Young women learn the ropes at city hall

[attach]6033[/attach]Coming from a community that hasn’t traditionally been supportive of women in politics, Zuhal Darawal, 20, says she was eager for the chance to contribute to city politics.

“I come from a background where politics, like many other cultures, is male dominated,” says Darawal, who, while born and raised in Toronto, is the child of Afghan refuges. “So when I was introduced to a program where they promoted female participation, it was something new and I really wanted to be a part of it.”

The Regional Champions Program offers internships to 30 young women in the offices of the city’s female councillors.
Darawal, a political science student at the University of Toronto, was partnered with Ward 33 councillor Shelley Carroll and so far has learned a lot, she says.

“It’s going well. Councillor [Shelley] Carroll has been really great,” she says. “She’s really patient with me. She’s explains every little bit of detail and the history.”

Aside from her role at city hall, Darawal is interning at the Afghan Consulate.

“That’s the one failing we have with the regional champions,” says Carroll. “When you have highly functioning young women, they tend to be busy.”

That doesn’t take away from Darawal’s experience while she’s in the office. She says everyday she learns something new.

“She’s not just getting mentored by me, but by my whole staff team,” says Carroll. “She gets to see everything from the most mundane parts, all the way up to the exciting work.”

That’s been an education for Darawal.

“I get to see different levels of how this city runs,” she says. “I get to see what the staff does, and then I see what councillor Carroll does and what other organizations do and how the different councillors interact and how the different wards interact.”

Darawal says the women of Toronto’s city council are a force to be reckoned with.

“When you first look at city council, it’s dominated by male councilors,” says Darawal. “But the minority of female councilors, they definitely hold their ground and they just get their voices heard. I think even though they’re small in numbers they are the strong players.”

Darawal understands the program is more than just learning about the political side of politics, it is also about learning how policy is developed.

“Being a part of the protégée program is not only about learning what councillors do,” says Darawal. “It’s about just getting more women involved in policy and with the government.”

Getting involved does not necessarily mean running for office.

“There are so many ways in which the knowledge you get from sharing the space can actually work out to be something that they might use,” says Carroll. “[Whether that] be political active, community and social program active as a result of watching what cycle’s through a councilors office.”

Carroll says regardless of the outcome, putting young women into city politics is important.

Darawal concurs.

“You don’t have to be on top. We need more women behind the policies working for the city of Toronto because we do represent 50 percent of the population. It’s time that we compose 50 percent of our government of our city.”