September 17th, 2015
by Lauren Simmons
In 2012, a group of women in Toronto noticed a problem. While #TOpoli was an exciting place to be online, with Twitter facilitating ample discussion about pertinent political issues, it was often the voices of male commentators that received the most traction, attention, and retweets. No one was amplifying the voices of women; there was a lack of space, both online and off, for women to feel safe and supported in talking about the issues that mattered to them.
A group of women, spearheaded by activist Steph Guthrie and calling ourselves Women in Toronto Politics (WiTOPoli), decided to change this landscape. Through a series of events in 2013 including panels with politicians, tweeters, and journalists, and workshops on giving deputations to City Council, we started meaningful conversations and called attention to issues that uniquely affect women. WiTOPoli built a social media presence centered on amplifying diverse voices—with just the right amount of sass.
In the lead-up to the 2014 municipal election, WiTOPoli undertook several projects aimed at engaging voters and raising civic awareness. We wrote a series of blog posts called “Ask Your Candidate,” which unpacked issues that voters might have questions about, and suggested some ways that voters could confront these with candidates on the campaign trail. We hosted a series of Twitter chats, #WhyWeRun and #ElxnSexism, which looked at some of the reasons women run for political office and the barriers they face in doing so. When Council candidates Munira Abukar and Idil Burale and trustee candidate Ausma Malik faced racist, misogynist, and Islamophobic attacks, we created #thecityiwant campaign to show our support and solidarity for all women candidates.
Perhaps most importantly, in summer 2014 we conceived, funded, and built the Position Primer—a one-stop website where voters could input their postal codes, and see a side-by-side comparison of the positions of the candidates in their wards on a number of issues. We received a significant amount of media attention, and exceeded our crowdfunder goal for the project in half the time we anticipated.
In the post-election political landscape, we’ve refined the organization’s goals and built a team that can lead us toward them. In the spring of 2015, we launched a search for new team leaders, and we announced our new operations team this summer. WiTOPoli has been spending time shaping our new mission, vision, and values, and we have a number of plans for the fall including a series of blog posts leading up to the federal election, and hosting events that continue to reach out to diverse populations and talk about the issues that matter to them.
Three years on, it’s clear that the conversation has shifted, but in some ways, it’s only just begun. WiTOPoli aims to continue to shape civic discourse in a way that includes, enlightens, and empowers all Torontonians.