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Women's Initiative

Women's Initiative

Young, Loud and Politically Ambitious: Marina Banister on Young Women and Leadership

IMG_1774 (1) My story begins when I ran for Grade 10 rep. And lost. In the way only a 15-year-old can be, I was devastated. I didn’t want to go to school, I didn’t want to do anything. This was my first venture into the political process, and in my young teenage mind, losing the first election I ever tried for was…. the end. But in the back of my head, I knew this is what I wanted to do, so I pulled up my boot straps and ran again. And I proceeded to win the next seven elections I ran for in high school and university. So really, I learned how to lose before I learned how to win. Lots of people ask me why I feel motivated to run and it honestly comes from a deep passion within me, but largely I have always just thought “Why not me? It could be anyone! If someone else can do it, I can too!”

However, like many young people in my position, I began to be afraid that I was a student politician, and questioned how I would actually fare in the “real world”. My good friend Claire Edwards encouraged me to join the City of Edmonton Youth Council last year, and that really showed me a whole new world of opportunity.

11407132_10152808047027553_7237857393999917109_n (1)The political initiative I learned the most from was this last summer when I led a motion to recommend City Council adopt solely meat-free food for catering Council meetings for the purpose of environmental sustainability. While our committee at the City of Edmonton Youth Council remained steadfast in our belief, the conversation quickly turned to personal attacks against me and my appearance, a backlash motivated, in part, by systematic sexism.

A lot of mentors in my life asked me if this experience deterred me from pursing a future career of public service, and despite the harsh reality check, it absolutely made me want to pursue politics more. Because I was able to see the impact that a small group of dedicated Edmontonians could have on the city – and the country.

So my advice to anyone who wants to pursue any sort of political activism is fight for what you believe in. Which sounds simple, but fighting for something that no matter how many people say is questionable, that you know in your heart is something worth standing up for. Because for every troll on the internet there are ten times more people who respect that passion and admire a woman who speaks with fire about what she believes in. Also, unfortunately no matter how a woman looks or dresses, when thousands of people are part of the conversation, someone is going to have an opinion and voice it. So I think all women should just wear whatever they want to wear, and feel like they can take on the world. And anyone who focuses more on a women’s appearance than her ideas probably doesn’t have a legitimate argument anyway.

IMG_5856 (1)For me, when I am volunteering and helping to be part of a community, that is when I feel the best about myself. Often, when I’m at a conference or a panel, or participating in the community, I feel like I am just on fire, like I could run a marathon, or swim across an ocean because it energizes me. I feel more “me” when I surround myself with other great women.

Here is the thing though, not every young girl has this support or the luxury to voice her opinion the way I do. That is something that needs to change.

I grew up in a family where my mum is an entrepreneur who runs a successful local business. I also think she is the best mum in the world. My mum is my biggest mentor and from an early age showed me I could do it all, that I could have a great career and a great family. I am grateful to have grown up with such as strong female role model. I’ve had successes because I work hard, but also because I have been born with privilege and into circumstance that lots of girls and women do not have. I think part of supporting women is recognizing that each girl’s obstacles are different, and we need to pay special respect to girls who may have more intersectional barriers to overcome when growing up in our society.

It’s important that women and girls are in leadership roles in order to represent a more balanced view of the world. But it’s not enough to just have a few privileged women in these roles. We need women who come from a variety of backgrounds because they provide diverse and valuable perspectives. I was at the Women’s Symposium this Fall and something that really resonated with me was when Sandra Woitas pointed out that leadership is about daily acts just as much as huge life accomplishments. Some of the best leaders I know are women who make others in their lives feel valued, supported, and important. Leadership is about wanting to make our community and the lives of people around us better in big and small ways. Because we don’t know other women’s struggles. We don’t know if a young girl is struggling with mental health issues, or a women of colour is dealing with everyday racism, or if a university student is getting harassed over social media. And the women who reach out and provide kindness to all those around them, to me, they are the warriors of our society.

I am very grateful because I have always known what I wanted to do and I’m lucky to be half decent at it. I know I’m not going to be the next Einstein, or great technology inventor, or professional athlete. But I also know what makes me happy and what my skills align with, and that is getting involved with my community. I am a firm believer that the closer we get to who we are supposed to be to brighter we shine. All girls have the ability to shine in their own way, and it is part of our duty as fellow supportive women to help girls, girls who may have mountains in front of them, get where they want to go. Many women in the private and public sphere face challenges every day. But us women…. we are strong. And we have a knack for turning those challenges into opportunities for success. I am who I am because the women in my life are warriors and taught me that I am capable of making a change. And I have no doubt the women in our communities are warriors in their own right too.

And for the young women in our city: you are not just the leaders of tomorrow, you are the leaders of today.

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2 thoughts on “Young, Loud and Politically Ambitious: Marina Banister on Young Women and Leadership”

  1. Well said Marina! Congratulations on taking time to motivate women to be involved and to voice their opinions and to not be put off by critics and naysayers! Keep up the good work!
    Lots of Love
    Uncle Bob

  2. Great piece!
    I found it very easy to relate to, especially when it came to failing the first time in your grade ten election. I believe that women have the potential to do great things as long as there are inspiring role models out there.
    Keep up the great work and good luck in the future!

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