she says, adding the signature “A woman’s place is in…” has been a launching pad for everything else she has done so far.  

Leading for change. 

Elder-Chamanara recognizes the need for not only more women at the table when it comes to politics, but treating females better when they’re there. 

She recalls a time when she was working in the BC legislature when Christy Clark was premier at the time, and while Clark was speaking, a man had been commenting on social media about her cleavage. 

“How is it inappropriate? She was wearing a dress with a square neckline with a blazer over. She has breasts, she is a woman,” she says. 

“No matter how high a woman climbs in position, how many degrees that she has or the number of qualifications behind her name, many people will always find fault with either her appearance or education or her children or not having children, being divorced, single. It goes on and on.”

That’s why she champions for more women at the table in politics — and behind the scenes, too — through her designs with Madame Premier. She says it’s just as important that women are filling the less visible positions as well. 

“I don’t think people understand the power and influence that people are having on central campaigns for the federal parties and provincial parties for people working in those campaigns.” 

She believes there’s much more opportunity for women to be involved in campaigning. 

“I think women offer a unique perspective and sometimes they could bring a lot of fresh ideas to the table that we haven’t seen a lot of in the past, perhaps,” she adds. 

The future holds promise. 

Elder-Chamanara is hopeful that there will be more female representation in politics soon, including right here in Calgary. 

“I am very optimistic based on the number of current city councillors not running again, there will be a lot of new faces on council, and who those faces are, is up to Calgary voters to decide,” she says. 

“There’s a really big important opportunity for those who do come on to council to think about the city that we can be, and to take what’s working really well, but also think, you know, what can we do differently to build for our future, not just for today.” 

Eleni Bakopanos of Equal Voice, which is a Canadian organization advocating for women and gender diverse candidates at all levels of politics, agrees that the federal election this year is the perfect time to elect more women to seats. 

Under-represented. 

She says there are currently about 100 female Members of Parliament federally, which is about 30% of the total. 

“We’re still very far away from parity if we want our representation in terms of the population because women make up 52%,” she says, adding Equal Voice is helping not only to encourage more females to run for office, but also preparing them to deal with the challenges that come with the process. 

Bakopanos was a member of the Liberal Party of Canada from 1993 to 2006 and is the first Greek-born woman to be elected to Parliament. She says it’s no secret women face more barriers to running for and working in office, especially when it comes to abuse and bullying online. 

“I do think it’s a bigger barrier than in my time,” she says, saying it used to be phone calls and voicemails. 

Now? It’s the online trolls, a sentiment echoed by Ward 7 councillor Druh Farrell and political scientist Lori Williams.

This is our ‘Women in Politics’ part two of two series — read part one here

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Krista Sylvester

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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