The Only Woman on the Panel & Gender Equity In Cabinet: You Can't Be What You Can't See

This week so many things happened for me - this likely should have been 3 or more articles, but I kept it all together. From my heart to yours!

This past weekend, I was flown into Mill Valley, California, one of the most wealthy, and least diverse areas in the United States, to speak on a panel about the 'State of the Film Industry' and new innovative distribution methods. I was the only woman, I was the only person of colour, and I was the youngest by 25 years. This was huge for me.

Photo by Tommy Lau from the Mill Valley Film Festival 2015, 'State of the Industry Panel'.

Photo by Tommy Lau from the Mill Valley Film Festival 2015, 'State of the Industry Panel'.

As I researched the happenings of the rest of the festival, Roberto, my festival contact, e-mailed me the official ticketing page for our panel, and I was floored to see my name alongside industry heavy-hitters. Was this for real?

Panel day arrived, and I was nervous. I knew my fellow panellists had known each other for years, and I was coming in green. In the car-ride over and over lunch, I felt an underlying curiosity as to why I was there, and as the conversation unfolded, I felt myself ease. By the time we hit the stage, we had an awesome banter going. I was able to provide insights on crowdfunding (Dream, Girl is a Kickstarter funded film) and our plans for a multi-million dollar self-distribution launch.

We each built off of one another, and complimented each others thoughts. There was a true synergy, and it felt so great. 

Via @LoniStark on Twitter. Thanks Loni!

Via @LoniStark on Twitter. Thanks Loni!

Following the panel, I was approached by some audience members complimenting my confidence on stage, saying how refreshing it was to see me up there, and how much they learned from what I had to offer. I earned my right to be there, and I want more women to know that up on that stage, regardless of their sex and based on their merit, is where they belong. 

I looked at pictures on Twitter after and noticed how much I stood out. One of these things was not like the others... and it was awesome.

Once we wrapped, I snuck into the next room and sat in on the remainder of a panel with the filmmakers behind the film Suffragette for the festival's 'Mind the Gap' initiative for gender equality in the festival.

Sarah Gavron (director), Abi Morgan (screenwriter), and Alison Owen and Faye Ward (producers), were on stage to share their story of how this all-female team brought one of this year's Oscar front-running films to life. A film that showed the violence, struggle, and turmoil of the Suffragette movement. A film that showcases real, and complicated women. 

The energy in the room was markedly different from that of our panel. There were mostly women, and there was a sense of feverishness around why the industry was not yet inclusive of women in the way it ought to be. Audience members were asking questions about how to move the dial forward for gender equality, and mitigating sexual harassment in the industry. I wished my fellow panelists and our audience members were in this room.

We need these conversations to be heard by those who are in roles of decision making power and can champion for institutional change. If Suffragette and my studies have taught me anything, it's that catharsis only gets us so far, lobbying and forcing change in legislation, and the 'rules' that dictate our industries is the critical piece for cultural change.

After the panel, Sarah motioned me over to join a photo with the filmmakers. I was on top of the world. It's my dream to make a film of this magnitude and impact on the lives of women and girls everywhere. Dream, Girl and beyond. Having this photo will help me dream for years to come.

I can't be what I can't see.

Photo by Tommy Lau.

Photo by Tommy Lau.


Yesterday, I posted an article on my Facebook timeline that applauded our new Prime Minister's decision to have a cabinet that was 50/50 men and women. The highest positions in our government would for the first time in Canadian history, be equal men and equal women.

What a thought.

Immediately people posted about how these appointments should be made 'based on merit' and not based on gender. 

27% of the current Liberal caucus is women. That is 50/185 MPs. To assert that these women are under qualified for the highest leadership positions in our country undermines their years, and often decades of hard work that had them elected by the Canadian electorate.

There is an unconscious bias perpetually at play for women and visible minorities that prevent them from being a 'natural' choice for positions of power. But let me remind you of what will happen when these women take their rightful positions in a few weeks time:

  • Your daughters will have more role models in public office than ever before
  • Your sons will be less intimidated and threatened by strong women
  • There will be greater functionality within certain departments with the thoughtful, empathetic, holistic leadership that often comes with female leaders
  • Your country will be led excellently
  • We will be one of the most progressive governments in the world
  • You'll have the best men and women doing the job

Recently, I was nominated for the Governor General's Persons Award. I have been anxiously waiting for an e-mail update about the process and whether the nomination was successful. Last night, Mitch asked me to read him what the award represented. So I revisited the GG's site and read to him:

In 1929, after two years of legal debate, Canada’s highest court of appeal declared that the word “person” included both women and men. The decision was made by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Great Britain and made it possible for women to serve in the Senate. It also paved the way for women’s increased participation in public and political life. The case had been brought before the courts in 1927 by five Alberta women who became known as the “Famous Five.” The case became known as the Persons Case.

The Governor General’s Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case were created in 1979 to mark the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Persons Case, which changed the course of history for women in Canada.
— http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/commemoration/gg/about-ausujet-en.html

I cried as I read to him. After my years of work and study as a feminist, and after seeing Suffragette and the lengths to which women were abused in order to get the vote in the UK, and in the case of the Famous Five, to be seen as 'persons' legally and to take up political office in Canada, I was moved in every sense of the word. To receive this award in memory of these women's strength would be one of my greatest honours to date - here's hoping.

I went on to read more about the Famous Five women who made this happen:

On October 18, 1929, Lord Sankey, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain, announced the decision of the five lords:

”The exclusion of women from all public offices is a relic of days more barbarous than ours. And to those who would ask why the word “person” should include females, the obvious answer is, why should it not?”

The Famous Five not only won the right for women to serve in the Senate but helped pave the way for women to participate equally in – and contribute equally to – all other aspects of life in Canada.
— http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/commemoration/pd-jp/five-cinq-en.html

I stumbled over the date of the ruling... October 18th, 1929. I had a soul stirring moment of realization that Sunday, October 18th, 2015, the day I watched Suffragette at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and shed tears for the women represented on the screen, was 96 years to the date that women were legally able to take up political office in Canada. 

Wow.

The tears flowed.

The Famous Five women responsible for our right to take office in Canada. #power

The Famous Five women responsible for our right to take office in Canada. #power

It is important I sat on that panel. It is critical that our Canadian federal cabinet have equal gender representation, and it is even more important that we continue to champion for the change we want to see in our society. Less than 100 years ago women could not take office in this country. It is our right to take an equal amount of seats as men in our highest office. 

I would have not have been on that panel had our Executive Producer Bous de Jong not championed and shared my story with the founder of the Mill Valley Film Festival. Without our Prime Minister making the commitment to equal gender representation in our cabinet, we would not be boldly taking this next step into our progressive history.

Gender does not dictate merit. Our progress is determined only by our willingness to move forward together as a society, together as a connected people, and to take part in and bear witness to, the change required for true social transformation.


I urge you to consider seeing Suffragette this opening weekend. It is a film that transcends, and is so critical to our continued movement towards more inclusive, representative film and politics in this world.