Participants in the Girls Government program offered by MPP Clark and Girls Inc. of Upper Canada pose for a photo in the Queen’s Park media studio on Thursday, April 27. The girls held a press conference as part of the program’s annual visit to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario.

Budget day in Ontario was one to remember for 13 local girls who travelled to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, April 27 for the culmination of Leeds-Grenville MPP Steve Clark’s Girls Government program.

This is the third year for the program, which MPP Clark offers in partnership with Girls Inc. of Upper Canada. Program participants this year are: Sahaana Ranganathan, Emma Lindsay, Claire Eastwood, Sammy Wilhelm, Annie Dowd, Katie Gunn, Larissa Bell, Hannah Doyle, Bridget Sanger-VanderMeer, Vanessa Martin, Brooklyn Patrick, Grace Cowan, Christina Bi and Bushra Khadra.

Prior to visiting Queen’s Park, participants held sessions with Steve over the past few months to gain insight into the political and legislative process as well as how to effectively use their voices to shape public policy.

“I’m so impressed with this group of young women and how eager they are to make a difference in the world,” said Steve, noting the fact this year’s visit coincided with the tabling of the 2017 Ontario budget added to the excitement. “I’m a huge proponent of the Girls Government program because it is a great way to encourage more women to consider a career in politics. It’s also an opportunity to stress the importance of women and girls being active in public affairs at every level of government.”

This year, participants made women’s rights the focus of their advocacy as they prepared for their day in Toronto.

At Queen’s Park, the girls raised gender equality issues during a press conference in the Legislative Assembly media studio and directly in meetings with Speaker Dave Levac, Minister for the Status of Women Indira Naidoo-Harris, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo and Ontario PC MPPs Lisa MacLeod, Julia Munro, Lisa Thompson, Sylvia Jones and Gila Martow.

They recommended a focus on equal opportunities for all with suggestions such as mandates for equal pay, affordable childcare, equal recognition for accomplishments in education, athletics and career choices.

In addition, the group stressed the need for increased education within schools regarding gender studies and women in history as well as increased education for the public that addresses gender stereotypes, persistent discrimination and the sexualization of women and girls.

Girls’ Government is an MPP-led program designed to open doors for girls interested in public office and policy initiatives. The program is affiliated with Equal Voice, an organization dedicated to electing more women at every level of political office in Canada.

The program also gives participants a chance to meet with local female role models. This year’s guests included United Counties of Leeds and Grenville Warden and Westport Mayor Robin Jones, Gananoque Mayor Erika Demchuk, Brockville Councillor Jane Fullarton and Michaela Rutherford-Blouin, a local Queen’s University student who recently participated in the Daughters of the Vote summit at Queen’s Park.

Steve thanked Bev Heuving, Kelly Cole and Lori Kidd Velkova from Girls Inc. for making the program’s third year such a success.

“Girls Inc. does tremendous work in our community to empower girls and young women and I’m proud to be working with them on this initiative,” he said.

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