Following allegations of sexual misconduct against former Ontario PC Leader Patrick Brown, some women are sounding the alarm over the culture of misogyny and abuse of power they say is pervasive in Canadian politics.
“I think anytime you have a workplace without very many proper policies or procedures, where you have a lot of men in positions of power, and a lot of women with not very much power, you have the perfect storm for sexual harassment and assault,” said Lauren Dobson-Hughes, a former political staffer who worked for years on Parliament Hill.
“On one occasion an MP forcibly kissed me and left drool down my face, with 20 other people, including Members of Parliament, all around,” recounted Dobson-Hughes.
“It really told me that young women in politics are expendable, replaceable, and you don’t have a lot of security or value. And if you speak out you don’t have a place in politics.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by the co-founders of the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN).
“You definitely feel like this is not something the party leaders don’t want you to bring up,” said Yasmin Rajabi. “You are seen as a burden, and they try to silence you.”
The group is working to create a sexual violence support toolkit for political offices of all stripes to better deal with sexual misconduct allegations.
“In a perfect world, every volunteer who enters a political space would be introduced to a campaign manager or volunteer manager who would deal with equity or harassment issues, but that hasn’t been the case in my experience, or in a lot of other stories I hear from young women,” said YWLN co-founder Arezoo Najibzadeh.
The group’s toolkit will outline different types of sexual violence, offer community care options, and will include a training component on how to support survivors.
“When the writ drops everyone is focused on getting the vote out and no one has a moment to speak to survivors,” says Najibzadeh.
“Especially when you’re an intern or a volunteer and you don’t have stability, it’s really easy for them to tell you to not come in anymore and not follow up after that. And that’s something that’s happened to a lot of young women.”
Najibzadeh and Rajabi hope members of all political parties will commit to implementing the framework and taking part in the training. They hope to have the toolkit ready by May, in time for the provincial and municipal elections.