Muslimahs on Parliament Hill: Hanen Nanaa from Scarborough-Guildwood, OntarioWritten by Making Headlines
Syrian Hanen Nanaa represented the riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, Ontario at Equal Voice’s second Daughters of the Vote gathering in early April 2019, which brought together 338 young women between the ages of 18 and 23, representing each Canadian riding and take their seat in the House of Commons during a historic sitting of the House of Commons. They were addressed by every federal party leader, and engaged with an array of Ministers, critics and advocates.
Daughters of the Vote (DoV) was aimed at encouraging more young women to become involved in Canadian politics, a space where there are still challenges to gender equity.
Muslim Link had the opportunity to interview several of the young Muslim Canadian women who were selected to participate in this historic event, including Hanen.
1. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Hanen and I was born and raised in Aleppo, Syria. My life in Syria was a typical life like all girls going to school and spending time with family and friends. My mom planted the love of reading about my culture and my community in my heart. When the war broke out in 2011, I was forced to fly to Turkey, crossing borders at night with no passport. Life in Turkey was difficult. As refugees, we were restricted. I was not able to go to school and practice my basic human rights. I knew I wanted a safe place, a place where I can speak up and share my voice as well as continue my education and be safe. I wanted Canada.
In 2016, I landed in Toronto with my parents, siblings, and Grandma. I was worried about my family as I was the first and the only child who spoke English at home. I knew I had responsibilities; I knew there will be difficulties, hard times but I truly believed that I chose a place where I can share my voice and practice my rights as a young Muslim woman.
I reside in Scarborough, Ontario, I graduated from City Adult Learning Center then I applied to university. From my experiences of dealing with access to quality education, I began contacting universities and colleges to find out more information and to get a better understanding of the educational system in which I was to be participating in. I co-founded of the Starter Kit Project which we developed out of our discussions about the various barriers faced by newcomers wanting to attend post-secondary education. These newcomers seem like successful, smart students, but we still face barriers and these gaps in the system that affects us are often not addressed. The Starter Kit Project proposes solutions to those gaps.
I am also a storyteller with the Hearts-and-Minds Project and a founder of Bamcollective21, BAM stands for Books, Art, Music. My friends and I are in the middle of organizing BAM's first event where we will be sharing art, supporting talents and providing a safe space for everyone to make connections and meet new friends.
I am a passionate individual, committed to advancing newcomer education and mental health issues and encouraging newcomers to give back and support their community. I believe that my voice as a woman is powerful and I am going to use it to encourage others to speak up for women’s rights, equality, equity, and social justice.
2. Tell us about the riding you represented in the House of Commons. What challenges socially and economically is the riding facing? Do you feel that many in Canada know about and/or understand these challenges? How do you hope to increase awareness about the challenges your riding faces to broader Canadian society?
I am so grateful for being selected to represent the Guildwood federal riding in Scarborough. I’ve been asking youth and young women in our riding about the challenges that they face, and I found that the main challenge is the lack of support, the lack of awareness and the lack of integration faced by many youth, particularly newcomer and second-generation immigrant youth. These youth seem successful and passionate but the barriers they face in the system are not addressed. Many youths are struggling with education, employment, and mental health, specifically newcomers to Canada, they are struggling with a new system and the lack of responsiveness of these systems to their needs leads them to drop out of their courses at schools, not learning the language adequately, and sometimes ending up in trouble with the law. I am very passionate about engaging these youth in civil society, providing opportunities where they feel secure, welcomed, and encouraged to work, to learn and to give back. I would also like to bring awareness, by sharing their stories, hosting panels and conferences to engage them and provide support by setting up advisory committees to various institutions where newcomers are facing barriers in order to improve programming. And now after the cuts from the Ontario provincial government, I will also work on helping youth to access services and find alternative solutions to legal aid cuts, educational cuts, and tuition cuts.
3. As young women involved in politics, what challenges, if any, do you face? Do you feel that the presence of more young women is changing politics? If so, how?
Coming from a country where people are being killed, are missing, or have been arrested for speaking out against injustice, I feel an obligation to speak up and to fight for my rights and empower others to do so. I think there are some challenges that are facing young women in politics like mis-representation, discrimination, racism, and sexism. I believe that our politics need to engage more young women and to give them chances to make a difference. I think Equal Voice's Daughters of the Vote program was great as you had young women coming from all over Canada, from different cultures, religions, races, and political parties to speak up about issues that are often not addressed and I think they all did a great job by sharing their experiences at the House of Commons and the Senate. They talked about issues like homophobia. Islamophobia, poverty, food insecurity, climate change, women's rights, racial minorities, disability, sexual harassment and many more. I think their ideas and their thoughts would contribute a lot to our political system and would have a great impact on changing our system for the better.
4. By attending Daughters of the Vote (DoV) you had an opportunity to meet young Muslim women from across Canada. Did any of the realities they shared challenge you to unlearn some assumptions you had about Muslims in Canada or seek out knowledge about issues facing Muslims in Canada you had otherwise not known about? Please elaborate.
I had the pleasure of meeting young leaders that work hard to support their communities and end all type of acts that might harm or cause problems for a specific community. I personally did not have any issue, as a Muslim, or as a new Canadian, I was respected, supported and empowered by these young women. However some of our delegates have been facing challenges like discrimination on social media, been targeted simply because they are Muslims or they support a different political party, but we stood together, we discussed these issues, we wrote letters to our Members of Parliament, we shared opportunities, self-care, love, and support to address these issues, and I am really glad that now I am a sister of 337 leaders that will stand for me when I need them, that will win when I win and that will continue working to end all type of hatred, discrimination, sexism, racism, and prejudice.
5. As it is an election year, what will you be doing to try to get out the vote in your riding?
I am still not able to vote but that does not prevent me from encouraging other young people who can vote to do so. I hope to host workshops and panels to help youth and young adults to learn more about politics and I would also engage them to participate in such events to understand how important it is to make an informed choice when we vote, because we all need to know that if we want our systems to be changed and our voice to be heard we need to know that our voice matters and that each vote counts!
6. What is the key lesson you learned from your experience at DoV that you will be taking back into your work in your riding?
I’ve learned that sharing our values, beliefs and principles is very important to celebrate diversity without being scared to talk about issues that target our communities, religions or beliefs. I’ve also learned that the key lesson is to listen to people, give them chances to speak up and to share their ideas without attacking them for no reason or disrespecting them because they do not agree with me or do not believe the same way as I do. I also had the privilege of meeting men and women much older and younger than myself that has taught me that we all NEED each other. No one can achieve greatness by themselves. I have also learned that we should be flexible because this world is always changing and we need to accommodate the changes in this world. This does not mean you do not have a set of values, it means that your values should be ones that can be shared by those you share your space with.
7. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank Equal Voice for connecting me with young women, activists, advocates, and leaders that are going to make a difference and change the world and for providing great workshops and panels where I could ask questions and get answers from experienced people like civil society leaders, senators, MPs, and activists. I also want to Thank Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his support for Equal Voice, and of course the Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood John McKay for giving me his seat in the House of Commons and helping me to learn more about my riding and encouraging me to do more! And lastly, thank you Minister Maryam Monsef for being a great leader! She was so supportive and willing to help to empower young women and engage them in politics.
- Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood Member of Parliament for Scarborough-Guildwood
- Meet Hanen Nanaa Meet Hanen Nanaa
- Daughters of the Vote Daughters of the Vote
- Equal Voice Equal Voice
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