PEI

All-woman executive 'a big moment' for UPEI Student Union

Emma Drake wants to encourage historically underrepresented groups such as women, newcomers and LGBTQ community members to engage in student politics.

The union turns 50 this year

UPEI's first executive of all women is made up of vice-president of academic and external Sweta Daboo, left, president Emma Drake, vice-president of finance Keesha Ryan and vice-president of student life Tessa Rogers. (Jiayu Su/UPEI Student Union)

Emma Drake wants to encourage historically underrepresented groups such as women, newcomers and LGBTQ community members to engage in student politics.

And she is hoping she can play a role in achieving that goal as the president of the UPEI Student Union.

Drake said one of the barriers for those groups, is the simple fact they don't see people like them in positions of power.

"It's that much harder to envision yourself in a leadership position when you have no one to look up to similar to yourself," she said.

Drake and the rest of the members of the UPEI Student Union executive are on their way to becoming role models for others looking to get involved in student politics — this is the first year the UPEISU executive has been made up entirely of women.

"I do think this milestone came at a great time for our organization," said vice-president of finance Keesha Ryan.

This year the student union is celebrating a historic anniversary as well.

"This is a big moment. It's our 50th anniversary, but I feel like regardless of who we were or who would have been part of the team we would have the same responsibility to our students," said Sweta Daboo, vice-president of academic and external.

All of the executives ran unopposed for their positions, but UPEI Student Union president Emma Drake says she is confident in her team. (Isabella Zavarise/CBC)

The Island is no stranger to seeing women in prominent political roles outside the school setting.

It was 25 years ago when five women held the most influential and powerful positions in the province with Premier Catherine Callbeck, Opposition Leader Pat Mella, Deputy Speaker Elizabeth Hubley, Speaker Nancy Guptill and Lt.-Gov. Marion Reid at the helm.

Underrepresentation 

However, when it comes to student politics at UPEI women have been historically underrepresented.

The student union gathered data on how many women have been part of the executive throughout its history, said Tessa Rogers, vice-president of student life.

"From the data we have, only about 30 per cent of positions have been filled by women in the past."

Rogers said that percentage drops further when you look at the student union president position, because only about 20 per cent of past presidents have been women.

As vice-president of academic and external Sweta Daboo is working on the Get Out The Vote campaign for the upcoming federal election and says she hopes to register 2,500 students to vote. (Jiayu Su/UPEI Student Union)

Drake said women in politics are often portrayed differently than their male counterparts.

"It is something we know from research women fall subject more to, particularity being sexualized with their image and not necessarily looking at perhaps the projects they are working on or the ideas that they have," she said.

Drake said women in politics in particular face more "cyber violence" than men in the same positions.

She also pointed to the experience of P.E.I. Green MLA Hannah Bell as an example of when threats of violence happen in the real world.

Drake said threats and undue scrutiny are things the executive has to acknowledge considering it is made up of all women, but Drake doesn't think it will hinder any of them from doing their job to represent students.

Political future?

Though they are leading a student government now, the members of the executive don't know if they'll stay involved in politics in the future.

"While we are involved in student politics right now, all of us come from very different backgrounds," Daboo said.

"It's hard to predict where we go from here, but as of now we are in student politics and we will see where we end up," Daboo said.

All of the executives ran unopposed for their positions, but Drake said she is confident in her team.

"Regardless of if there had been one candidate or 10 candidates each of us earned our positions."

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About the Author

Tony Davis grew up on P.E.I. and studied journalism at Holland College. He can be contacted at anthony.davis@cbc.ca

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