All posts by Tiffany Gooch

The enduring power of Michelle Obama: Gooch

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Toronto is abuzz.

Tickets went on sale last week for the Economic Club of Canada event on Nov. 28, which will feature a discussion with former First Lady Michelle Obama. The topic of the fireside chat-style discussion is education and equality for girls and women around the world.

I applaud the Economic Club of Canada for donating 1,500 of the 3,000 available tickets to youth aged 14-24, to be distributed through Plan International Canada, however, I’m disappointed to hear that the event will not be live-streamed. There is a key demographic that is missed in this strategy — young people who just miss the age cut off, but are unable to afford the $500 to $800 tickets.

While this is Obama’s first, I expect that this will not be her last speaking engagement in Canada. As her work empowering women and girls through education continues, she will find alignment from thousands of Canadian organizations and individuals who support her vision.

There are powerful opportunities for partnership as the Canadian government rolls out its Feminist International Assistance Policy and increases investments to international organizations supported by the Status of Women Canada.

Michelle Obama’s is a voice the world needs more of. As people watch to see what Barack Obama does following his presidency, my eyes are squarely set on the former First Lady.

A graduate of both Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Michelle served as the third First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree alongside Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush. Stepping away from a flourishing career as a University of Chicago hospital executive, in her time in the White House, she made a concerted effort to ensure her legacy was both authentic to her values and reflective of her upbringing.

She advocated passionately for girls’ education through the Let Girls Learn initiative; she danced and gardened her way into the hearts of Americans by raising awareness of the importance of physical activity and healthy eating; and she used her platform to support veterans and their families.

I am not alone in the belief that Michelle could be the first female President of the United States of America, if that were something she wanted. Unfortunately, as much as we all hoped she would, she has shown no desire to run for office.

Her leadership is needed wherever she chooses to bring it, and should she ever change her mind about running for office, I’ll be right there with her in support.

I admire and respect that Michelle Obama never forgot where she came from. In her 2015 speech at the Democratic Convention, she reminded America of its dark past: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent Black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn …”

Among her most memorable speeches was one delivered in 2015, upon receiving an honorary degree from Tuskegee University. She spoke candidly of the unique challenges she faced as the first Black woman in the White House, acknowledging the pain that accompanied the blatant racism that both she and Barack faced. She was portrayed in media as a militant holding a machine gun, described as Barack’s “Baby Mama,” and even compared to an ape.

I hope that as the dialogue around her visit to Toronto continues, commentary won’t shy away from these race issues. The barriers she faced are not unlike those standing before Black women and girls in Canada today.

Like Michelle, Black Canadian girls have shared experiences of being told to aim lower in their education by guidance councillors and teachers. Like Michelle, when speaking passionately about issues of importance to their communities, Black women have been written off as too angry.

While Michelle stands as a positive example for everyone, there is a special connection for Black women and girls in particular. She stands as an example and much needed affirmation that #BlackGirlsRock and anything is possible.

In the words of Ava Duvernay, Michelle is her “ancestor’s wildest dream.”

I’m saving up to purchase a ticket to the event, and have encouraged young people to register through Plan International Canada to hear her speak. You’ll find me somewhere in the audience, beaming just a little bit wider alongside the Canadian #BlackGirlMagic in attendance.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on November 12, 2017. Also published on MetroNews.ca)

Creating safe spaces for women in politics: Gooch

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Every so often, a politician makes a public statement that unreservedly merits an apology.

This week that moment came for Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

When presented with a question about transparency in land dealings for a Global Transportation Hub, he deflected with a question about the NDP’s approach to allegations of sexual assault within their party.

For Premier Wall to bring this up in parliamentary debate, not with the intention to help victims, but instead as a retort to a question he did not want to answer is reprehensible.

When pressed further Wall stated, “I make no apology for raising it. If we don’t, what other opportunity is there to do? For it to be raised?”

Respectfully, Premier, there are many opportunities where sexual violence and harassment in politics can be proactively addressed that do not include rebuttals to unrelated questions in the House.

Wall has since apologized on Twitter to Rylee Schuhmacher, the young woman at the centre of the case he referred to, but still, he refuses to apologize to the party.

Responding on Facebook Thursday (and shared with her permission) Schuhmacher made a statement ended with powerful words: “Stop politicizing my assault and my trauma. Full stop.”

Wall’s actions this week exemplify the risk of politicization that must be weighed in the decision to report sexual harassment and assault in politics. This is exactly the reason so few come forward with their cases — and this problem is not isolated to one party or one level of government.

In the absence of meaningful intergenerational dialogue addressing how political spheres uniquely perpetuate and protect this behaviour, the Young Women’s Leadership Network has taken up the charge in pressing the issue forward.

I couldn’t be more pleased to see these young women challenging the status quo and rejecting the notion that they should let sexual harassment roll off their backs. When presented with the “whisper network,” a young organizer I met last month inquired as to why it wasn’t the “shout it from the rooftops network.”

With these fierce young women in leadership, the future of Canadian politics looks bright.

Following the overwhelming wave of stories shared through the #MeToo social media campaign founded by Tarana Burke — detractors still question how widespread the problem actually is in Canadian society today.

An Abacus poll published this week further contextualized the issue, finding 53 per cent of Canadian women taking part in the survey have experienced “unwanted sexual pressure.” Further, 77 per cent of the participants did not believe their harassers faced any consequences for their behaviour.

This week, federal Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Minister Patty Hadju released a report summarizing the results of public consultations on harassment and sexual violence in the workplace. The report revealed Canadians are less likely to report sexual harassment in the workplace for fear of retaliation.

There is a great deal of challenging work ahead ridding workplaces and political spheres of this behaviour and providing better support to survivors.

Recently a male friend and long-time political organizer approached me, in earnest, for advice on how he could be helpful in addressing this issue. He was mortified as he reflected on his own contributions to creating a culture that was disrespectful toward, and unsafe for, women in politics. He wanted to know how he could serve as an active and outspoken ally.

I didn’t know how to answer at the time. Not knowing the specifics of individuals victimized by his behaviour, no matter how much time had passed — my instinct was to ensure their well-being before he went about centering himself in the discourse. This wasn’t about him or the journey he underwent to wake up to how his behaviour was impacting the women he worked, studied, or organized alongside.

That being said, I’m glad he and so many men are waking up and looking for ways to help.

So, how does one effectively ally in creating safer spaces for women in politics?

While considering how you will or have changed, take it a step further — forget the “bro code” and actively work to call out inappropriate behaviour when you see and hear about it.

Support individuals and organizations carrying out the front-line work of supporting survivors or building campaigns.

Remove the stories shared publicly by the brave souls who choose to report sexual violence and harassment from your political arsenal.

Most importantly: believe survivors.

Tiffany Gooch is a political strategist at public affairs firms Enterprise and Ensight, secretary of the Ontario Liberal Party Executive Council, and an advocate for increased cultural and gender diversity in Canadian politics.

(As published in The Toronto Star on Saturday, November 4, 2017)