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Calgary female MLAs hurl axes at misogyny and inequality in politics

The Axe the Inequality fundraiser sought to draw attention to the often toxic online environment that spews violent threats and sexist comments at female politicians.

'I've had people threaten the lives of my family through private messages,' says MLA Robyn Luff

Calgary's female politicians say they face more online violence and threats than men in the same positions. 0:32

Some of Calgary's most powerful decision makers spent Thursday night chucking axes at wooden targets in a statement against misogyny and inequality in politics.

The Axe the Inequality event sought to draw attention to the often toxic online environment that spews violent threats and sexist comments at female politicians.

"I've had people threaten the lives of my family through private messages," said Calgary-East MLA Robyn Luff, who spearheaded the event.

Clockwise from top left, MLAs Kathleen Ganley, Deborah Drever, Anam Kazim, Brandy Payne, Robyn Luff and Sandra Jansen pose for the cameras at Axe the Inequality, held Thursday in northeast Calgary. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Luff, who has two children, ages three and five, said people often "talk down" to her and remark that she "must have [her] hands so full," as both a mother and an elected representative. She then noted that those degrading comments are rarely leveled at her male counterparts who have children the same age.

In defiance of that double standard, she and MLAs Brandy Payne, Sandra Jansen, Kathleen Ganley, Deborah Drever and Anam Kazim took turns hurling blades.

Local musicians, including Mariel Buckley, Yolanda Sargeant and Kate Stevens, filled the venue with live entertainment.

'Shows strength and power'

Luff said she picked the unusual activity because she "thought it'd be fun."

"It's something that shows strength and power, and something that's not usually associated with politicians."

Proceeds from the event will help fund re-election campaigns for the female NDP MLAs in Calgary.

"Having those voices in politics is really important, because it helps to emphasize the issues that women are going through on a daily basis," Luff said.

Late last year, Jansen, MLA for Calgary-North West, shocked the legislature into silence by reading a litany of demeaning comments she received on Twitter and Facebook after crossing the aisle to sit with the NDP. 

Sandra Jansen read a member's statement before question period on Tuesday, citing hateful messages she has received since crossing the floor last week. 2:01

The comments included "Sandra should stay in the kitchen, where she belongs," and "Now you have two blond bimbos in a party that is clueless."

Issues of sexual assault and harassment have risen into the public consciousness after recent widespread allegations against Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein and an online #MeToo campaign, which encourages women to share their uncomfortable experiences using the hashtag.

With files from Julie Debeljak/CBC