Erin Gee

With Ottawa voting on its next city council on Oct. 22, 2018, candidates across the city are being challenged by the activist coalition Now What?! Ottawa to support gender-inclusive policies.

Candidates in this fall’s election are hearing from a new voice. Now What?! Ottawa is a coalition of feminist organizations and activists who have banded together to fight for gender-inclusive policies at City Hall. They have released an in-depth platform on their policy positions and are hosting a mayoral debate on Oct. 2.

Now What?! Ottawa is daring to dream big about creating a city that is inclusive, equitable, and safe for women, including Black and Indigenous women, women with disabilities, people of colour and LGBTQ+ folks. They are inviting candidates in the upcoming election to read through their platform and adopt policies they support.

The coalition came to be this spring in the lead up to this year’s provincial election. Their goal was to make gender a provincial election issue, with a specific focus on gender-based violence.

This time around, gender-based violence is still the ultimate issue, but the group recognizes that there are many different policies that can lead to reductions in gender-based violence that may not seem immediately clear.

Their platform is built on three broad policy goals that, if considered, would lead to a safer Ottawa for women: safe and supportive communities, accessible and active communities and equitable and economically-sound communities. Several specific policies follow from these goals. The policies, which all fall under municipal purview, include making public transit safer and more accessible for all women, commiting to the creation of a Women’s Bureau at City Hall and ensuring that women are safe in mixed-gender shelters.

The issue of a Women’s Bureau at City Hall hit the spotlight in the spring of this year, with the councillor for Gloucester-Southgate, Diane Deans, bringing the measure forth to council. The purpose of the bureau would be to do what Now What?! Ottawa has already done: use intersectional gender analysis to create and review policies and bylaws to ensure that there are no unintended consequences towards targeted populations.

Other cities across Canada are already acting on these kinds of policies. For instance, the City of Edmonton has a Women’s Initiative that seeks to foster and promote equality, opportunity, access to services, justice and inclusion for women in Edmonton. Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver approved a Women’s Equity Strategy early this year with a mandate to 2028.

Aside from putting out specific policy stances, will the group be endorsing specific candidates? One of the organizers, Bailey Reid says, “Our goal is to not endorse specific candidates. We’ve clearly laid out our policy positions and are ultimately raising awareness to what gender-inclusive policies should look like. We’ve met with candidates from several wards to discuss our platform and welcome inquiries from those who want to know more. This approach is important to many residents.”

The Now What?! Ottawa mayoral debate on gender issues will be held on Oct. 2 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The location will be announced soon on the Now What?! Ottawa’s website: (nowwhatott.com) and on Twitter (@NowWhatOtt).

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